[This is a review of Mr. Robot Season 1, Episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
In the premiere episode of USA Network’s new drama series Mr. Robot, viewers are introduced to Elliot (Rami Malek), an unassuming-looking security technician for a company known as AllSafe, which is entrusted with keeping corporate companies safe from hackers. But unbeknownst to AllSafe, or the world-at-large, is that Elliot is an altruistic hacker-by-night who blackmails online cyber criminals, whether it is online companies offering pedophiles child pornography or two-timing men with fraudulent dating profiles. If there is a computer crime being committed, Elliot anonymously sniffs them out and stops them in their tracks. Elliot’s worst nightmare would be for anyone to notice what he is up to as he likes flying under the radar and operating unseen. That is until the day someone sees him.
In ‘hellofriend.mov,’ Elliot finds he has caught the attention of some men in suits, as well as a man wearing a jacket that reads “Mr. Robot” (Christian Slater). Unsure just what rabbit-hole he has fallen down, Elliot plays along. He allows himself to be followed and acts as unobtrusive and unsuspicious as possible. He also allows follows Mr. Robot to his off-the-grid lair where a crack team of hackers operate in their mission to take down corporate America – or maybe just the companies that must fall in order for there to be a revolution. Eerily reminiscent of the plight of Neo in The Matrix, one is never quite certain what Elliot sees or whether the people he encounters are real. With a history of social anxiety disorder, anger management issues, and paranoid delusions, Elliot is currently under the care of a psychologist and occasionally dabbles in recreational narcotics. So just how much of Elliot’s world is real? Viewers are asked to believe it is all real. But there is a persistent feeling that perhaps some of it is perhaps not as Elliot envisions – especially after Elliot returns to the Mr. Robot hacker lair and finds nothing there. Did it really happen? Was Elliot recruited to help take down Evil Corporate America? Or did he imagine it all?
By the end of the episode, a chain of events has been set in motion. When Elliot left a piece of malicious computer code in the system mainframe at Evil Corp, someone was able to get in and hack its system, which triggered Step One in the promised socio-economic revolution that Elliott yearns for. But perhaps it was not as invisible as promised, as in the final scene, Elliot has been brought before Tyrell Wellec (Martin Wallstrom) at Evil Corp. Even before Elliot was recruited by Mr. Robot, Tyrell figured out there was more going on with Elliot than first appearances might suggest. He was the one who had the men in suits following Elliot throughout the episode. At least that part was real. Elliot had been target and followed by Tyrell’s men from Evil Corp, all the while he was simultaneously being vetted and recruited by Mr. Robot. But does Tyrell have an inkling what part Elliot played in the take down of his predecessor and did he allow it to happen so he could be promoted? That is the question that hopefully episode 2 will answer.
The other over-arcing mystery is just who is Mr. Robot and is his promised revolution really going to work out as well as Elliot hopes it will – or has Elliot found himself used as a well-placed pawn in a much higher stakes game? With Christian Slater portraying Mr. Robot, the role is undoubtedly a bit more layered that we have glimpsed so far. It was a savvy casting move on the part of the show as just seeing Slater in the role sends up red flags. After all, he is known for playing characters with hidden motivations, including roles in the film Heathers and his prior television series: Mind Games, Breaking In, and My Own Worst Enemy.
Securing Elliot to the real world are his lifelines: Angela (Portia Doubleday), his childhood friend and co-worker at AllSafe, and Dr. Krista Gordon (Gloria Reuben), his therapist. These are the women he will commit a countless number of white-collar crimes for, and whose digital worlds he tracks meticulously to make sure to keep them safe. A third and as-yet unknown female figure in Elliot’s world is Darlene (Carly Chaikin), one of Mr. Robot’s hacker crew who seems to hover whenever Elliot is around. Just what part Darlene has to play is undetermined, but given the prominent casting of Chaikin, she is certain to be a much bigger piece of the Mr. Robot puzzle as the series unfolds. Chaikin was last seen in the ABC comedy series Suburgatory as the scene-stealing Dalia, so be on the lookout as her role as Darlene’s story continues to expand this season.
With Elliot already showing a propensity to commit computer crimes when it suits his white-knight purposes, it will be curious to see just how both Tyrell and Mr. Robot hope to exploit his genius this season, and what game they are all actually playing. Is this the verge of a true revolution or is it a game of high-stakes corporate espionage? With Elliot already obsessed with the dark underbelly of corporate America and seeing the true faces of those hiding behind masks of civility, Elliot may not be satisfied to be a mere pawn in someone else’s game. He only plays along until he finds out what everyone is really up to and then he is likely to turn the tables on them. The fact that Mr. Robot and his crew have not left a visible e-footprint for him to track will just convince Elliot that they have something more diabolical to hide. He knows intuitively that everyone has a darkness within and he wants to find out what it is and expose it if he can. Just like Angela’s two-timing boyfriend, Elliot will give his prey enough digital rope with which to hang themselves and when it best suits him, he will strike. So whatever game that Tyrell and Mr. Robot are playing, word of warning: Elliot is not someone to play games with.
After such a swift and breathtaking takedown of Evil Corp’s President Terry Colby (Bruce Altman), the movement towards wealth distribution seems to be underway. Is this the first step in the revolution or is it just another shift in the sands of corporate greed and monopoly? I will bet that Elliot finds a way to make sure the revolution has truly started; he always has a contingency plan. As alluded to in our preview article for Mr. Robot, the shadow of the well-known hacker film War Games looms large as you can surely hear the infamous phrase: “Shall we play a game?” echoing through the entire series. It is just a question of figuring out who is asking and figuring out what the real goal of the game is. Only one thing is for certain: Elliot is playing to win.
Mr. Robot continues next Wednesday with ‘onesandzer0es.mpeg’ @9:00pm on USA Network.