Mr. Robot was the standout show of the summer. The moody, heavy fare isn’t the norm for USA Network, but they jumped in head first and didn’t seem to care about checking the depth of the water. The first season of Mr. Robot didn’t hold back for a second. Sam Esmail’s thriller was as much about psychological drama as it was about hacking — hacking was the most obvious layer of the story — and it showcased new and bold approaches to both genres. Without diving deep into every single moment, let’s review the highs and lows of the first season.
Elliot Alderson is at the center of the series, and though the story extends out to the surrounding cast, he’s the one we follow. We enter the world through his eyes, and it’s easy to do so because he’s essentially “created” us. He invites the viewer in, and once you’re there, you can relate to his feelings and awkward interactions. But just as you begin to see Elliot as a vigilante hero, you start to see the ways in which he’s unreliable. That balloons as the extent of Elliot’s psychological issues unfolds, and it creates a bizarre but brilliant relationship between the audience and Elliot. The issues of trust and reality that must be considered while watching Elliot navigate the world of Mr. Robot are ones that make the jump all too easily to real life. This is a series that pushes itself right off the television and into your brain where it then crawls around for days.
I can’t mention Elliot without mentioning Rami Malek. He’s a powerhouse. Whether he was performing rambling and emotional internal monologues while maintaining a straight face or throwing down and yelling, he always delivered. His range and nuance contributed to Elliot being likable. Even the way he delivered some lines — a little stilted — added to the character and story.
As a figment created by Elliot, Christian Slater’s Mr. Robot also made an impression. Slater brought such energy to the role. Every line had urgency, and Slater made everything about Mr. Robot emanate a “I don’t tolerate any bull” attitude. It’s so different from the somehwat gentle Elliot we first meet that it takes a little while to come to grips with them being one and the same. That’s fitting since Elliot has the same reaction.
The through-line of the first season was Elliot joining a group called FSociety, led by Mr. Robot/Elliot, and hacking Evil Corp. The plot twisted, curved, and occasionally stopped to check out shiny objects alongside the road. It meant the pacing was occasionally thrown off to the point where the story lost momentum, but the side trips — like the one where Elliot dealt with withdrawal — added more depth to the characters, and that’s usually worth hitting the pause button for. Usually.
Elliot’s version of the hero’s journey was the most important one to communicate, but other characters broke out unexpectedly as the season progressed. Those developments kept up the “you never know what will happen” vibe of the show and made the hack on Evil Corp and the grand mission to affect the world more personal. Again, it’s easy to put yourself in the shoes of someone like Angela when you experience her world. Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), Angela (Portia Doubleday), Tyrell (Martin Wallström), Darlene (Carly Chaikin), and Joanna (Stephanie Corneliussen) all had their moments. They weren’t always successful — for example, Tyrell was all over the place in a nonsensical fashion — but characters made progress and came to the same place for a variety of reasons.
As we go to know the characters and their goals, Mr. Robot pushed into the sort of territory that’s almost too close for comfort. Information and privacy, reality, drug use, mental health, loss — the list goes on. The cerebral series isn’t a cheerful one, nor does it have many light moments. This isn’t something you put on in the background. Mr. Robot deserves every ounce of your attention and energy. It will frequently punch you in the face with the crappy sides of humanity, but there are victories.
Evil Corp was hacked successfully. But was it the right decision? On the surface, the members of FSociety seem like heroes. The Season 1 finale showed the beginning of the consequences of the hacks but left a lot unanswered (I’d argue the second cliffhanger wasn’t really necessary). Viewers are left to dissect the right and wrong and see if they come out the other side in a place more like Darlene’s or a place more like Angela’s.
On top of the intelligent story and strong performances, Mr. Robot was visually striking. The framing of scenes with Elliot often make him look small against a big, sweeping world. He doesn’t stand out; he’s part of the crowd and could be anyone on the street. The shots are quite cinematic and edited beautifully. And the soundtrack is nothing short of genius.