Mr. Robot, at its core, sounds like the plot from a trashy young adult novel. A hacker with debilitating social anxieties decides to start a worldwide revolution by destroying the evil corporation that killed his father. He’s joined on the way by a group of kooky hackers who all have personal stakes in the work.
But really, Mr. Robot is something much more than this description would make you believe. It’s a searing character study, a political manifesto, a gripping thriller. It’s the perfect combination of Taxi Driver (1976), Fight Club (1999), and The Social Network (2010). You could probably reach further back and draw links to Albert Camus’ classic novel The Outsider (1942).
The acting is absolutely superb, with a star-making performance from series lead Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson and the always provocative Christian Slater as Mr. Robot. Malek’s Elliot is an incredible character, and easily one of the most complex and interesting characters to debut in American television this year. Awkward, full of anxiety, but ultimately at the end of the day one of the purest and most honest characters, it’s hard not to sympathise with Elliot. Slater’s Mr. Robot is reminiscent of the darker side of political revolutionaries – the alluring, intoxicating power politicians such as Hitler offered. Mr. Robot offer Elliot a chance to be someone special, by devoting himself entirely to Mr. Robot’s plans. It’s a disturbing performance and one of Slater’s more memorable roles.
Even less-important characters, who may only appear in one or two episodes, leave a searing mark on the viewer. Fernando Vera, as played by Elliot Villar, who could be considered on of the series’ “villains,” is absolutely gripping. His first appearance on the show particularly, in which he converses with Elliot after (unbeknownst to Elliot) beating and raping Elliot’s drug dealer, is terrifying and absorbing. His monologue on the nature of power and hate is one of the series’ very best scenes. Elliot Villar is an actor to watch out for, he’s got great success waiting for him.
Really though, it’s Sam Esmail’s writing that shines through the most. His engaging characters never fail to grip the audience. At the core, this series is a character study. Of course, the plot is important, but what will keep you watching episode after episode is just how brilliantly written these characters are. Elliot and Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) in particular grabbed me. They aren’t characters you will forget easily. Esmail’s story also fully follows up and mediates on the socio-political aspects of this revolution. In this respect it deserves a spot next to The Wire (2002-2008), Homeland (2011-now), and Orange is the New Black (2013-now) in it’s fierce rendition and criticism of modern-day American life.
Later episodes of the series unfortunately falter somewhat as it becomes too caught up in the plot of the series, moving focus away from Elliot and his world and towards his friends and co-workers, who are much more involved in later events than he is. Still, these episodes are very well written, but they can’t hope to match the quality of the first five or six episodes. Nonetheless the series has a fascinating conclusion with lots of twists and turns that will make you want to watch the entire series again to see what you missed. While these twists aren’t original (as the plot isn’t either), they are so well executed that it’s hard to slam the writing.
Sam Esmail’s debut television show is gripping and fascinating. It’s a show that has something genuinely worthy to say of American politics, and I look forward to seeing any academic reactions to this particular strand of development. Whilst it may falter slightly in the last few episodes, Mr. Robot stands as one of the best new shows of the year. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.