‘Mr. Robot’ has really grown on me
Mr. Robot is one of those shows that everybody’s talking about. It’s being praised by practically every TV critic in the land, has amassed a huge legion of fans, and seems to have tapped into both our love of technology and our paranoia about the huge corporations who run that technology. Everybody seems to love this show, so why did it take me so long to get into it?
The plot of season 1 contains some pretty major twists and turns, which I plan to talk about here, so fair warning: there will be spoilers.
The show centers around Elliot Anderson (Rami Malek), a socially awkward hacker who makes his living working for a cybersecurity firm. He’s depressed, addicted to drugs, and struggling to feel any real human connection to the outside world. He’s also highly observant, intelligent, and hugely disillusioned by the giant corporation that seems to be running things, a company called E Corp, which he renames Evil Corp.
During the course of the first season, Elliot is recruited to join the hacker collective known as fsociety by the mysterious and charismatic Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), who shows him that, with his hacking skills, he has the power to actually do something about the injustices he sees every day. But of course, that web is more tangled than he initially thought, and soon he’s spiraling into an ever-intensifying series of events involving people from his past, his co-workers, and everyone he’s grown even remotely close with over the course of the show.
Sounds good, right? And it is. There are a lot of parts of this show that are totally intriguing, performances that feel pitch perfect, and a slick visual language that feels as cinematic as the stuff you’d see on premium cable. But that’s also the problem.
You see, the big twist in the first season is not much of a twist at all if you’re familiar with Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club—one of my favorite movies/books. It turns out Mr. Robot isn’t real at all, but a projection of Elliot’s imagination. Basically, Christian Slater is Tyler Durden.
And this is why I can’t figure out if I love this show or hate it. I love Fight Club and Mr. Robot’s subtle (and not-so-subtle) homages to the 1999 film adaptation are both awesome and lame at the same time. Right off the bat, Malek’s narration sounds strikingly similar to Edward Norton’s general malaise in the cult classic. Right away you know something isn’t quite what it seems with Mr. Robot, and by the end of the first episode, it’s pretty obvious that he’s a less idealized version of Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden. At first, those things annoyed me—like a lesser TV copy of a movie I absolutely love.
But then something weird happened. At some point, it didn’t feel so much like a cheap copy but a conscious nod, an homage, a tribute to Fight Club. One episode even features a subtle piano rendition of the Pixies “Where is My Mind”, which accompanies the iconic final shot in Fight Club. Instead of trying to rip off Fight Club in a different-enough-to-not-be-legally-actionable way, it was clear that creator Sam Esmail wanted to honor it, to bring that type of story to today’s viewers. Let’s not forget that the movie came out in a time before social media, before smartphones—hell, this was a time when most people got online via dial-up. Maybe today’s Tyler Durden would be a hacker, maybe he would be the kind of guy to expose Ashley Madison cheaters or post something incendiary on a celebrity’s twitter account. Or maybe he’d be the kind of guy who makes revenge porn and goes on hateful, misogynist rants on Reddit. Who can be sure? The point is, Tyler Durden was all about disrupting the system, and the best way to do that nowadays is via a computer.
So I started out thinking Mr. Robot was a cheap TV ripoff and being annoyed with the Fight Club parallels, but by the end, it kind of grew on me. I got into Elliot’s total mental breakdown, I started caring about his childhood friend Angela (Portia Doubleday) and her financial struggles caused by student loans, I was even intrigued by Elliot’s Christian-Grey-meets-Patrick-Bateman boss Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) and whatever weird Underwoodesque plots he and his wife (Stephanie Corneliussen) were coming up with in Danish and Swedish. I might have watched the first season a little reluctantly, but now I’m invested, and chances are I’ll be watching tonight when season 2 kicks off on USA Network.