When I was coming up with the concept for the weekly recommendations/thoughts, Mr. Robot was actually the first piece of media I wanted to post. I’ve decided to wait until its end to properly talk about it though, and the time has finally come.
Ever since its inception, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Mr. Robot (which is ironic, considering Elliot’s own relationship with the person Mr. Robot is). Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that I didn’t like it. It’s that I liked it too much. So much that it made me, the aspiring writer of that time, tell myself I’d never be able to pull off something as good as this show. It’s something I thought about every week, as I’ve watched it religiously since it came out in 2015. The good thing is, I managed to see past the initial negative thoughts and use the artistry and mastery of Robot as inspiration. It’s not “you’ll never make something as good as this”, it’s “you have to strive to make something as good as this, because it’s in all of us”.
Before I dive into short-ish thoughts (as short as I can keep them) about the show, I want to mention how much of an inspiration its creator is to me. Sam Esmail hadn’t done any big projects before Robot, his credits being only 2 films: Comet and Mockingbird. The fact that he pitched Robot to USA, a network which didn’t really deal with dramas of Robot’s scale or kind, and convinced them to not only make the show, but stay with it until its completion (he’s always planned it like a long movie, every season is thought through from the beginning) baffled me, and to this day makes me believe that if you love your work and fight for it, your dreams can come true. He wrote, directed, and produced Robot, and I can safely say his touch has made its mark. His 2018 series, Homecoming, is reminiscent of Robot through its framing and style, establishing Esmail’s technique and also bringing more quality stories to screen. If Robot feels too long for you, then at least try Homecoming. You won’t regret it.
Now onto the show. Mr. Robot is centered around Elliot Alderson, a smart but unstable hacker who becomes involved in one of the biggest conspiracies in the world as he tries to take down the 1% together with a group of vigilantes called fsociety.
As always, spoilers ahead.
- Season 1 will always remain the best in my mind, so I’ll start with that. I remember watching the first episode just because I liked Rami Malek (Elliot) and wanted to check out his new project. I wasn’t even halfway through the first episode when I started recommending it to everyone I knew. I must’ve watched it three times and remained equally impressed every single time. It was fresh, it was dynamic, it raised questions and made you desperate to know more. It was the thing I didn’t even know I needed from TV.
- Martin Wallström’s Tyrell Wellick was one of the main reasons I got so excited about this show. He was introduced as one of the “enemies”, but his constant appearance into Elliot’s life – where he acted like Elliot was the love of his life – coupled with his occasional murderous tendencies and his relationship with his wife, the equally fascinating Joanna (Stephanie Corneliussen), Tyrell became my favorite character. I have to say, although I have a lot of praise for Robot, I felt a little disappointed that Tyrell wasn’t used to his full potential. After he joins Elliot, it seems like he’s either absent, or he ends up being dumbed down. I guess you could say love makes one act dumber, but I felt like he became a bit of a kicked down puppy, and killing him off in the final season wasn’t really the send-off I’d imagined for him. Especially because for most of his final episode, he was told more than once that the man he ended up loving didn’t really care about him. We know better, we see Elliot affected by his death later, but Tyrell is left pretty much in the dark, regardless of Elliot coming back for him.
- Since I’m on the topic, I wish we could’ve seen Tyrell and Elliot’s relationship develop a bit more. It had an incredible amount of potential and the base was there, it just had to be built on. Martin’s own views on it only helped it further, but alas, we can’t always get what we want.
- A character whose evolution I’ve enjoyed tremendously though is Mr. Robot (Christian Slater). It’s revealed relatively early-on that he’s only in Elliot’s head, a projection of Elliot’s late father, revelation which shouldn’t have shocked audiences as we’ve been given the clues since the beginning. The scene in which we (and Elliot) finally get the confirmation still packed enough of a punch to wow the viewers though. Throughout the series, Robot becomes the voice of reason, the protector, the father figure Elliot wishes he had in real life. Because of Tyrell’s absence, I turned to Robot and threw all my appreciation at him, and I’m quite satisfied with his character journey. Even if he’s an extension of Elliot, he’s his own person, and his personality worked incredibly well to create conflict but also soothe Elliot when needed.
- Rami Malek’s performance is admirable. Watching him as Elliot makes you forget he’s an actor playing a character, which is always the #1 sign the actor’s doing their job well. Elliot’s social awkwardness, phobia of being touched, and internal struggles come through perfectly, and his outbursts of rage and obsession with “making the world better no matter the cost” feel incredibly natural. Elliot’s an antihero, and he’s never been portrayed as anything but, at least not to me. Although he has good intentions, he’s hurt a lot of people while trying to save the world, including himself (ahem, murdering his other self just so he’d get to live his best life).
- We’re part of the story. The first episode of the series begins with Elliot addressing us: “Hello, friend.” We’re instantly thrust into the world, as Elliot’s confidant, someone who’s literally taken on a journey with him, and we stick to his side (more or less) until the end. As the series ends, Elliot tells us we have to let go too, and I have to admit it’s quite bittersweet, but it’s satisfying to know even if all I did was sit on my couch and wonder “what the hell?” every week, Elliot considers we helped, so that’s all that matters.
- While the other seasons built up on the drama and Elliot’s efforts to take down Evil Corp and Whiterose, I feel like I got lost a bit. I wasn’t as emotionally invested, and I’m not sure if it’s just me. I felt like the attention was more on the evil and the fact that it has to be taken down rather than on the characters, so it felt a bit more impersonal overall, but I recognize the direction was necessary to develop the story further. Events shape a character the same way a character shapes events, so in the end the two were pretty much put in balance.
- The cinematography is gorgeous. I mentioned Esmail’s framing and technique before, but I need to talk about it again. It sets the show apart and makes it easily recognizable as one of Esmail’s while also having an in-story reason for looking the way it does. Aesthetics play a big part in my enjoyment of things, and Robot has never let me down. Characters are more often than not framed so they’d be in the lower corner, surrounded by loads of space as if there’s a grave weight hanging over them. Story is important, sure, but looks can tell as much as words can, and Robot’s visuals were always something you could count on to give you clues. From Mr. Robot’s position regarding Elliot vs. other people to all the props hinting at different ideas and revelations, the show is a visual fest and deserves 50000 stars.
- While I feel the story developed as it should’ve and the ending was a very satisfying conclusion to the journey, I must say I’m a bit disappointed with the female characters here. When you look at it, there’s a pattern of ladies dying only for man-pain: Shayla, Angela, Joanna out of the mains. Although Dom and Darlene are alive and are great examples of female characters with agency, I feel like it’s a pity the others were sent off the way they were, especially since they were all so different and had so much potential.
- Whiterose (BD Wong) was a great villain. With a great backstory, believable motivations, and interesting world views, she made for a very gripping, complex character one could feel for but also root against. The conflict and tension she provided the story were tangible, and her mere presence was fascinating to watch.
- The accompanying book/diary, Red Wheelbarrow, is a great example of using transmedia to tell a story. It’s set during Elliot’s time in prison and it’s full of objects and information that enrich the show. I devoured it in a day, so you have Good Donut’s guarantee it’s a good read.
- 407 Proxy Authentication Required (season 4, episode 7) gets a special shout not only because it has a 10 on IMDb, but also because its execution is flawless. Built as a televised play, it’s set completely in the apartment of Elliot’s former therapist, Krista (Gloria Reuben), as she and Elliot are forced into a therapy session by Fernando Vera, a drug dealer obsessed with Elliot. Not only is the play-format a joy to watch on TV, but the action keeps you tense for the duration of the episode, and Rami brings out what’s probably the best performance he’s ever had on the show. This episode was, simply put, genius.
Ultimately, there’s loads to say about a four-season show, but it’d be too hard and too long to dive into everything, especially while trying to keep the spoilers to a minimum. Although my thoughts aren’t all praise, in the end Mr. Robot will always remain an example of what creators should strive to make, and an inspiration to believe in your work. I think it’s safe to say it revolutionized television and upped the stakes for other shows to come, so if you haven’t already, give it a watch. And if you’ve finished it and want to discuss it, send me a shout, I’d love to talk about it further.
As always, thank you for your time!