BY KALI O'ROURKE
There’s a lot about Mr. Robot to love, chief among them Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), whom we spend a good half hour of the pilot simply getting to know. While that may seem like an odd way to start a pilot about hackers wanting to take down the government, this half hour was my favorite part, with the second half of the pilot taking a backseat.
We’re introduced to Elliot through the running voice-over in his head, in which the audience functions as an imaginary person that Elliot is talking to, and we learn through this voice-over everything there is to know about – well, everything.
He works as a cyber-security engineer with his childhood best friend (and potential crush?) Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday), he hates Angela’s boyfriend because the guy likes Josh Groban, George W. Bush, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, his therapist still hasn’t gotten over her divorce. We know everything that Elliot knows, and Elliot knows a lot because he hacks people’s social media accounts – and beyond – just to check up on them.
And we know everything there is to know about Elliot too, more than anyone in his life. He tells us about his social anxiety, and we see him trying to work through it. We see how he cries when he’s lonely and the drugs he takes when he can’t handle the world.
That kind of insight into someone’s life, the same kind of insight Elliot thinks he has through social media, is addictive. I could probably watch just Elliot going through life for an hour each week, especially since Malek plays him so well. But both unfortunately and fortunately, the plot of Mr. Robot gets in the way of that.
The initial set-up is intriguing: Elliot finds a hidden file in the servers of E Corp (or Evil Corp as Elliot calls it) after a cyber-attack on the company. The file has instructions not to delete it, and even though Elliot knows that it’s a corrupt file that should be deleted, he leaves it on the server.
The questions of who left it there and why loom large in Elliot’s mind, but they are quickly answered when Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) introduces himself. Mr. Robot runs a collective of hackers, and he wants Elliot to help them by bringing down Evil Corp. I’m a little fuzzy on the details here, and I’m not sure if that’s because I was a little bored or if Mr. Robot didn’t explain enough about what was going to happen.
What I do know is that bringing down Evil Corp would relieve a lot of people’s student loans – including Angela’s – because there would be no way of proving who owed what. Elliot, who clearly sees himself as some kind of white knight vigilante – which makes sense when he brings down a child pornographer, less so when he’s essentially Facebook-stalking everyone he knows – agrees to the plan, even though it’s going to create a giant economic crash.
And then after, all of this build-up and intrigue? Nothing happens, at least not right away. I imagine waiting for 19 days for Evil Corp to crash and burn was terrible for Elliot because waiting for it for approximately five minutes was terrible for me. I expected Evil Corp to get what was coming to them right away, possibly because I watched Leverage where that often happened, and when they didn’t and we returned to Elliot’s life of “helping” his friends – he uncovers information that his therapist’s boyfriend has cheated on his wife with seven different women – it felt like the pieces were in the wrong order.
Ultimately, it’s a minor detail in a very good pilot, but I think it would help if I knew why it took so long for the Evil Corp plan to be enacted. Maybe Mr. Robot’s hackers had to do something first? It could be as simple as fleshing out Mr. Robot’s world, the same way the show fleshes out Elliot’s. Though that could be difficult with Mr. Robot so firmly planted in Elliot’s head.
So, with the “big bad” supposedly taken down, where is Mr. Robot headed in its coming season? The last few minutes of the pilot offer a lot of intriguing directions but little answers. In fact, it’s kind of mind-blowing because we’ve seen the room Elliot ends up in with the men in suits staring at him a couple of times already in the pilot. It’s the room Elliot imagines when he’s talking about how much he hates the 1%, so how much of what we’re seeing is what Elliot wants us to see?
Can we trust what we’re seeing in this show at all? After Elliot mentions calling E Corp “Evil Corp,” all the other characters do too, and even the advertising on billboards changes to say Evil Corp. Mr. Robot isn’t just a show focused on a specific character – we’re seeing everything that he’s seeing, as he sees it. Which is an interesting premise but one that I’m worried will be hard to sustain.
For now, Mr. Robot intrigues and excites, particularly when focused on Elliot, his thoughts, his inability to connect with people, how he uses his hacking ability “for good.” And that’s really all a pilot is meant to do: get people to watch the rest of the show. Mr. Robot does that job and does it well. I’ll definitely be back next week to see how the rest of the season starts shaping up and whether or not we learn anything more about the hacker, Mr. Robot.
- Mr. Robot has already been renewed for a second season. Which should help the often–canceled Christian Slater breathe a little easier.
- I’ll be interested to see if Mr. Robot keeps the heavy emphasis on NYC locations going into the rest of the season or if that’s going to be specific to the pilot because of its higher budget.