I don't typically obsess over shows, but when I do it's for real. Mr. Robot is one of those unconventional series that typically don't become sensations. It panders to a niche audience, discussing topics that are foreign to the ears of most viewers. After all, the word "hacker" still inspires fear and mystique to the average individual, so a series on hacker culture isn't one likely to make it big. Nonetheless, it's gone on to win the Golden Globe, the Peabody Award, and six Emmy nominations since its release.
Even so, whenever I talk about this show with my friends, they're typically similarly obsessed or absolutely clueless. It's a bit of a strange dichotomy, but one that I've noticed unique to this show. Perhaps it's just difficult to hate, or maybe it's because of the incredible thought that's been put into the show by its creator, Sam Esmail, that's caused it to become so relatable and likable across the board.
Rather than continue to rant about the popularity or its lack in regards to Mr. Robot, I've instead compiled a few observations I've made during the course of the series that have caused me to become absolutely hooked.
1. The cinematography
Unlike many other shows, so many shots and scenes are done in a beautiful cinematographic style akin to a feature film. Granted, Mr. Robot was initially intended to be a film, with Season 1 acting as an Act One to the protagonist Elliot's arc, but the amount of attention given to scene composition, camera angle, lighting, color, and so many other aspects of the camera work allow each episode to feel like a visual journey. There are so many beautiful stills that can be taken from the series, and it's really a testament to the work put into ensuring for the quality of the show.
2. The soundtrack
Likewise, even the background musically is well selected. Although it is often exaggerated or overplayed to increase unease or discomfort in a scene, towards the end of the first season, it's especially well used to set the mood or to help the viewer really get inside Elliot's head.
The majority of the music, composed by Mac Quayle, whose other work includes American Horror Story, is electronic, although there are also scores that combine the works of hip hop and rock and roll artists.
The series weaves in character themes with music played by the characters, which provides a welcome contrast during the more climactic moments of the episodes.
3. The ensemble cast
Although there are few A-listers in the cast of the show, there are certainly a number of stars among the incredibly talented cast. From Rami Malek (Elliot Alderson) to Portia Doubleday (Angela Moss), the emotional roller coaster and delicate sceneplay is especially well done throughout the series.
Michael Cristofer, who plays the CEO of E Corp, one of the antagonists of the series, is also a scene stealer, as nearly every one of his performances leaves behind a memorable, if bitter, taste.
Perhaps a different take on this point, but it's also noteworthy to point out the diversity of the cast. According to the most recent statistics on the computer science industry, the number of women being hired is still decreasing, and much lower than their representation even across the majority of STEM fields. Thus, the appearance of Sunita Mani (Trenton) as a Iranian hacker, as well as the other supporting actresses Carly Chaikin (Darlene) and Portia Doubleday is pretty major.
Additionally, the nonchalance with which homosexuality and LGBTQ characters are dealt with is also groundbreaking in its own right. Although more shows on television have become comfortable with portraying same-sex relationships, there is still merit to be had for this series' take on the diversity of human qualities across its characters, using personal traits as opposed to stereotyped behaviors to govern their personalities.
4. The relevance of its themes
In a time where stories about hackers show up every so often in the news, where even teenagers are able to take over the digital records of major political figures (ie OurMine), where government websites are easily hacked and holes in databases of social media sites exploited, Mr. Robot makes a move into a very relevant niche.
Although most people are admittedly unaware of the intricacies of hacking, the idea of hackers in mainstream culture is becoming increasingly accepted. Hackers, after all, are simply normal people with an acquired skills. There is nothing separating them from others, apart from experience and a certain knack for problem solving.
The thin separation between the events of the series and our own reality is almost invisible, and it certainly inspires the imagination of its viewers. After all, if so many of the exploits fsociety - the secret hacker society of the series - takes advantage of are real, then what's to say what happens in the show won't happen in our world?
5. The realistic portrayal of hacker culture
The fact that the Twitter accounts of actual hacker societies and organizations commented on the realism of Mr. Robot's portrayal of hacker culture is an incredible win for the series. Esmail had commented on the research required to ensure for the accuracy of the hacking done, and numerous articles have even been published discussing the tools used and jargon thrown around throughout the series.
6. The unabashed portrayal of mental illness and drug addiction
Esmail's own familiarity with morphine - the primary drug used by Elliot - is one factor that allows the mental deterioration of the character to feel so genuine. Alongside this is also the inherent mental illness that Elliot feels, which has yet to make a disappearance. The effects of the drugs and illness are not necessarily sensationalized so much as they are portrayed in all of their ugly rawness - contributing factors to the overall reality of life for many people afflicted with similar trauma as Elliot.
The way certain scenes play out and weave themselves in and out of the narrative, as well as the use of devices such as the unreliable narration and jerky shots allow for a heightened immersion into Elliot's mind. Nonetheless, the illness is always apparent, and also just beneath the surface of the show.
7. The simple realism
Granted, this should have encapsulated the past two points, but I wanted to bring out them separately because they are absolutely fundamental to the series. It's what causes Mr. Robot to differ from any average flick about a vigilante hacker.
Mr. Robot pretends that he's invincible, that he doesn't make mistakes. Nonetheless, in the same way Birdman portrays Broadway and Black Swan portrays ballet, Mr. Robot portrays hacker culture in all its dirt and grime.
Almost no character is perfect or without a back story. Perhaps theirs has yet to be developed, but the do exist as ever changing, dynamic figures within the narrative. Not only are their actions surprising and their characteristics constantly variable, but the way they interact with the world is similarly variable.
Nonetheless, the way the setting and time period (aka present day New York) work their way into the story really works as a way to inspire fear, even in a fictional context.
8. The dialogue
There are so many smart lines that it would be difficult to name them all. Nonetheless, the dead pan narration and inner dialogue of Elliot's crazed mind are both very effective. In most shows, voiceover is wrought with cliche, but not in this instance. Instead, it lends itself to an emotional backdrop to the events of the story, digging into the relationship and dichotomy of Elliot's two worlds while simultaneously providing explanations for a clueless audience.
Furthermore, the show goes on to break the fourth wall, with Elliot often directly addressing the audience as his imaginary friends. This works into his narrative in a surprising way as well, forcing the audience to become an active, if thus far small, part of the story.
The subtlety of the dialogue exchanged between characters, as well as the strength of the lines, allows the story to really exist without a lot of dialogue in most moving scenes. The visuals and body language of the characters often act as a silent dialogue, allowing the show to literally speak for itself.
9. The character development
While Elliot is undeniably the star of the show, enough time is given to develop the background stories of many of the other recurring characters. While the story may be told from the protagonists' point of view, the narrative often veers off course from the plot, allowing the story to stall while it develops further into the inner lives and "mazes" of the other members of the cast.
The relationships between characters often changes, and their movements are constantly in motion. Thus, even as they are becoming developed, they are still developing, ever changing, just like the rest of the narrative. None of the characters are without fault, just as none of the antagonists are without reason. The motivations of each character is made clear at one point or another, with the steady voice of Elliot's explanation of his mental processes presiding over these developments.
10. The timing
...is immaculate. Granted, there are scenes and even entire episodes that lead to nowhere, especially eps1.3_da3m0ns.mp4 (if there was room for another point, I'd add on the allusions to tech culture in the titles and even the attention to details throughout the series as another reason to fall into Mr. Robot). Nonetheless, the way Mr. Robot allows for the more climactic and emotionally wrought scenes to progress at a slower pace, as well as the entire show to slow down at times, is something that is not often seen.
This ability to slow down time allows the viewers to spend more time musing over some of the concepts and effects of the characters, as well as the appreciate more significant points in the plot. It also gives a chance for the story to move of its own accord, without forcing on too much action to the characters.
With the series far from over, it will be interesting to see what the cast and crew have in store for future episodes. Nonetheless, one thing is for sure - Mr. Robot is a show that's worth a few hours of your time.
Sharon Lin is a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is pursuing a degree in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science and Applied Mathematics.
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