a theatre, film & pop culture review
Who: Sam Esmail; creator, writer & director
What: Psychological Thriller
When: Season 1 premiered June 2015; Season 2 premieres summer 2016
Why Watch: Egyptian-American writer-director-producer Sam Esmail cast Rami Malek, also Egyptian-American, as the star hacker. While the women characters are mostly relegated to supporting roles, the cast is diverse and multi-lingual.
Malek is remarkable as Elliot – all awkward, haunted stare and stilted language with just enough emotional struggle flickering behind his wide eyes to break your heart. He’s an antisocial cybersecurity engineer and hacker who snorts morphine to combat his loneliness and clinical depression, all while talking to us – the audience – as though we’re there conspiring with him. While Elliot hacks everyone he knows, it’s an effort that isn’t so much nosy as it is habitual and, more often than not, well-intentioned. (Though, let it be noted that he only ever acts on issues revealed in these personal hacks when they involve the women in his life. He never “helps” men, which would be more of a feminist red flag if the women weren’t the only ones he actually cared about. That being said: it’s still a problem.) His genius hacking gets him noticed by anarchist Mr. Robot (a wily Christian Slater), who recruits him to join a group of hacktivists known as F Society whose aim is to cancel all debts by attacking the huge corporation E Corp – or Evil Corp, as they so fondly refer to it.
Despite a non-twist (you know exactly what it is and when it’s coming) that isn’t as interesting as Esmail wants it to be, Mr. Robot is a hugely compelling, darkly witty commentary on American Capitalism. But even with subversive takedowns of everything from Facebook to Apple to the Ashley Madison scandal, we’re not always sure who we’re rooting for: the hackers or the hacked. Confusing our alliances, and constantly blurring our sense of what’s real and what’s not, Mr. Robot is an edgy, highly cinematic, and completely addictive psychological thriller with a bit of a V for Vendetta vibe going for it. I avoided it when it premiered because of its IT/hacking premise (coding is generally not my idea of a good time), but if you like your drama dark, violent, and smart, and your narrators unreliable (and boy, do I), you’ll love Mr. Robot. It’s the only show that’s satiated that craving since Jessica Jones (we’ll get to that gem later).
Bechdel Test: PASS