“It’s happening.” Those are the two words Elliot utters when it turns out Mr. Robot wasn’t lying, that the hack is real, and his group can do what they say they can. It’s exactly what Elliot was hoping for, and we see the look of excitement in his eyes as he spins around Times Square, taking in the news of Terry Colby’s arrest with something very close to a smile. (Or at least as close as Elliot can come to smiling—it’s not clear yet if a genuine grin is even part of his toolbox.) It’s an adrenaline rush moment, the kind of thing that gets you excited on the character’s behalf; that is, right up until a bunch of men in dark suits usher him inside an SUV and deliver him to a bustling conference room at Evil Corp. At that point, everything becomes blurry and indistinct. Everything, that is, except for Tyrell Wellick.
And so begins a very promising story, one that seems to revolve around Elliot Alderson, a mysterious group of hackers, and their sly leader (Christian Slater), known only as Mr. Robot, thanks to the name patch on his jacket. Elliot is a very sympathetic protagonist. He’s depressed, smart as hell, and generally empathetic in all the ways that endear people to others. Especially to us, of course. We seem to be the imaginary friend that Elliot has created in his mind—someone to talk honestly to, since he’s so uncomfortable talking to others. Mostly, it’s just a way to allow a first-person voiceover, delivering information that we wouldn’t have any other access to otherwise. But that final shot gives us a wonderfully potent example of breaking the fourth wall. When Wellick greets him with that oily smirk, Elliot turns and looks right into the camera, saying, ”Please tell me you’re seeing this, too.” Even if it’s just for cheap effect, it works, marvelously.
Elliot lives alone, with blond, stressed-out Angela seemingly his only friend. A friend from childhood, no less, suggesting that Elliot might have failed to develop some key socialization skills. (A brief flashback, showing his mother heaping some verbal, if not physical, abuse on him as a child at the dinner table also lends credence to the evidence that Elliot has some issues.) His therapist reinforces this, not only by asking about his ongoing problems with isolation (he ditched Angela’s birthday), but by warning him that when he hides away, his delusions come back. “The meds are working,” he insists, though it’s unclear if this is just to stall her from further prying. Even his rant—a manifesto-like outburst of anti-capitalist, anti-societal hectoring—turns out to remain in his head, a mere hint of the emotions and opinions he keeps locked away. He even admits that it’s silly, that he’s not saying anything everyone doesn’t already know. Which makes it doubly clever when you realize he’s not just saying that he’s not saying anything. He’s really not saying anything, out loud.
But he is doing drugs, even if they’re not the ones Krista prescribed. His morphine habit seems relatively under control, in that he has a rigid system for maintaining an effective dosage and preventing a tolerance build-up. Of course, this doesn’t mean he still can’t make unexpected decisions, like sleeping with Shayla. It’s unclear who she is to Elliot—just his dealer?—but she’s a surprisingly affable presence, and it suggests that maybe Elliot’s alienation from society isn’t as all-encompassing as he makes it sound. Even he admits his longing for a normal life: “What I wouldn’t give to be normal. To live in that bubble.” His hacks seem geared in part toward helping to maintain the illusion of good for other people: Taking down a child pornography distributor, and forcing Krista’s lying paramour to break up with her, are both ways of trying to keep the world a little more innocent and truthful. Elliot may be a thoroughgoing cynic, but if he can’t believe in a brighter world, he desperately wants others to be able to do so.
And the plot set in motion in “hellofriend.mov” is nothing if not a dream of a brighter world: To erase the consumer debt history, to free people from the bonds of financial servitude that keep them in thrall to Evil Corp, the world’s largest conglomerate. It’s right out of Fight Club, true, but it’s also a pervasive fantasy, one Mr. Robot seems primed to exploit as both an endgame for its hacking machinations and also an emotional pull for Elliot. After all, Evil Corp (technically just “E Corp,” but since Elliot has trained his brain to only hear the former, and we’re Elliot’s imaginary friend, that’s what we hear, too) is responsible for the death of Elliot’s father. The radiation poisoning he suffered led to his leukemia and death, leaving Elliot with only a potentially abusive mother. Elliot believes that he’s been recruited because he works at AllSafe, the cybersecurity company charged with guarding Evil Corp’s servers, but there’s an equally compelling personal reason: revenge. What better way to ensure fidelity to the conspiracy than for Mr. Robot to dangle the potential of extracting punishment on the multinational behemoth that caused our protagonist so much pain?
And speaking of enemies, the show looks to be setting up Tyrell Wellick as some sort of nemesis/behind-the-scenes manipulator. Revealing himself to be fairly tech savvy, as well, Wellick’s smile is designed to cause maximum suspicion. When he tells Elliot, ”It’s gonna be fun working with you,” it sounds like nothing so much as a veiled corporate threat. Unlike Terry Colby and his clueless Blackberry ownership, Wellick actually understands how this technology works. And not only that, he notices when Elliot trades out one file for the other in the AllSafe meeting, as Elliot takes Colby’s snide dismissal of Angela as the impetus for his rash decision. (Only, it couldn’t have been all that rash: He had the other file ready to go, didn’t he?)
Elliot’s decision to leave Fsociety’s .dat file in the server, and then again to hide the truth from both his seemingly kind boss Gideon and his superiors at Evil Corp, shows that Elliot has chosen a side—that he may have actually chosen this side long ago. And his side serves two purposes: It allows him to pursue the dream he’s always had, that one about saving the world, while simultaneously getting him out into the world and interacting with others, just like Krista wants. Because all this hacking will be done in person, at Mr. Robot’s Coney Island arcade hideout. (Unless the disappearance of that gear means they’ll be switching locations each week.) “Our encryption is the real world,” Mr. Robot tells him. What a coincidence: The real world is just the thing Elliot’s been avoiding.
- For those of you wondering why a review of the very first episode of Mr. Robot is just now appearing, we started our coverage with episode three, so this is our rewind review. Next week will bring an analysis of the second episode, at which point we’ll be caught up. And for those of you finding this show for the first time, welcome! We have some wonderful commenters here; I hope you’ll feel right at home.
- Fight Club wasn’t the only film reference point going on here. That ferris wheel scene came across like an explicit homage to The Third Man.
- “Money hasn’t been real since we got off the gold standard.” Actually, it wasn’t any more real before that, either, Mr. Robot.
- Christian Slater’s first appearance on the subway was a neat way to run interference between the men in black who are supposedly chasing Elliot and his day-to-day life. The show seems like it wants to have some fun with Elliot’s paranoia, suggesting those men tailing him might not be real at all.
- Elliot’s opening sequence with the pedophile store owner was a pretty great character intro. “I don’t give a shit about money.”
- Not only does he have a fish named Qwerty, but Elliot rescues the dog. That’s some “Making Your Protagonist Likable 101,” right there, but Rami Malek sells it.
- Liking George Bush’s Decision Points and Transformers 2? Ollie is practically the cartoon version of a douchebag.
- “I created you. I didn’t create this.”