The Problems with Mr. Robot
The first season of Mr. Robot was average, banal television.
Characters were uninteresting and flat. I couldn’t empathise or relate to any of them, not even rail or get mad. They were just taking up space on screen. I genuinely didn’t see Shayla’s death coming, but I felt sad for a few minutes and then moved on. Then, stereotypes were recycled with little attempt at hiding them. Tyrell is the young angry white psychopath, Christian Slater’s character the renegade with the heart of gold, and, most yawn-inducing of them all, Darlene, the snarky tech nerd who speaks sarcasm fluently.
The saddest character is the main one. Elliot never changes or grows. He’s wooden, emotionally, and disengaged. Nothing in the story changes him. It is not convincing that he suddenly sprouts in the last two episodes as this evil hacking mastermind on mental vacation. And I don’t buy at all that Darlene is his sister. How did he, all of a sudden, just realize it? It’s just not convincing.
Although the depiction was refreshingly accurate, the story relied far too much on the technology. It was the most honest aspect of the story, but we don’t watch television to learn about Linux and hacking. We watch it for drama and story. And Sam Esmail took the easy way out from storytelling by using tired techniques to push the episodes along.
He went The Sixth Sense on us by telling us that Elliot’s father is dead. Psychologizing hackers as well-meaning rebels with sad backgrounds is tiring. Around episode six, there was the customary extended dream sequence connected to Elliot’s withdrawal, as the writers tried to convince us that this will add insight to Elliot. I felt that it had nothing to do with the story. It was then insulting to viewers to go all Shutter Island on us and say that it was all in his head. This clumsy handling of mental health disease ends up being maddening, and turning both the characters and the problem as being gimmicks.
By the end, it was all Elliot and it was mental disease with schizophrenia and hallucinations. This was handled far better in The Beautiful Mind.
The real appeal of this series is not its artistic merit or its craft in acting or writing or direction. It’s that Esmail has tapped into the populist, contrarian voice that we hear and read all through social media, that the corporate world is morally corrupt, that our lives can be hacked, that we’re all in the Matrix of our minds, that we need to raze modern society down to embers and start over. This will assure him viewers, even if the writing is mediocre.
The tagline of the series – your democracy has been hacked –, but there is nothing about democracy in the series. I’m rather certain that democracy is not the right to not have your dickpics hacked and used as collateral by whimsical hackers with silly masks.
The most lucid and engaging moment in the season was Elliot’s brain rant at the therapist’s office. It was the hook that pulled me into the series. However, it was a gimmick, as was the whole season.