TV Review: Mr. Robot - Season 1

"Synthetic emotions in the form of pills; Psychological warfare in the form of advertisements; Mind-altering chemicals in the form of food; Brain-washing seminars in the form of media; Controlled, isolated bubbles in the form of social networks -- Nothing is real anymore."

As the newest season of the critically-acclaimed television series, Mr. Robot, begins its latest hack on our unsuspecting brains, I couldn't help but go back and give my thoughts on what could be one of the best first seasons of a show I've seen in a while. Originally walking away from the show in the middle of its first season, I just recently finished it, and was left astonished by the sheer brilliance of the series. Stringing me along effortlessly with its unique tale of revolution and the corruption of our economic society, I was soon entranced by the cryptic yet fascinating world of hackers and what exactly they do when society isn't watching. So, as the new season kicks off, here are my thoughts on just how addictive this show really is.

What happens when you enlist a socially-awkward, emotionally-fragile, yet highly intelligent computer programmer like that of Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) to take down the world's economic infrastructure? Yeah, maybe a social revolution that will spark a new age of freedom from a corrupt system, but with that comes a load of unexpected -- and deadly -- consequences. Diving into a level of hacking he's both familiar with and completely blindsided by, expert tech Elliot must do whatever is necessary to keep himself -- and his ragtag team of hacktivists -- alive and hidden in the shadows, before the corporate kingpins of the world come knocking at his door. But how can Elliot ever hope to stay one step ahead when he can't even maintain control of himself?

Popping up on the ever-revolutionizing USA Network last summer -- the channel that has spawned such bingeable series as Burn Notice and Graceland, as well as a handful of other dramas and comedies -- the hacking thriller of conspiracies and corporate dogs that is Mr. Robot initially didn't snatch my interest right away. Not a huge fan of hacker rebels nor the corrupt underbelly of the world's financial structure, I didn't immediately jump at this odd and slightly cryptic new show. Eventually tuning in, the show's pilot episode transported me into a world unseen by most of humanity, an eerie yet prominently polished society of corrupt men and women sitting under our noses. And the people standing against them? Low-level hackers surfing the far-reaching waves of the Internet to take one small step towards tearing these monsters down. With a premise like that, and characters effortlessly drawing you in with more cryptic backstories that haven't even scratched the surface of who they truly are, I have the slightest clue why I ever stopped watching this show.

Alongside its profound and prophetic deeper meaning and dynamic cinematography, one of the most memorable elements of this series has to be its cast. Leading the show, we have our morally-ambiguous and frantically anti-social narrator and protagonist, Elliot Alderson, played eloquently by the brilliant Rami Malek. Drawing the audience in closer and closer with ever mysterious collection of words he mumbles or letters he types on the keyboard, Malek dives into the hacker world as the feverish junkie-turned-revolutionary Elliot, a low-level con just trying to find his way in society by doing what he does best. Soon drawn into a massive game, as he's enlisted by an underground hacker group known as "fsociety", Elliot must put his life on the line to commit the crime of the century. Stringing us along through his drowning madness, Malek delivers a riveting performance, as he struggles to balance his own sanity with the overwhelming amount of guilt and hopelessness that reside within him. Comparable to that of someone like Hannibal's Will Graham (played by Hugh Dancy), I found Malek to be a fantastic balance between whimsically sarcastic and quietly unsettling, as both characters quickly lose their sense of reality as their worlds go to hell.

Riding the sanity train right alongside Malek's protagonist, we had another dynamic (and equally as unsettling) casting choice in Christian Slater's flamboyant anarchist Mr. Robot. Popping up into Elliot's life quickly into Season 1, as the skilled hacker finds his way into the crosshairs of "fsociety", Slater's perplexing character offers little more than cryptic hints at what's to come in Elliot's future. Eventually evolving into a manifestation closer to Elliot than we ever imagined, Slater's jocular puppet-master ended up being just as unsettlingly delightful to see progress through the season as Elliot was. Equipped with a well-versed career of stunning charisma and sarcasm under his belt, Slater had no problem jumping into this psychotic player in Elliot's journey to take down corporate America.

The supporting cast of this season also proved to be quite memorable. From Carly Chaikin's unhinged hacker Darlene to Martin Wallstrom's frighteningly ambitious Tyrell Wellick, the unique casting choices of creator Sam Esmail never faltered as every actor made their character their own. Whether they aided Elliot in his quest, or vowed to destroy him, you never quite knew who was on what side with this cast. From the morally-ambiguous hackers to the unsuspecting corporate know-it-alls, every actor's performance was fueled by their own character's unique intentions -- no matter how sinister they became. As Season 2 is already showing us, Esmail doesn't stray from the unordinary, casting unlikely picks for his hacker series that ultimately end up winning you over.

Portia Doubleday, who plays Elliot's worrisome yet determined childhood
pal, also gives a dynamic performance as she slowly uncovers the truth.
While the cast is a major highlight of the show, one of the most compelling aspects of it has to be its riveting and hauntingly realistic premise. Peeling away the immense layer of secrecy and corruption surrounding our society's vicious and greedy economic system, creator Sam Esmail has crafting a world not unlike our own in more ways than one. From towering corporations ruling our minds and swaying our thoughts similar to that of E Corp -- or Evil Corp -- to the underlying desire from those select few to break down the barrier between the rich and the poor set up by said corporations, Mr. Robot spins a visceral tale of vigilantes just trying to right the wrongs that are endlessly digging the grave for the world. Ambitious and undeniably self-aware, the concept and ideals behind this show are some of the main reasons why this show is so damn brilliant.

Overall, with the aid of one provocative premise accompanied by a string of intense characters and awe-inspiring direction, Mr. Robot might be one of the best new shows on the small screen today. Offering up genuine hacker tropes and a self-aware ideology of the corrupt financial world we live in, if you're looking for an enjoyable, gritty, cyber-thriller to binge on, I highly recommend you hack into Season 1 of Mr. Robot. 

I gave the first season of Mr. Robot a 9 out of 10 for its ambitious and eye-opening concept, its gritty and immensely unique cast of hackers, rebels, and kingpins, and its keen direction that managed to make it even more exciting with every scene that hacked its way into my memory. 

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