Everything about our world is connected. Governments tracks personal data. Facebook will eventually control all media companies. Amazon’s drone will eventually be able to deliver anything to your door. And the phones are increasingly tasked with doing everything for us except breathe…yet. All of these advancements in technology in the television space was met with great skepticism in the British show Black Mirror and exists as great form of satire in HBO’s Silicon Valley. The latest USA Network show Mr. Robot created by Sam Esmail and debuted online a couple weeks ago is a psychological-thriller that shares that skeptical outlook on the effect that all of this technology is having on the world and our day-to-day lives.
The show follows a by-the-day programmer, Elliot (Rami Malek), whose job is protecting major multi-national conglomerates, but at night he turns into a vigilante hacker with a superhero complex to go along with his crippling social anxiety—he can stop a child pornography ring but cannot go to a birthday party. But that anxiety and paranoia is heightened when he is followed and confronted by Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), a man that runs an underground hacker collective that aims to cause a financial crises, which could reshape the entire global economy. Elliot is unsure if this chance meeting with perhaps the first group of people that share his inherent mistrust of the world is tasked with framing one of the top members of E Corporation — or Evil Corporation, as Elliot hears it. He commits the act, but after finding no digital trail of this hacker group, he begins to question his mental sanity and if this task put to him was actually even real. But at the end of the episode, once the first step of the group’s plan goes into action, a thousand more questions are raised about what he’s just gotten into.
By the end of the first episode all of the paranoia that exists in Elliot’s head about not trusting companies and people appears to be given little push back. Not that the show appears so cynical as to slip an “Evil” into the name of every person, but when Elliot backtracks through the digital life of a man his therapist is dating and he finds out is a serial cheater, it quickly becomes clear how little privacy people retain when everything exists with a digital record. There is no email, Facebook message or Google search that cannot quickly be turned against someone if they’re deemed to have crossed a line.
The day and night split between Elliot, super hacker, and Elliot, hoodie-wearing morphine taking loner, in the first episode is a bit frustrating. The plot certainly receives an undeserved push by placing him at the company that protects the very companies he and his hacker group vowed to take down. This forced narrative choice also gives sneak peek into how Elliot interacts with “normal” people, including his longtime friend Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday), but in this opening show it showed it effetely conveyed why he’d dislike his dry place Midtown New York City existence. The superhero split should offer grounding of a character, but in this pilot it just made the desire for perpetually overcast skies to give way to the night.
The pilot’s thriller aspects by end gave way for some light Matrix flourishes—all of the men in black aren’t just in Elliot’s head. The opening season is only ten episodes and with so many potential grabbed from the headlines topics to play with the show can go so many directions. Technology and where it fits within our world can take many steps and Mr. Robot so far appears willing to ask what is lost with each step forward society takes.