Thanks to a fascinating central performance, gorgeous cinematography and interesting premise, Mr. Robot is the USA network’s best series in years.
“Hackivist” is probably right up with “”moist” in words that send an instant shiver up my spine. Mr. Robot manages to change any preconceptions I have with hackivist as a word or dramatic premise. Mr. Robot‘s main character of Elliot is hacktivist. He’s a boring internet security programmer by day and vigilante super-genius hacker by night. Mr. Robot‘s success is because of Rami Malek’s performance as Elliot.
Elliot is the latest in a long line of super-smart social awkward TV heroes but he feels fresh. This can be mostly attributed to the fact that there is nothing cutesy about Elliot or his neuroses. There’s no TV gimmicks here, this very life-like portrait of a character struggling with mental disorders. Elliot is genuinely unsettling but magnetic presence on screen.
Mr. Robot is told completely from Elliot’s perspective and there is running narration throughout where he directly addresses the audience. It is through these narrations that we get a deep and intimate look into Elliot’s psyche and it’s not a pleasant place to live. Elliot’s a tortured, complicated soul and he’s fascinating. There’s nothing about Elliot that’s simple. He’s hardcore cynic about the world but he cares deeply about his few friends. He doesn’t know how to interact with humanity but often yearns to be a part of the world.
It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. Elliot isn’t the first person on TV who is struggling with his mental state or is in disillusionment with society but it’s rarely done so well. The writing can be thanked for that but most of it rests on the shoulders of the actor, Rami Malek. Malek commits to everything. His deep voice, sometimes stilted delivery and just the way he holds himself all contribute to creating this actual human being. He breathes life into Elliot in a way that makes him heartbreaking real and he could easily be a caricature.
While Elliot is very much real, the nature of events is a bit more questionable and intentionally so. Since everything is filtered through Elliot (and he is more than a bit unstable) there is a question if what’s happening is real. This fluidity of reality allows Mr. Robot to do plenty of visual stunts that are as gorgeous as they are intriguing. It makes almost every scene a puzzle and a mystery to decipher. It’s not overwhelming or overly confusing but the observant viewer will be able to notice the subtle hints and clues contained in the text.
Mr. Robot Renewed for Season 2 Ahead of Series Premiere>>>
The main narrative of Elliot and a group of hackers going up against a gigantic corporation isn’t uninteresting but it’s in this mystery of what is reality that USA’s Mr. Robot becomes really compelling. Is Christian Slater’s character of the eponymous Mr. Robot real or Elliot’s own Tyler Durden? Is everything Elliot telling us actually happening or his narration unreliable? Is Elliot actually being followed by mysterious men in black? These are the real questions of Mr. Robot and they’re all incredibly addictive to ponder.
Yet with all the positives there are some downsides. In a cast of relative unknowns Christian Slater sticks out a bit too much. His Mr. Robot is supposed to be a big presence but Slater almost feels like he’s on a separate show. It’s not a bad performance and could balance out in time but for now the character of Mr. Robot is the weakest part of the show. If it is revealed that Mr. Robot is really just a figment of Elliot’s imagination (which is a definite possibility) you’d think Elliot would imagine someone other than Christian Slater.
While Mr. Robot takes an unflinching look at Elliot’s state of mind, it pulls a lot of punches when it comes to his morality. It could be an effort to make Elliot more likable because he is inherently off-putting but it’s a frustrating pattern. Elliot has trouble connecting to people and his anarchist lifestyle should be complex but it’s not.
Elliot doesn’t like his love interest Angela’s boyfriend, Ollie but it can’t just be for petty jealously. Ollie isn’t just a bit of douche with questionable music taste, he has to also be cheating on Angela and Elliot knows. When Elliot is given his central dilemma of the pilot to frame an innocent man of gigantic corporation for a crime he didn’t commit, he only does it after the man publicly humiliates the sweet Angela. Mr. Robot provides excellent reasons for why Elliot feels the way he does but he’s more an antihero than a hero. His actions should be portrayed as somewhat ambiguous but so far Mr. Robot treats complicated issues as black and white.
These qualms are relatively minor in the face of Mr. Robot‘s overwhelming positives. If no other reason you must watch Mr. Robot to experience Rami Malek’s performance. It really is the type of stunning performance that is transcendent. It is so strong that it elevates nearly everything around him. Rami Malek isn’t a complete unknown but this could very well become his breakout role. It certainly deserves to be that.
But what do you think? Will you being watching Mr. Robot on Wednesdays or is an hour long show about a hackivist too big of a hurdle? USA has released the entire pilot ahead of the premiere so you can judge for yourself.
Mr. Robot airs Wednesdays at 10pm on USA.
(Images courtesy of USA)