Review: Mr. Robot

This is going to be a slightly different review. It’s not about a NUC, it’s not about technology…it’s not even something that’s about technology. It’s about a show that uses the world of tech as its backdrop; Mr. Robot.

SPOILER ALERT
(I’ll be talking about some basic plot details below)

My wife and I enjoy having a show to watch together in the evenings, and she’s great at finding new shows for us when we’re done with our last one. She came across Mr. Robot on Amazon Prime a week or so ago, and we’re three episodes in (we’re not big on binge watching, we like to keep it to one episode a night…lasts longer).

The Premise

Mr. Robot is right up my alley. It’s a show about an IT tech working for an IT security company.  It deals with hacking, firewalls, protocols, data breaches, and the like. So you could say I have a lot to identify with.  It holds at its heart the conceit that corporations are inherently evil, and money (or rather the owing of it) is the source of most of the problems in the world. It takes the view (at least initially…we haven’t finished the season) that if only someone would destroy the evil corporations, we’d all go on to live happy, fulfilling lives.  Part of the main character’s struggle is with the question of whether the world would be better off if the corporations were “taken down”.

The Lead

The show centers on Elliot (played by Rami Malek) a guy who is great with technology, but not so great with people.  He struggles with some serious demons, has social phobias (has a problem with people touching him, for example), and has a general contempt for society. Elliot lives a double life: by day he protects large corporations from hackers, and he hates it. He hates protecting the companies that are the source of so many peoples’ problems. He makes up for it at night by being a hacker himself, finding bad people and anonymously blowing the whistle on them.  He doesn’t like people, but he understands that they’re predictable in their bad behaviors.

Elliot has a drug problem…he manages to keep his heroin addiction “under control” by limiting how much he takes, as well as taking withdrawal medication while he’s using.  He’s had a hard life, losing his father at a young age, and growing up not being able to connect with those around him.

I like Elliot. He’s a fascinating, complicated, and mostly unpredictable character.  In many ways he reminds me of the lead in another show my wife and I enjoyed (for the first few seasons, at least), Dexter.  That show, like this one, was about a character who didn’t actually fit into society, but had come up with tricks and techniques to blend in.  That’s where the similarity ends, however, as Elliot isn’t a serial killer.  In fact, he’s opposed to killing anyone, and a major plot point hinges on his reluctance to harm people.

Rami Malek’s acting is spot on, and he easily portrays the awkwardness and frustration of someone who “just doesn’t fit in”. So I’m fully on board with Elliot. I’m interested in how he thinks and what he’ll do. I like not knowing what’s coming.

Other Characters

The supporting cast is a mixed bag.  We have several key players, from Elliot’s only real friend, Angela, to her outwardly friendly but secretly slimy boyfriend.  Both characters are well-acted but disappointingly one-note.  Angela is in some serious debt with the “evil” corporation, and that adds to Elliot’s conflict about whether he should help take them down.  Some of the dialog from the boyfriend is especially cringe-worthy. His thinly veiled attempts to get into Elliots’ good graces as a way of looking good to Angela are far too obvious to seem realistic. And he throws around “bro” so much he may as well be wearing a sign that says “I’m the jerk boyfriend”. Then there’s Elliot’s drug dealer/neighbor/girlfriend Shayla, who is also well-acted. Her character, too, follows the general tropes of “messed up druggie with a soul”.  Also, the actress who plays her is very attractive, which stretches plausibility that a drug-addicted social misfit like Elliot would just happen to live next to a beautiful-yet-damaged drug dealer who wants to sleep with him.

Elliot’s therapist is a refreshing character. She seems to genuinely care about Elliot and want to help him. She’s professional, intelligent, but also dealing with personal issues that can seep into her sessions with Elliot. In short, she seems real. Like the rest of us she does her best to keep her private life private, and not let it interfere with her work. And, also like the rest of us, she doesn’t always succeed.

There are other supporting characters, like the typical “super bad, thug drug dealer with profound things to say” who’s hanging around Shayla and causing problems. Elliot’s boss at his day job is interesting in that he is a bit of an unknown. At first he’s played as the typical frustrated boss, but as the season evolves he appears to have a larger role to play. He’s written, like Elliot’s therapist, as a real person…not good, not evil, just a person. He seems to like Elliot, but also not entirely trust him. Sounds like a few bosses I’ve known. I like not knowing what he’s up to.

Mr. Robot

I’ve always been a fan of Christian Slater. He’s a strong, underappreciated actor who has fallen off the radar.  Here, his acting is first-rate. He delivers every line with a conviction and a world-weariness that makes you believe what he says. He comes across as likable, intelligent, even fatherly, while still remaining mysterious and dangerous.  I like the character, I like the acting. But I hesitate a bit because I get the feeling I know where he’s headed. I hope I’m wrong, and if I am, well done to the writers.

The “Baddie”

Here’s where we get into my only real issue with the show: Tyrell. He’s clearly set up as the shows “big bad”.  He’s introduced well enough, but before long we’re shown just how evil and conniving he is. He’s portrayed as a Lex Luthor/Kingpin hybrid, but with none of the weight of either.  Instead of evolving into something or being forced into doing bad things because of circumstance, Tyrell is just…plain…bad. Each time we’re shown another glimpse into his mind, it takes us a little further down the road to evil. We’re meant to see how ruthless, how controlling, and how “off” he is. But for me (and my wife) it comes across as contrived. And the writers occasionally follow the Game of Thrones method of shock-for-shock’s sake, which I don’t personally find helpful.

I would love to have a show like this without a main villain, that instead of relying on “evil“, let the show develop out of the flaws that make us all human.  The real world isn’t made up of good guys and bad guys, it’s made up of people of all sorts of varying intentions.  It reminds me of House of Cards; I enjoyed that show enormously, watching  interesting characters do the things that politicians do. But when it took a turn toward “our main character will do anything” territory, it lost me. I hope Mr. Robot doesn’t continue down that road. There’s a lot to like in this show, and some of the characters are rich and alive.

Again, we haven’t finished the season, so I can’t say where everything will end up. But there’s enough here to keep us watching.

 

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