How Mr Robot succeeds on its hero’s humanity – rather than the cold, unfeeling world he inhabits.
“I wanted to save the world…”
That’s how it all starts. A dry, monotonous voice ringing out from a simple narrative device that drags you into this murky world of hackers & evil conglomerates. And before you even knew what it is you’re getting dragged into, you’re a part of it. You’re the voice inside our hero’s head – and it’s a very troubled head indeed.
What makes Mr Robot so fascinating is how much of a contradiction it is. The narration feels undeniably personal – by the end of the show’s pilot alone you’ve forged a bond with Elliot that normally takes weeks to develop. And yet visually, it’s detached by design – in order to mimic its protagonist’s social anxiety. DoP Tod Campbell’s lens carries an inherent awkwardness. The cinematography is cold and pristine. Each shot feels incredibly calculated with regards to the framing, lighting and positioning of characters onscreen. It grabs you in much the same way a Wes Anderson movie does – but lacks all of the auteur’s colourful warmth.
The show treads so close to an unfeeling, automated state, the only thing keeping it from toppling over the edge is Rami Malek’s lead turn. It’s a captivating portrayal of social anxiety & isolation that also explores things like addiction & mental illness in a really sensitive way. Above all, it’s incredibly relatable (almost painfully so), and forms the beating heart of a show that – without it – would just feel like a machine made up of 1’s and 0’s.
Mr Robot has never tried to hide the fact that it’s heavily inspired by Fight Club. The anarchistic motives of many of its main characters, the spouts of nihilism exhibited by its protagonist, the striking visual style and the fantastic rock/electronic soundtrack… they’re all characteristics of David Fincher’s modern classic. So much so, that when the big twist happens, you probably already saw it coming. What’s strange is that, rather than coming off as derivative, this actually makes the show more endearing to the viewer. It’s an homage to a revered film – and one that, due to its longform episodic format, is able to expand so much more on these concepts.
There’s a lot that Mr Robot gets right over the course of its freshman season. Its commitment to building its world from the ground up, and tackling a tale with such high stakes is commendable (particularly on a TV budget). It rarely comes off feeling manufactured or half-hearted. It’s also lacking in a few departments. Namely, many of the supporting characters, who suffer from the amount of time devoted to exploring Elliot’s character.
That ultimately shows just how important Elliot is to Mr Robot. He’s able to carry the story even when the plot starts to drag. Our deeply personal connection to him is the reason why we keep returning into this cold and robotic society week-after-week. He is, in many ways, our friend.
Even if we can no longer trust him.
Highlights: eps1.0_hellofriend.mov | eps1.4_3xpl0its.wmv | eps1.5_br4ve-trave1er.asf | eps1.8_m1rr0r1ng.qt
I mentioned how relatable I’ve found Elliot to be in this piece – but he’s arguably become even more so *since* I started watching. I’ve subconsciously started to behave more and more like him around others, rejecting human contact and generally trying to excuse myself from most social situations. It’s a tad worrying…
And I can’t even code for shit.