Synopsis: Elliot, a cyber-security engineer by day and vigilante hacker by night, is recruited by a mysterious underground group to destroy the firm he’s paid to protect. Elliot must decide how far he’ll go to expose the forces he believes are running (and ruining) the world.
The only complaint I can possibly muster up about the pilot episode of Mr. Robot is that Christian Slater plays almost as unconvincing a computer hacker as he does a homeless man. But he does just fine as a slighty off-kilter mentor figure, which is his main narrative function, so I can forgive the rest.
The story follows Elliot (Rami Malek), an anxiety-ridden, dog-rescuing, drug-using, anarchist, vigilante computer hacker with a pet fish named Qwerty. He’s cut off and disillusioned with society and capitalism as a whole, and uses his hacking skills and innate ability to read people to electronically destroy those he deems corrupt.
After Evil Corp, the fictional conglomerate that owns literally everything, is hacked, the cyber security firm Elliot works for by day is tasked with stopping and discovering the source of the hack. Elliot traces the hack to Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) who is part of an elite group of hackers in a super-cool top-secret area of Coney Island, looking to take down Evil Corp in “the greatest redistribution of wealth in history”. Elliot is tempted, and finally agrees to be a part of it after he sees their moronic CEO rudely brushing off his childhood friend, Angela (Portia Doubleday).
Actually, the company is just called E Corp, but Elliot tells us he automatically substitutes ‘Evil Corp’ when he sees or hears it, so that’s what the audience does too. It’s a dark kind of hilarious to see coifed newscasters and even employees of the company calling it Evil as if it’s the most normal thing in the world.
A lot of things about the show are darkly funny, in fact. It’s strongly critical of the American democracy, and Mr. Robot himself talks about how money has ceased to mean anything since the Gold Standard became obsolete. He says it’s all virtual – on credit cards and pieces of paper, and currency is effectively software – the operating system of our society, in desperate need of an update. Elliot thinks a lot about debt slavery, sweatshops, the false heroism of celebrity figures. It’s striking and unforgiving.
The show is also absolutely hypnotic in its rhythm and visual cues. The colors are muted, every sign and symbol seen in the background has further significance (like several well-placed ads for a movie called Villains, taglined ‘evil always wins’), and Elliot has a habit of removing or putting up his hood depending on how vindicated he feels. His ability to quietly feel as though he’s making a difference for ‘normal’ people, even though they’ll never know it, is the only thing cutting through his otherwise complete isolation.
Elliot narrates his thoughts very stream-of-consciousness, speaking directly to the computer program he’s created. It becomes clear that the audience itself is supposed to be the personification of this program, which is a fantastic little trick that, thanks to phenomenal sound mixing, weaves cleanly in and out of the world he’s physically experiencing, versus the one he sees in his head.
Mr. Robot is amazingly rich, politically relevant, and dazzlingly well-done. It’s poised to become a cult classic a la The Matrix, but with way more heart.