Mr. Robot (the edgy TV show which has just been renewed for a second season by USA network) is the story of a computer genius, Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) who works in AllSafe, a cybersecurity firm that lends their services protecting big companies, among them E Corp (Elliot calls it Evil Corporation). Although his best childhood friend works as his supervisor (Angela, played by the beautiful Portia Doubleday), he feels remote towards most people and is incredibly insecure regarding human interaction. Surrounded by technical jargon as Gnome Dell, Tor network, and rootkits, Elliot leads a double life as a vigilante hacker by night (i.e. exposing pedophile rings) and conspirator by association of the radical group FSociety.
A pivotal moment in his life is meeting the FSociety’s mysterious boss, only identified by the logo Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), who progressively brings to light Elliot’s painful memories about the shady circumstances of his father’s death. Elliot materializes his drug-induced neurosis after his pilgrimage to Coney Island, where the FSociety’s headquarters operate, turning his paranoia into something more threatening and politicized. He’s highly suspicious of everybody’s motivations and profoundly disenfranchised from the world, which he sees plagued with false heroes and social media anesthesia manifested in blind submission to corporations in return for ego satisfaction.
“Sometimes I dream about saving the world, saving everyone from the invisible hand,” Elliot fantasized during the pilot episode while mentally invoking a full-fledged debt-laden collapse in a near future, “but I can’t stop it. I’m not that special. I’m just anonymous.”
Krista (Gloria Reuben) plays Elliot’s loyal psychotherapist and, when she asks why society disappoints him so much, his reply results in one of the most memorable monologues of this year: “Is it that we collectively thought Steve Jobs was a great man, even when we knew he made billions off the backs of children? Or maybe it’s that it feels like all our heroes are counterfeit. The world itself’s just one big hoax. Spamming each other with our commentary bullshit masquerading as insight. I’m not saying anything new, we all know why we do this. Not because Hunger Games books makes us happy, but because we want to be sedated. Because it’s painful not to pretend, because we’re cowards.”
In the episode 7, Elliot awkwardly lets Krista see again his vulnerable side with a new confession: “I don’t just hack you, Krista, I hack everyone. My friends. Co-workers. But I’ve helped a lot of people. I want a way out of loneliness, just like you.”
An uncertain cross between Edward Norton’s The Narrator in Fight Club and a more cynical Donnie Darko, Elliot seems desperately lost in his search for cracking the establishment’s encrypted code. Back to the Future II is his favorite flick, where Marty McFly time traveled from the 1980s to October 2015. The irony here being our real 2015 is a lot more somber than the tech-friendly utopia Zemeckis’s characters visited.
An ambiguous villain, E Corp’s sociopathic Technology Officer Tyrell Wellick (played eerily by Martin Wallström), considers himself not so different of Elliot, since both are “perfectionists.” Mr. Robot‘s Season 1 is, according to its creator Sam Esmail, basically exposition: “It was just the setup for the real story which really begins next season, which would have been Act 2 of our film.”
It’s testimony to Rami Malek’s talent —acclaimed previously for his role of Snafu in HBO’s The Pacific— that he seems to be “old-school” concerning his computer skills, and despite his vision of Internet technology as “scary,” he effortlessly sells Elliot’s robotic enunciation and languid demeanour —opposite to Malek’s effusive charm— even in the most harrowing scenes. That tension between Malek’s suggestive presence and Elliot’s spaced-out look is undeniably the greatest asset of the show.
“From Elliot’s perspective, everything is real,” says Rami Malek. And the difference with Fight Club is that in Fincher’s film things didn’t feel so real for the viewer, since the lead character was meant to give voice to an everyman who made symbolic use of “I am Jack’s…” as self-concept. Although several reviewers have noted the parallel function between Fight Club‘s Tyler Durden and Slater’s enigmatic character named Mr. Robot, it’s clear Durden represented an Übermensch figure, whereas Mr. Robot is more of a fatherly type. Actually, an unreliable narrator is not so rare in disturbed personality-themed films like Somewhere in the Night, Taxi Driver, Blade Runner, Brazil, Total Recall, Donnie Darko, Memento, Shutter Island, Inception, etc.
In my view, it’s not so important to reify Mr. Robot‘s alter ego, but it’s key to understand that its central plot is about an alienated geek who suffers from antisocial tendencies and a dissociative identity disorder. In his head, Elliot Alderson has muted into a holy saviour and anticapitalist warrior, projecting his decadent victimism onto the virtual denizens, whilst obsessing over hacking and sex trysts.
In Jean-Paul Sartre’s L’Imaginaire (1940), we learn “the tragic character of obsession comes from the fact that the mind forces itself to reproduce the object it fears.” Elliot has possibly PTSD added to his psychological malfunction, due to his traumatic family life, worsened by a mother who mistreated him. Having betrayed a promise he made to his dying father, the sense of guilt frequently torments him. To numb what is known in PTSD terminology as “the fear network” and the reactivation of the reminders of his trauma, he has been using morphine for a long time.
“If the last to know he’s an addict is the addict, then maybe the last to know when a man means what he says is the man himself,” Philip K. Dick wrote in A Scanner Darkly: “Strange how paranoia can link up with reality now and then.” When Elliot’s core beliefs were disrupted in his infancy, his sense of safety, esteem, trust, and intimacy entered a process of disintegration that continues latent underneath his hardened apathy. His transient derealization and hallucinations were more visible and their effects more toxic in the episode 4 “Daemons.”
Sliding by surreal dream vignettes throughout his withdrawal session, Elliot meets Angela who persuades him to confront his Demon: “Daemons. They don’t stop working. They are always active. They seduce. They manipulate. They own us. And even though you’re with me, even though I created you, it makes no difference.”
The Western democracy appears weakened by internal crisis, the masses drowning in debt, so Elliot begins slowly to accept a revolution as inevitable. So far, the adrenaline rush provoked by FSociety’s anarchist plans has proven too powerful to ignore. Elliot was a victim of an uncaring mother, but, unlike Fight Club’s anti-feminist paranoia, in Mr. Robot, one of the most interesting and tenacious characters is Angela Moss, whose mother was another victim of E Corp. Portia Doubleday’s portrait is captivating as Elliot’s sentimental refuge and realistic heroine. “She cares about him deeply and loves him deeply,” admits Doubleday.
Neuroscience pioneer Franz-Joseph Gall’s motto was “Nothing but God and Brain,” following Spinoza’s theory of the spiritual mind being as real as the brain’s circuitry, both “part of the intrinsic intellect of God.” The dystopian landscape expands now into one of the last frontiers, our personal yet overexposed cyberspots, threatening to shut down our digital hubs by filtering a virus so malign that we never could guess if it comes from the controlling corporation or if it has been created by natural born hackers.
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