Summer 2015 Review: Mr. Robot

26 Jun

Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot is on USA and is a USA show in just about every way. USA over the past couple of years has attempted to get a little more serious and dark than their early Blue Sky days of White Collar and Royal Pains, perfect due to their decline in ratings and prestige. Mr. Robot fits perfectly into this evolution of USA. As for most USA shows, the floor for Mr. Robot is high while the ceiling is low. Mr. Robot is commendably competent and entertaining and snappy enough to make me consider watching another episode, but not quite interesting or different or superior enough to make me actually do it.

Protagonist Elliott is a master hacker. He works for a cyber-security firm by day, which he’s great at, but hates, helping protect evil one-percenter corporations and conglomerates, the biggest of which is his firm’s chief client, the eponymous E. Corp, known informally by the employees as Evil Corp. At night, he hacks to uphold his own personal sense of justice. In the first scene he confronts a coffee shop owner who is unbeknownst to anyone else running a kiddie porn ring, which Elliott discovered while hacking and then informed the police about.

Elliott is a Character, like all USA protagonists. He’s got paranoid delusions and serious social anxiety issues, and has trouble making friends or interacting in normal human fashion. He has one friend, Angela, who he seems interested in romantically, a shrink, who he likes, but who can’t seem to reach him, and a drug dealer who he occasionally sleeps with. Angela has a stereotypical white fratty boyfriend; the boyfriend’s love of Josh Groban is used as a point against him by Elliott.

Elliott sees signs of big evil wherever he goes; men in suits, watching him, waiting for him, but he’s also self-aware that he is delusional. This makes it all the stranger when he’s approached by Christian Slater, who he’s seen twice before ambling around the city, in a subway station, telling Elliott to follow him. Elliott finds that Slater has assembled a crack team of hackers, whose goal is to take down Evil Corp, which in one way or another, holds the digital information on loans and debt for millions and millions of ordinary folks. Taking down Evil Corp, thus, will result in cyber justice, a great wealth redistribution, taking money out of the hands of the rich and powerful and putting it in the hands of the people. Think of them as a hacker Occupy movement willing to break the law to achieve their means.

It’s not the entirely of the show by any means, but the politics of these hackers are vastly problematic; vague and poorly thought through at best. There’s a cheapness and a laziness to dealing with such an over generic political philosophy that sound great as a sound bite, but doesn’t bother to deal with any real life complexities. Have regular people been screwed by big companies on the whole, causing a frustrating feeling of general powerless? Sure.  There are real issues and even occasional crimes propagated by big companies; in the great 2008 financial collapse, corporate behavior along with other factors helped lead to the collapse. But these issues need to be reckoned with in a manner befitted the complexities of the problem; to simply say, destroy this company, free the world is lazy and naïve.

Murky politics aside, the show has its positive qualities. USA is skilled at putting on air shows that know how to pull viewers into their storylines, and Mr. Robot does this nicely. Production values are solid; the show looks good and is legitimately filmed in New York, which is always a plus to me. But there’s just something missing. Mr. Robot feels like it follows one too many tropes. The main character is a little too much of a Character. Maybe these will work themselves out, the show will get more complex and interesting as it goes along. But based on the show and USA’s reputation I’m not sure there’s enough to go on for me to keep going on faith alone.

Will I watch it again? No. I considered watching it again. It was in no way bad. But, USA-style, it wasn’t quite good enough either.

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