TV Tryouts – Mr. Robot

Mr. Robot
Season 1, Episode 1 – “eps.1.0_hellofriend.mov”

Written by Sam Esmail
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev

There is so much television I hear I should watch and with 24/7 streaming services abounding it can quickly become overwhelming. To finally get a taste of all these great shows I will start doing TV Tryouts. Each month I will watch a couple of pilot episodes of series I have been hearing rave reviews about and see if that first episode can hook me to keep watching. Now, an argument you might make is that you have to view the first six or entire first season before a show “gets good.” To that, I say, “I just don’t have the time.” A television series should be well written enough that it’s characters, dialogue and plot naturally compel me to keep watching. If it doesn’t then that’s ok, plenty of shows for everyone.

Elliot Alderson is a cybersecurity employee with severe social anxiety. Despite his longtime childhood friend and co-worker Angela’s encouragement, Elliot shies away from parties and get-togethers. Instead, he finds solace in the world of networks and data, digging deep into the night and discovering the dark secrets people think they have hidden and locked away. The other regular human contact Eliott has, besides Angela, is his psychiatrist Krista. Elliot knows everything about her personal life and has become protective of Krista to the extent that he investigates a new relationship she started on a dating website.
Meanwhile, Elliot’s employer is struggling to fight back attacks on their biggest client ECorp, a multi-national conglomeration that our protagonist personally finds detestable. He begins to believe men are following him and gets help in evading them from a loud homeless man who seems to know more than he lets on. Elliot is quickly finding himself pulled into the world beneath our own.

The opening of Mr. Robot was fantastic and set an incredible mood. Elliot is in a coffee shop, seemingly waiting for someone when a man enters and takes a seat. Elliot approaches him, and we learn this is Ron, the proprietor of this store and seventeen others in the city. We also learn that Ron has a side business he’s running off of his store’s servers, a very illegal and very disturbing side gig. Ron assumes this is blackmail and says he refuses to give Elliot money for extorting him, that he’ll keep asking for more, but then we learn our main character’s real motivation. This moment did such a great job of introducing Elliott and presenting us with a done in one situation while implying that this is a personal crusade of Elliott’s.

Later, we get another “hack of the week” with Krista’s new boyfriend. The revelation about this man didn’t surprise as I’d gotten the sense the show was going to give us a standard cliche. Nothing shocking but I assume the point was to detail how Elliot is effecting Krista’s personal life without her knowledge. I would have liked more time spent on the negative impact of this, seeing how, yes it is good that Krista is no longer in the relationship, but the sudden shock of its ending and on such negative terms is going to linger with her. We’re very much in Elliot’s head, and he is presented as the “hacking crusader” without a real sense of consequence behind his actions. I think well-intentioned characters being confronted with severe fallout from their actions are profoundly more vibrant and more interesting.

I suspect I know where the series is going with Elliot and his increasing entanglement with ECorp and the Mr. Robot hacking collective. There is a constant refrain about him speaking to a person he has imagined (us, the audience) and Krista talks to him about the paranoid delusions of men in black following him. I think Elliot has imagined the men in black, the Mr. Robot hackers, and much of the high stakes elements of the show. Instead, he’s just an anti-social recluse who is suffering from PTSD from his dad’s death and uses his computer skills to punish those he thinks “deserve it.” The show went off the rails for me when it began to do that old television writing thing of chunking the plot and character development into separate segments. After the opening that was so compelling we slow everything down and after exposit and have characters state things to each other no one naturally says because there is an audience listening and we don’t trust their intelligence to figure things out. I would have much rather seen the hacking elements and the relationship pieces better integrated so that the plot and Elliot’s paranoid flowed more smoothly alongside his interactions with the supporting cast.

My verdict on this tryout: A pass (for now), maybe come back to it someday.

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