Mr. Robot, one of the most intriguing and confounding new shows of the year, comes from the brain of Sam Esmail, and when it comes to mindbenders, one of the issues is that you can never tell if what they’re doing is brilliant, or, well, stupid. It can very easily be one thing or the other, depending on who’s viewing the content in question, and whether that appeals to you or not. There’s a fine line between genius and madness, right? Well, I sort of fall in the middle on this one. Some episodes I thought were great, while others I wondered if the writing sort of veered off course with no direction whatsoever. Isn’t that all part of the plan though? Fans would say that- I’m not sold that there’s a specific endgame for this, despite Esmail’s claims that it was based on his original script for a movie, and the first season would have been the first third or so of the screenplay. Even so, that means a lot of filler along the way, doesn’t it?
One thing that is extremely consistent throughout the season’s ten episodes though, is Rami Malek’s phenomenal performance as the central character Elliot Alderson. A hacker with mental problems, he’s a twentysomething viligante of sorts, the kind that searches for bad people doing bad things so he can work his magic and take them down, but this is only to fuel his sense of aimlessness and disillusionment with the world around him. Elliot has a drug problem and is intensely disturbed, something he knows already but to what extent? And for that matter, to what extent are we being played by his delusions? Yeah, this is that kind of show, so to go into too much about the plot would be spoiler heavy on its face. Let’s just say that it involves a group of hackers taking down an evil corporation that rips off its clients and scams everyone of their rights, and at first I was far less interested in this overarching scheme than I was simply in Elliott himself. I thought throughout the first few episodes, that as atmospheric and well acted and directed as it was, that the show might work better as more of a character study than a wannabe corporate thriller.
Without giving too much away though, all I can say is that if you’re feeling anywhere close to where I was after the first four, keep going. For the first time in a while I was blindsided by the places this show took me, and the seeds of its eventual destination were planted inch by inch every step of the way, so I can safely say that I was wrong in my initial assumption that it wasn’t a character study. I’m normally a pretty firm believer in the idea that if you’re not hooked by four, you can go ahead and bow out. NOT so with this show, trust me. I would endorse sticking with this through at least eight, if you find any of it at all compelling. It will reward your patience and then make you want to go back and see it all over again to catch what you may have missed.
Rami Malek’s wide eyes and glazed over attitude holds the screen for every frame- you can’t take your eyes off him, really, no matter what he’s doing or saying. In a lot of ways he IS the show, but there are a couple of other important characters in the mix, who end up revealing their own roles and the part they play in Elliott’s world, in surprising (shocking, even) and in some cases, still not yet explained ways. Angela (Portia Doubleday) serves as his childhood friend and fellow employee at All Safe, the security tech firm where he works, Carly Chaikin is a fellow hacker involved in the big takedown efforts, and most intriguingly, Martin Wallstrom as Tyrell Wellick, the wannabe CEO of the corporation they’re attempting to infiltrate, and someone whose role goes from apparent smooth operator to hilariously inept cuckold in a performance that would rival Rami Malek’s for attention if Malek wasn’t so utterly dominant. Finally, there’s Mr. Robot himself, the head of the hacker group played by Christian Slater, and frankly he’s someone that I really can’t say anything at all about without giving away the mother load (although not really, since it’s safe to admit there’s a Fight Club thing going on here that is fairly predictable, but trust me, if you go in thinking you know the answers already, you’ll come out blown away, because the parallel to that film is the king of the red herring, if ever there was one).
All of these other characters morph into unexpected roles from the ones they’re introduced as- this is the kind of show where nothing is at it seems, not to Elliott or the audience. You may get frustrated by this kind of misdirection, or you may be dazzled by it, along with the very specific color pallette and direction the show employs, which has the effect of making it look unlike anything else on TV. Yet for all my enthusiasm for much of it, I still have reservations. Most come from my skepticism that every little thing in this hallucinatory universe can mean something significant (Esmail’s done a good job so far of making you think so, but you can’t fool me twice, people- I sat through all six seasons of Lost, and we all remember how Twin Peaks devolved). But if nothing else, this show has one thing those others did not, and yes, that’s Rami Malek. With a maddening yet fascinating character to play around with, I could seriously watch him for hours and not feel my time has been wasted. He’s that good, and I feel pretty confident he can carry this show through the mystifying elements it’s bound to journey through. I’m hooked, and I think you should at least give it a shot, since very few things surprise me by simply sticking with it to the end, and this was one of them. That counts for a lot.