Like many new viewers of Sam Esmail’s “Mr. Robot” television series, I’d never heard of the USA Network’s hacker phenomenon until it ran away with multiple Golden Globes in 2015, including Best Television Series – Drama. I had read some highly positive reviews of the new series, but the name was off-putting to me and, I found out, intentionally so. The title harkens back to a different time in television and the world at large. “Mr. Robot” sounds like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, but the dark intensity of the show unveils a deep analysis of modern societal angst.
Who is Mr. Robot?
Fueled by hard electronic beats, similar to Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive,” Sam Esmail’s topical new series is a mixture of hacker espionage, business power struggles, and anarchy in its purest sense. I won’t delve into spoilers, but “Mr. Robot” follows the attempts of a hacker group to erase the world’s debt by dismantling the servers and physical storage of the world’s largest bank, un-subtly named Evil Corp.
It might sound pointless to watch techies click on a keyboard, but “Mr. Robot” is so much more than that. Elliot, the main character, is a self-destructive, drug-addicted hacker prodigy. His paranoia that Evil Corp. is following him leads to seem deeply philosophical and disturbingly honest truths about Elliot and society—to be clear, Elliot’s world is our own and his monologues hit on some harsh truths about the social injustices that we see every day. It is hard not to celebrate Elliot’s cynicism like the gospel of some revolutionary messiah, but it is this mindset which causes problems for the main cast of characters and paints a beautifully muddied picture for the viewer.
I have not researched this extensively, but I can safely assume that “Mr. Robot” was written during Occupy Wall Street or, at least, in the same embittered mindset. While studying at NYU from 2010 to 2014, I saw the rise and fall of the movement as well as the fear that it created in the minds of those who did not understand or agree with it.
“Mr. Robot” straddles this fence eloquently; it is easy to hear the inner turmoil of Elliot’s mind and think “yeah, that’s wrong and they should do something drastic,” but outwardly he questions the effect of enacting a world-crippling hack on the world’s largest bank—what would happen to the life we take for granted? There are no easy answers and “Mr. Robot” does not provide them. For these reasons, “Mr. Robot” is bound to be a resonant hit with modern viewers even though its motivations and fears are intentionally disparate.