End of Season Report: Mr. Robot – Season 1

4 Sep

Mr. Robot

There’s a lot to say about the first season of Mr. Robot. It has become a blogosphere sensation that became required viewing by the end of the summer, and though it’s an interesting show with plenty of redeeming qualities, I’m not fully on board; Mr. Robot is not quite as good as most of the internet would have you believe. First, though, I want to spend the majority of the piece grappling with a particular question as it relates to the show.

How much does plot matter in a television show? It depends, and sometimes more than other times, is the obvious but unhelpful answer. Sometimes plot is essential, sometimes it’s a distraction. Lost diehards would say focusing too much on the plot and its lack of resolution missed the point, but I would argue against that, saying that the plot was clearly important to the show initially, and that the show had set certain expectations for resolution. Furthermore, there are different instances of plot: within a moment, a scene, an episode, over the course of a season, or over the course of a series.

I have some general issues with Mr. Robot’s plot, but to not ignore the forest for the trees, everything starts with two major plot twists in the second half of the season. First, it turns out that Mr. Robot (Christian Slater, and he may have another name, but I’m still going to choose to call him Mr. Robot) is actually not merely a hallucination of protagonist Elliot’s dad, but also a manifestation of Elliot’s alternate personality. Second, fellow hacker Darlene is Elliot’s sister, but Elliot continues to forget and or not realize this, and occasionally comes on to her.

The hallucination twist I didn’t care for at all. At first, I was angry at myself (in my defense, I watched most of the show in two days and didn’t reflect much between episodes) for not picking up on the fact that Mr. Robot was a figment of Elliot’s imagination, but as I thought more about it there were several scenes where he was present and Elliot wasn’t, meaning that sometimes he was a hallucination while sometimes he was a manifestation. The former, which I still don’t particularly care for, I’d be kinder towards; the second is a lot too much for me. It reeks of Fight Club, and speaking to my points about plot earlier, while I enjoy Fight Club in many ways, the plot is unfathomably stupid and prevents me from quite liking it as much as many do. The twist was nearly a pure plot move, and it obscured and overwhelmed some of the more interesting aspects I’ll drive into shortly.

The Darlene twist works better but the implications are questionable if thought about for a couple of minutes more, which is often a sign of a potentially poorly thought out twist. It’s a little less obvious and Darlene is a much more interesting character than Eliot’s dad. It’s unquestionable a twist, but it doesn’t feel as M. Night Shyamalan-esque. The trouble though is, and if you think I’m looking too deeply into this, maybe you’re right, but– why is a sister who seems to care intensely about her brother’s well being letting him participate in activities that first, he’s obviously not up to mentally, and second, that obviously have the likelihood of aggravating his already very serious fragile mental state. This is all aside from the insane idea of following and trusting someone with a very serious mental illness to lead a group of hackers in a series of crimes that will inevitably have the participants sent to jail for a long, long time, if they’re ever caught. Are there motivations set up by the show to defend this behavior? Sure. Darlene cares a lot more about the project than Eliot does; it’s her baby, and maybe she really, deluded-ly believes that this is good for him, or maybe she needs him, and secretly knows that this is bad for him but doesn’t care, though she convinces herself otherwise. Either way, it’s a bit of a stretch.

I don’t quite understand the Tyrell Wellick plot. He kind of cuts a Patrick Bateman visage, and he’s a very strange character and I don’t really get how he fits in with the rest of the show, plot-wise, tone-wise, or thematically. I kept waiting for the big moment when Elliott and his world would dovetail, and it never quite happened.

I do really like Darlene’s character, and although I’m not sure how it would work in practice, abstractly I might prefer a version of Mr. Robot that focuses on Darlene, rather than Elliot. Elliot would be stronger a peripheral character, and Darlene’s struggle to ferment revolution while keeping her troubled brother healthy and productive and maintain this ragtag team of hackers seemed loaded with potential.

The focus on what revolution means; true freedom and the notion of good and evil, selling your soul vs. fighting the good fight, and what that really means, or what change any of this makes. These are all complex ideas with plenty to work through. The show vacillates between exploring these in a provocative way and laying the evil 1% on too thick. The good: A dive into what changed and what’s the same after f society erases all debt, and the hollowness of the victory Darlene wants so desperately. The bad: the soiree of rich people at the end of the show, the rampant, obvious evilness of some of the Evil Corp executives, who appear to be cackling in a room about how to screw the peons a little too often. I’m as inherently skeptical of giant corporations as any good liberal, but even I winced at some of the less nuanced depictions of corporate America. Better was in the last episode when Angela understandably was enraged by the treatment she received at the shoe store after she witnessed a suicide personally, and the portrayal of Gideon, a man who is at the whims of corporate forces outside of his control, who isn’t always fighting the good fight, but just wanted to be a small business entrepreneur looking out for his employees.

I don’t think Mr. Robot is without merit. But the over-the-top twists and ridiculousness of the plot overwhelm some of the more interesting aspects of the show. I was initially furious with the twists, and felt like the show had been overwhelmed with gimmickry, and I still feel that to be true to some extent. With more time though, while I’m still frustrated with what was an uneven first season that was never as brilliant as many of its internet backers believe, there’s a real opportunity for the second season. Mr. Robot made a mark this first season and the second season will be a chance to start fresh and decide what kind of show it wants to be. Twists are out of the way; it’s time to dive in to pure substance and explore beyond the initial parameters of the catch-all plot.

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One Response to “End of Season Report: Mr. Robot – Season 1”

  1. sofianesisters September 21, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

    If anything, Tyrell is a good pretext for us to see his wife. That woman is crazy!

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