“What about society disappoints you?”
After hearing this question, we’re taken through Elliot Rodgers’s mind, through images of corporate America and Steve Jobs and child labor as a bitter voiceover lays out everything that’s wrong with society. It’s certainly an on-the-nose sequence, but it forms the firm foundation for USA’s intriguing new show, a show that’s a departure from the network’s usual lighthearted fare and a promising new venture for television as a whole. This is a pilot that knows how to work through cliches to craft a compelling story, and this is a pilot that has the ability to balance procedural elements, an overarching storyline, and characterization within the span of its 65 minutes.
It also doesn’t hurt to have an actor like Rami Malek (The Pacific) in the cast as Elliot, someone who both exudes confidence and vulnerability, someone who knows how to play complete strangers even as he suffers from social anxiety disorder. It’s a delicate balancing act that Malek has to play, and it’s impressive how good of a picture he takes of the character in the opening episode alone. After all, the show isn’t just concerned with his hacker side; it’s also concerned with the relationships he has with other people (or lack thereof). As he says midway through the episode: “I’m just anonymous. I’m just alone. If it weren’t for QWERTY, I’d be completely empty.” And later on: “What I would give to be normal, to live in that bubble…that’s how I justify this. To keep their optimism intact.” This is a guy who’s very alone, who lives oftentimes in his mind, and the show uses this to lead into the idea of an unreliable narrator. We’re not entirely sure what’s reality and what’s just a delusion, and that’s part of what makes the narrative so intriguing. It’s by no means a new concept, but it works well here.
And here enters Christian Slater playing Mr. Robot, the head of an underground hacking group who approaches Elliot during the pilot. He strikes at Elliot’s feeling of being out of control, telling him that he’s in a prison that he needs to break out of, that he needs to help “take the conglomerates down limb by limb” to “unravel their illusion of control”. This relationship–and the show as a whole–is all about a ledge of unease, creating a sense of foreboding about our standing in the world of big marketing and inequality and ramped up consumerism. Essentially, we created a prison for ourselves, and Elliot is intent on kicking down the bars with the click of a keyboard.
-Christian Slater has a reputation for failed shows. Let’s hope this one breaks the trend.
EDIT: The show is renewed for season two, so things are looking up.
-So refreshing to see that he doesn’t just hack the world by punching random buttons. In fact, one of his attempts doesn’t even work in this episode.
-Very Fight Club-esque.
-Who would’ve thought a show called “Mr. Robot” would be good?
-Interesting that Elliot criticizes the fact that “we want to be sedated”, yet he uses morphine. Yes, I know morphine is a different type of drug than, say, propofol, but some of the effects overlap. The idea of reduced pain–or not having to feel pain–is key.
-I’m still iffy on regular coverage right now. We’ll see in the upcoming weeks.
Photo credit: USA, Mr. Robot