BY BRYAN LUFKIN
In a previous Mr. Robot recap, I predicted Elliot Alderson will join Don Draper and Walter White as one of the iconic male antiheroes of 21st century TV. After last night’s season one finale, I think Elliot is also on track to becoming the definitive hacker in pop culture history. SPOILERS AHEAD.
Why make such a bold claim? Because after last night, I suspect this show will be able to continually address hacking in a relevant way, simultaneously pulling from and predicting headlines. And what I’m talking about goes a lot deeper than that last-minute, post-production, dubbed-in line about the Ashley Madison data dump. (Though I loved that, too—just as Elliot’s line between fantasy and reality is blurred, ours is, too.)
What I’m talking about is this show’s ability to treat the concept of “hacking” with a respect, prescience, and understanding that no other movie or TV show has ever touched. That’s going to be the show’s fuel that’ll keep it running years ahead—years that, I’m sure, will be punctuated with more worldwide security breaches that threaten CEOs and celebrities alike.
Anchoring it all is a likable, compelling hero: Elliot. At times, it seems like he’s not even fully aware of his own talents, which can—and finally do—trigger shockwaves of international and historic proportions. I mean, this finale (which made #MrRobot trend worldwide on Twitter) ended like a doomsday prelude. fsociety has won, Evil Corp is hemorrhaging, and fsociety’s released videos of a masked figure declaring we are all finally free. (Elliot watches the video, realizes that person is him, but has zero recollection of anything.)
And so, similarly masked fsociety supporters frolic lawlessly through the streets in shopping carts. Even more march through Times Square holding signs that read “We Are FSociety” and “Down with Debt.” Armored cops control the crowds. Worried world leaders plaster cable news.
Which, when you put it like that, sounds pretty overdramatic and the stuff of cyberpunk cliché. But with Mr. Robot, these fictional fallouts from huge hacks feel believable. Could we see a digital takedown worthy of fsociety someday in the real world? Who knows. I hope not. But this show operates in some realm that feels far-fetched, but familiar. It yields a scary plot line that makes us think: Damn, could this really happen?
But something trumps our sick fascination with the cyber apocalypse: Our investment in Elliot. Elliot isn’t some 2-D stock computer whiz. He’s layered, nuanced, he understands right and wrong, and he has a personal history that’s both clouded in mystery and obscured by psychological struggle. He wants to know the truth, and not just about his hacking targets. He wants to know the truth about himself. So do we.
We’re rooting for him. He’s in this extremely delicate state, finding himself at the nexus of a stunning event he unleashed semi-unknowingly and, for all we know, unwittingly. After he wakes up from an apparent three-day mini-coma to find the world imploding, having no memory of successfully pulling off the huge Evil Corp hack, we realize he’s surrounded by people who want to exploit his skills for morally dubious purposes.
Which leads me to season two. The way I see it, the three main characters—Elliot, Angela, Darlene—are all rocketing into three distinctly different directions that’ll serve as the conflict sources among them. Take Elliot and Angela: Angela’s now working PR at the company that killed his dad and her mom. Angela and Darlene: Darlene is #2 of the now globally infamous hacking group that’s still at odds with Angela’s new employer.
And Elliot and Darlene: While Elliot’s literally losing his mind over the megahack that wouldn’t have been possible without him, Darlene has on heart-shaped sunglasses and is throwing post-hack “end of the world” parties, complete with guest DJs and Solo cups in their Coney Island headquarters. Is she after fame? Fun? Is that why she suddenly swooped back into her mentally unstable brother’s life?
And what of Tyrell? Where is he? He couldn’t have pulled a Mr. Robot and ended up being another goblin dwelling in Elliot’s subconscious. Otherwise, his terrifying wife, Joanna, would have said something when Elliot came looking for Tyrell. (By the way, that random, non-English utterance Joanna muttered to Elliot? According to Reddit, it was Danish for, “If you have done something to him, I will kill you.”)
Adroit handling of hackerdom aside, the show seems adequately equipped to stick around. Mr. Robot could likely do for USA what Mad Men did for AMC: It’s a well-written, well-acted drama that might put it in better Emmy contention alongside the big boys, giving the network greater clout, and perhaps paving the way for more fare that’s edgier and more cinematic than what came before.
USA clearly knows that’s a possibility; it ordered season two before the pilot even aired. Sometimes I think this show’s antiestablishment message is too heavy-handed, but it somehow works. It doesn’t lean too much on looming dystopia or flashy cyberattacks. It’s a show about its characters, their relationships, and their shared histories. Its depiction of hacking has been accurate—real hackers were hired as consultants, after all—and the story taps into all the paranoia that comes with being an internet-connected human in 2015.
Cyberpunk has long been a niche genre—but Mr. Robot has found a way to hack into the mainstream.