Mr. Robot is so self-aware it may one day reach out and eat the popcorn on your lap.
USA’s Golden Globe-winning series Mr. Robot has just wrapped up its second season, and Amazon Prime members can stream every episode. Over the course of two years, series creator Sam Esmail has brought his audience along for an invasive, cerebral ride through the seedy world of hacking, corporate morality and international terrorism. Buckle up: There’s no such thing as being a spectator in this destruction derby.
Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek, who won an Emmy on Sunday night for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for Mr. Robot) is a hacker, a socially inept twenty-something in New York. In season 1 he is introduced to his partner, known as Mr. Robot (Christian Slater). Together, the pair and their gang, dubbed “fsociety,” stage an electronic attack on the almighty dollar by taking down E Corp, a corporate monstrosity with fingers in everything from banking to toxic waste disposal.
It‘s very Occupy Wallstreet, but Mr. Robot wouldn’t be as well-received as it has been if it were that simple. Alderson is suffering from several forms of psychosis. We learn in season 1 that Mr. Robot himself is, well . . . if you’ve seen Fight Club, you can figure it out.
In spite of Esmail’s use of certain clichés, the production values and unique storytelling devices elevate the series.
One Esmail calling card is his use of music. The series has utilized everything from an FKA Twigs electronic-R&B ballad over a tense murder scene to a Japanese noisecore screamfest to convey the absolute insanity of corporate politics. The title sequence is as anticipated as the bulk of the episode, with Esmail using this to set the tone and announce the arrival of our cast with the pomp of an opera.
By the end of season 1, Elliot has had a complete breakdown. His Mr. Robot personality has been fighting for control. For the first half of season 2, Elliot is stuck in a self-imposed loop, his mental state referred to in computer terminology.
Meanwhile, Elliot’s childhood friend Angela (Portia Doubleday) dabbles in corporate espionage; his sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin) picks up the pieces of the E Corp hack, referred to as 5/9 for the day it occurred; even comedian Craig Robinson, of The Office, makes a dramatic turn in a guest role. In season 2, Esmail plucks us from within Elliot’s head and introduces us to the world left in fsociety’s wake. It’s a familiar world, one that doesn’t feel as far removed from reality as it should.
Post-5/9 society reflects our own. It resides in an uncanny valley, where brownouts signal doom to come, money is worthless, and even though the corporations took the hit, the little guy still suffers. A scary thought nags us: We’re one bad day away from a similar fate, perhaps.
But just as it can start to feel a bit too much (a WTF moment in season 2, episode 6, features a Full House-style sitcom with an Alf cameo), Elliot wraps his arm around our shoulders and asks, “Tell me you saw that, too?” We are as much a part of the narrative as is Elliot, and that’s the key — a pairing of devices, both required to make this system run.
Mr. Robot is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
Out of the Box is a biweekly column by VCReporter staff and contributors about television and streaming content.