We are six episodes into the first season of Mr. Robot, and it’s far and away better than I would have ever anticipated. Jon has already written about the strong premiere, which is what caught many of our eyes in the first place. I expected it to take a dip in quality, and while there have been some slower plotlines where the show tries to navigate its cast of characters that aren’t the amazing Rami Malek’s Elliot, the show has largely stayed on track, creating a taut and consistently surprising thriller of a series.
With only ten episodes in season one and having only four left before we have to wait for season two, the show has done quick work in establishing its characters, their world, and their goals. As someone who has stayed away from much of USA’s programming (say what you will, but the channel has a very clean-cut outline for what they look for in their series), I was pleasantly surprised by how cinematic the show felt and how condense the story was. While there are plenty shows that are happy to extend a ten episode arc into a twenty-four episode one, where there are five episodes of plain old filler, Mr. Robot has gotten straight to the point. Meet Elliot–he’s a wonderfully unreliable narrator, and here’s Mr. Robot, played by Christian Slater, who may or may not be real (as Fight Club –influenced this show is, I’m still not convinced he’s 100% a figment of Elliot’s imagination). The show that introduces us to F society, a group of renegade hackers looking to destroy the systematic control and manipulation of the rich corporations such as E Corp (quickly changing to Evil Corp).
If you’re a fan of the series, this is all a rehash, but it’s incredible to look and see how much of this was established in the premiere and how so little of it has had to be re-evaluated or addressed.
What’s made the show so intriguing, beyond the narrative which did seem slow at times in the first few episodes, is how it portrays its lead and the people surrounding him as real people, rather than archetypes. It would have been easy for the series to present Elliot as some suave, genius hacker, an anti-hero type in a similar vein of the Walter Whites or Don Drapers. Instead–enhanced by Malek’s performance–Elliot is erratic, anxiety-ridden, and depressed. He’s small in stature and not immediately imposing, although threatening in his own right. He’s someone who wants to be happy but isn’t ready to actively chase a lifestyle he’s working so hard to disassemble from the inside out.
What’s even better is that he doesn’t always have the one-up on the antagonists, and we’re not always reassured that he’s going to make it out of a given task unscathed. Episode four is largely dedicated to his withdrawal symptoms and his chasing a high. He isn’t immune. Tyrell is his main threat who always seems to be a step ahead of him, and (spoilers for episode six) not only is he in his mind not quick enough to save Shayla, he never even stood a chance.
Tyrell, the villain as of this point, also faces off with people who know more, are a step ahead, and generally throw him off his game. He’s all composure in front of Elliot, but when he doesn’t get what he wants, his facade cracks.
Beyond the leading men, the show also does a mighty service to its female characters. Angela has grown increasingly interesting in her solo storylines, and I love watching her not only come into her own, but address issues within her company (who undervalue her) and call out Elliot when he steps in when he shouldn’t. She’s a strong character, one who is undeserved by the men in her life and has taken control of her own life to vie for better outcomes. Some may see the scene between her and Shayla where they share a kiss in the early hours of the morning to lean to the baiting side of things, but to me it felt honest. Angela is used to being told that others will handle it, trying to take away her agency, and here comes Shayla, who sees the badass in her.
Shayla (still not over her death) is similarly excellent, a light in the shadowy nature of the show, always looking for the positives. She’s a great contrast to Darlene, who is all edges, sometimes irksome and overbearing, but equally as intelligent as her male counterparts. It’s a diverse cast with plenty of female characters who, while never able to reach the intrigue that Elliot inspires, fill in the world to make it feel tangible instead of leaving us strictly in Elliot’s head.
Episode six was a high point in the series, and I’m trying to steady my expectations, but Mr. Robot has turned into one of the best shows of the summer, and one of the more interesting new shows to come along so far this year.
Check back in at the end of season one to read my thoughts on the season as a whole.
Who else is watching? Tell us your thoughts on the series in the comments below.