Mr. Robot:

“Hello friend. Hello, friend? That's lame. Maybe I should give you a name. But that's a slippery slope, you're only in my head. We have to remember that. Shit, it's actually happening, I'm talking to an imaginary person."

The opening narration introduces us to both the show’s protagonist and its atmosphere. The atmosphere is one of paranoia, secrecy, intrigue, decadence, delusion, and possibly madness. It matches the mind of the protagonist, Elliot Alderson, whose point of view we will be seeing this world through; a perspective we immediately discover to be unreliable. He speaks to us (the audience) as if we were an imaginary friend, another symptom of his unexplained condition.

Narration counts for a lot. As with a film like Taxi Driver or a series like Dexter, here the narration is pretty much a character of its own; there’s the Elliot we see who is attached to the physical world, then there’s his headspace, which is detached, observing, analyzing. Elliot’s narration is docile, ponderous, almost robotic in its affectation. You might initially mistake him for being the “Mr. Robot” from which the show takes its name.

While he may not be the titular Mr. Robot, this episode makes it very clear that Elliot is a key element in the former’s grand scheme. Of which this episode has only just scratched the surface.

From the first scene — after Elliot informs us of “the 1% of the 1%, the men who play God without permission” — we learn everything we need to know about this character, and yet he is still an enigma. Elliot is a hacker, a very good one. He uses these skills as a cyber-vigilante, taking down some truly disgusting people. He is motivated by the death of his father, who died of cancer brought about by the corporation he worked for. And he doesn’t “give a shit about money.”

We learn that he is “very different.” He suffers from intense social anxiety, as well as depression and misanthropy, and since he feels he can’t interact with people, he hacks virtually everyone he meets. He gets to know people by invading their privacy, letting no one get to know him in return. He goes to a shrink not because he wants psychiatric help, but because he relates to her pain and loneliness.

Elliot also questions his sanity. Occasionally, he will see men in black watching him and apparently has some holes in his memory. Krista, his psychiatrist, prescribes him medication. This and the drug habit he tries to maintain, with the help of his neighbor/friend with benefits, Shayla, likely isn’t doing any favors for his already disturbed mental state.

Adding more fuel to the fire that is Elliot’s life, he works for a cyber security firm called Allsafe by day. A job he hates, since its biggest client is E Corp (or Evil Corp, from Elliot’s POV), the ultra-powerful, ultra-wealthy conglomerate that pretty much owns the world and is responsible for the death of Elliot’s father. Even worse, Evil Corp, and thus Allsafe, is now under attack by a sophisticated group of hackers, who we will come to know as fsociety.

Finally, the zany guy who keeps showing up whenever Elliot sees the men in black confronts him and reveals himself to be the leader of fsociety. “Mr. Robot,” reads the name tag on the man’s old jacket, but he refuses to divulge his real name.

Elliot is offered to join this group in taking down Evil Corp, and with it the seemingly insurmountable problem of debt that so many people (including many of our main characters) are struggling with. The grand scheme seems to be to bring about another economic meltdown, but their first mission for Elliot is framing the loathsome Evil Corp CTO, Terry Colby.

While initially hesitant to socialize with a crew whose plans could not only destroy Allsafe, but cripple the world’s economy, his mind is changed when Terry Colby himself harshly criticizes and dismisses Angela, Elliot’s childhood friend and Allsafe colleague. After that injustice, Elliot goes through with fsociety’s plan and the consequences immediately unfold. The result: Elliot seemingly finds himself standing in that big room with the men who play god.

There’s a lot about this show that I loved from the pilot alone. It addresses many issues and ideas that have been on my mind for years: societal corruption, corporate greed, financial debt, cyber-crimes/cyber-warfare, the divide between rich and poor, the degree to which morality and integrity can be compromised, and the possibility, or perhaps the inevitability, of anarchy. It also features an almost exclusively morally gray set of characters, which seems to be something I’m into these days.

Having already finished the first season, I can safely say that it just gets better from here. It’s dark, complex and creeps under the skin very easily. One of, if not the, best shows of 2015. This is the edge of the looking glass here, people. Hope you’ll stick around to see what’s on the other side, like I did.

Bits and Pieces

* “Evil Corp” is Elliot’s name for E Corp. He explains that he has conditioned his mind to see and hear “Evil Corp” whenever the name comes up. It’s one of the fun ways in which Elliot’s perspective influences the reality of the show. It’s modeled off of Enron, down to their slanted “E” logo.

* All of the episode titles are written as if they were computer files. Another addition to the show’s style and mood.

* “If You Go Away” by Neil Diamond. Amazing sequence.

* This episode was directed by Neils Arden Oplev, well-known for directing the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

* I should note that I myself am not a tech person. This show definitely makes me want to change that, though.

* The editing in this show is flawless. Especially the way the photography is perfectly intermixed with the music and narration.

* Rami Malek as Elliot is some damn good casting. Not to mention, unconventional for a leading man. He totally sold the show with those first five minutes.

* Fsociety’s secret lair: the abandoned arcade building at Coney Island, is so awesome. Besides just looking cool, it’s the perfect atmosphere for this group of anarchist hackers. When describing the group, Mr. Robot claims that rules and regulations is not really an issue, and that the hackers show up to contribute to the cause when they can on their own time. They come to the arcade to play their own individual games. Clever.

* Despite his very open status as a haunted loner, Elliot is a very magnetic person. There are plenty of people in his life who care about him such as Angela, Gideon, and Krista. Or people who just want to be his friend like Angela’s boyfriend Ollie or Shayla. Even the morally ambiguous figures like Mr. Robot and Tyrell Wellick are drawn to him.


Ron: "That’s… my personal life."
When confronted with his own dirty laundry, Ron the child porn king was hurt, almost offended, like he was the one who had been violated by getting caught. This is something we will see more of in the show. The various ways in which people try to rationalize or make light of their utterly reprehensible actions.

Krista: What is it about society that disappoints you so much?
Elliot: ... Oh, I don't know. Is it that we collectively thought Steve Jobs was a great man even when we knew he made billions off the backs of children? Or maybe it's that it feels like all our heroes are counterfeit, the world itself has become one big hoax? Spamming each other with our burning commentary bullshit masquerading as insight, our social media faking as intimacy. Or is it that we voted for this? Not with our rigged elections but with our things, our property, our money. I’m not saying anything new, we all know why we do this. Not because Hunger Games books makes us happy, but because we want to be sedated. Because it’s painful not to pretend, because we’re cowards. Fuck society!
Krista: Elliot… Elliot! You’re not saying anything.
Because anyone who says these things out loud would be considered unhealthy or abnormal.

Ollie: I feel like things have been awkward between us, don’t you?
Elliot: I’m okay with things being awkward between us.

Tyrell: It’s gonna be fun working with you… Bonsoir, Elliot.
No way this guy’s gonna be significant, right?

Elliot: I think they got a root kit sitting inside the servers.
Angela: What’s a root kit?
Lloyd: It’s like a crazy serial rapist with a very big dick.
Angela: … Jesus, Lloyd!
Lloyd: Sorry, it’s malicious code that completely takes over their system.

Mr. Robot: The single biggest incident of wealth redistribution in history.
It cannot be as simple as that.

Mr. Robot: You don’t take down a conglomerate by shooting them in the heart. That’s the thing about conglomerates. They don’t have hearts. You take them down limb by limb. And as they unravel, their illusion of control unravels.

Angela: You wanna get high and watch your favorite movie?
Wow, I’m in love. The movie was Back to the Future II, which I have not seen.

Elliot: I own it all.
This is a line Elliot frequently uses on the lowlifes he hacks and destroys. It isn’t just about justice or revenge for him, it’s about total dominance.

Elliot: It’s happening, it’s happening, it’s happening.

Highly effective pilot episode for Mr. Robot. I give it four out of four blackberries.


Billie Doux said...

Welcome to the site, Logan, and what a terrific review to start with for an intense and complicated pilot. I did watch the pilot and thought it was excellent, but I felt somewhat cool about it and wasn't sure it was for me. Since you're going to be doing reviews of the first season, I just might give it another try.

Josie Kafka said...

Great review, Logan! I'm so happy you're reviewing this.

It's been a while since I saw the pilot, so it's a bit foggy, but I definitely agree with your assessment: this is a very well-made show, and I love the slyness of it (like the Enron logo).

I should note that I myself am not a tech person. This show definitely makes me want to change that, though.

Me, too!

Fran / Blue Gal said...

"The various ways in which people try to rationalize or make light of their utterly reprehensible actions."

Absolutely, and I had not thought of that theme to the show, but of course it's there. Thanks for adding to my list of plot threads to watch for next season. And I hope you keep writing up the show!

Fran / Blue Gal of The Professional Left Podcast

milostanfield said...

So very glad that B Doux is reviewing this show, which was my total obsession this summer. I love a story that traps you inside the head of someone who is not at all reliable in his or her perceptions. Holy Cornell Woolrich, what a fun place to be.

The big irony: loved this show so much I went online and bought a Mr Robot T shirt (the logo of the fSociety/Monopoly guy head). On the shirt, in very fine print, is the fact that the design copyright is owned by Universal, which is owned by NBC, which is owned by Comcast, an Evil Corp if there ever was one. There's just no escape is there?

Henrik Bennetter said...

Great review - thanks!

This is a very Dextery show for me. The monologues, the takedowns, the isolation. Dextery as in the really, really, good seasons of Dexter.

I'm (only?) two episodes in - it just started showing here in Sweden but I'm already totally convinced (and pleeease do NOT tell me if I'm right) that Elliot and Mr Robot are two different personalities of the same person.

I find there are plenty of clues/evidence to this. Firstly, of course, the very first monologue you so eloquently quoted.
It's more obvious in the second episode in my opinion.
Partly because of how Mr Robot stands, at first, so very very close to Elliot at the arcade - then directly in front of him - so that the hacker-girl (can't remember her name) looks at them both at the same time.

Mostly because Mr Robot is the only one who's been allowed to touch Elliot without him reacting strongly.

But. Like I said, I'm only two episodes in and DON'T want to know if I'm right.

I'm looking forward to more reviews and more discussion!

Ps This is very meta - that in order to be allowed to post a comment I have to tick a box to prove "I'm not a robot Ds

Jess Lynde said...

I’m so happy someone wanted to cover this one for the site! Thanks, Logan. Great observations. I really enjoyed this series this summer. I decided to check it out because I enjoyed Rami Malek’s off balance character in The Pacific, and his performance here as Elliott was really tremendous. I also found the paranoia, the unreliable narrator, the off kilter visual style, the name “Evil Corp,” and the boatload of answered questions about what was really happening delightful. But what hooked me was the moment in this pilot when we glimpse Elliott sobbing against his dresser because of his crushing loneliness. It immediately connected me to the painful essence of this character and made me want to see what would become of him.

Jess Lynde said...

Self-correction: That was supposed to be "boatload of unanswered questions." A boatload of answered questions would be boring as heck at this stage. Erg.

Raya said...

Fantastic review, Logan!

I finally gave the show a try, so I'm really glad it's being reviewed here. I'll try not to binge watch the whole season so I can read your reviews as I go.

As a computer scientist, I was worried about how the show would handle the technical stuff.
In many shows/movies, actors just spit random "complicated" words that don't mean anything when put together, type at lightning speed and have fifty flashy windows popping up all over their screen (and let's not talk about NCIS's "Two idiots, one keyboard" scene...). They basically tell tech folks "We don't give a f*** about you, so why should we care about accuracy?" and non-tech folks "You won't understand anything we're saying anyway, so why should we care about accuracy?". This is insulting for everyone, tech or not.

Fortunately, Mr. Robot is extremely well documented and very accurate. The writers give enough technical details to show they really know what they're talking about, while still giving enough context so that non-tech people can also keep up. I love when a show doesn't patronize its viewers.

“Evil Corp” is Elliot’s name for E Corp. He explains that he has conditioned his mind to see and hear “Evil Corp” whenever the name comes up. It’s one of the fun ways in which Elliot’s perspective influences the reality of the show.
I think this is my favourite tidbit about the show. It reminds us every now and then that the narrator is not reliable. Very smart.

All of the episode titles are written as if they were computer files. Another addition to the show’s style and mood.
Also, the "hellofriend" is a reference to the "Hello World" message, which is generally the first thing you write when learning a programming language. "Hello World" is also used as a "saity test" to make sure the environment works. Ironic if you ask me.

Henrik: I've only watched the first episode, but just like you I felt a big "Fight Club" vibe going on, and wondered if Mr Robot was Elliot's Tyler Durden... Guess we'll have to wait and see.

Logan Cox said...

Thank you all so much for the positive responses. Glad to be writing for you guys.

I will try to have episode two's review finished by Monday.

For the sake of mystery, I'm not going to address the "Tyler Durden theory" until the season finale review. I know that's hard once we lock onto the show's similarity to Fight Club, but spoilers are spoilers.

Baz said...

Me and the wife just started watching this and are about 6 episodes in. Loving it so far, and very glad to see reviews on this site :)
The first episode really hooked me in, definitely a fight club vibe, especially with the plans of the hacker group &narration style. Excited to see where this one goes :)

Billie Doux said...

All of the episodes are now available on demand, so I'm trying it again. And I know why I didn't watch a second episode the first time. It's because the idea of hackers saving us from our corporate overlords is so wonderful that it's frustrating that it will never happen in real life.

I loved that he saved the dog.

Heather said...

Logan, awesome review. I really like what you said about the show's worldview. It took me a minute to start watching this but, I finally got here. Something told me I'd love it and -- I do! Who doesn't want their call to adventure to be at Coney Island?
Billie, the dog was such a great touch.