Saturday, September 19, 2015

‘Mr. Robot’ Is the ‘Fight Club’ of TV Cyber-Thrillers

Elliot Alderson (played by Rami Malek) is a cybersecurity engineer by day, vigilante hacker by night.  He possesses an intelligent and analytical mind, as established by his brilliant hacking skills and effortless deciphering of people as if they’re made up of computer codes.  However, he also suffers from mental illnesses, particularly clinical depression and social anxiety disorder, and an addiction to morphine, causing an extent of impairment to his thought processes (for one, he spent the story talking to an imaginary friend, who’s represented by the show’s collective viewers).  One day, he is recruited by an enigmatic, crazy anarchist named “Mr. Robot” (played by Christian Slater) to join “fsociety”, his team of capable hackers whose goal is to bring down E Corp (derogatorily called by Elliot as “Evil Corp”), one of the world’s largest – and most corrupt – conglomerates.

That’s the synopsis of Mr. Robot.  By itself, judging from the details given above, it seems an uninteresting, clichéd premise.  That’s what I thought, too, at first.  But after I get to binge-watch the ten episodes of its debut season, I discovered that a synopsis simply doesn’t give justice to the actual depth that this show has.

The themes of Mr. Robot heavily remind me of the 1999 film Fight Club.  And I guess everyone who has seen both Fight Club and Mr. Robot will feel the same way as I.  But I mean that as a good thing.  Mr. Robot has the same level of engaging narrative and thought-provocation that Fight Club has, if not superior.

Mr. Robot is smart, investing, and well-written.  It has an anti-establishment, anarchic theme but I personally don’t think that the show is purely promoting or glorifying such message.  It simply provokes deeper thought upon the issues it handles through a cathartic, realistic, and relatable tale.  That is simply great storytelling.

The way that the story unfolds is an indication of this show’s great writing.  For example, there are some parts that initially don’t hold up narratively, but when the fact that Elliot’s mental problems and drug addiction are established earlier in the story is considered, it is understood that he’s being an unreliable narrator.  Elliot’s delusions and paranoia boosts how the narrative plays out and how the plot twists are built up.

The biggest plot twist is made predictable by foreshadowing (clue: again, Fight Club-esque), but I think that’s the intention all along.  Besides, all reveals are done in an organic, well-executed manner that their impact is not diminished at all.

I was also impressed by the seemingly accurate depiction of hackers’ processes and philosophies.  I bet this show has some Anonymous hackers consulting for it.  It’s one of the most appealing aspects of this show.

But the best thing about this show is the lead character, Elliot.  The show has some fascinating, messed-up characters, but Elliot easily stands out.  I haven’t made a list for fictional hackers yet, but when I do, he’s surely going to be it.  And it’s not just because of his hacking skills.  He’s a genuinely complex, layered, and interesting character.  Elliot is on his way in becoming one of TV’s most definitive anti-heroes.

Mr. Robot is definitely the most thought-provoking, most intriguing, and most suspenseful cyberthriller in years.  Next to Daredevil, it’s my favorite new TV series that came out this year.  There are some things that I’m not satisfied with, like how I wish Elliot’s vigilantism was explored more (would love to see him take down more criminals and d-bags), but they’re minimal.  All in all, I love this show.

The first season’s incredible finale wraps up nicely but nonetheless ends with a lot of questions left in the air.  I’m excitedly looking forward to see what season two will reveal and where the story is going to next.

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