Broadcast in North America over the summer and available in the UK via Amazon Prime for a couple of months I’ve only just got round to watching Mr Robot. But then I am the kind of corporate sheep that FSociety, the hacking collective aiming to bring about the end of debt-laden society, despise … and so I’ve taken my time getting around to watching. Ten episodes later I’m glad I did, even if the overwhelming praise heaped on the series from some quarters seems ever so slightly OTT.
Rami Malek plays the socially awkward, drug dependent, forgetful, sometimes misanthropic, tech expert Elliott. He plays it well. Everything that happens in the series happens because it is in some way connected to Elliott. The problem is that Elliott has a tendency to misremember or plain not remember what he has done or who he knows. Paranoia is everywhere. But as Pratchett noted, just because you are paranoid does not mean that they aren’t out to get you.
Other characters swirl around Elliott as intrigue is piled on intrigue and layers of reality overlap. “You knew that already” says Elliott at one reveal, “Don’t talk to them” is a reply used by another character interacting with the voiceover that addresses the audience throughout. This, when combined with “boo capitalism” narrative, could be so much student drama society claptrap. That it isn’t owes a lot to the sheer number of compelling, interlocking stories, the bravado with which the programme is pulled off, the performances and staging.
Of the latter, I have to say it’s a real pleasure to see a series use the whole frame and go out of its way to generate emotion, reaction and suspicion by effective use of camera movement, focus and positioning. Of the performances, in addition to Malek, there are standout turns from Carly Chaikin as the perma-nervous Darlene and Portia Doubleday as the tough beneath the outward appearance Angela. Christian Slater is the big name with the eponymous character and he does a decent job. One that makes you realise all over again that he really was a good actor back when his name was above film titles. There are a whole of characters though – angels and demons and everyone in between – the list on wiki runs to about 30 and even the minor roles are surprisingly well realised.
Several years ago, the early days of the internet, there was a Sandra Bullock film that died in part because nobody knew how to film action taking place on computer terminal screens. How we’ve moved on. Cursors blink, code flies by, and the world as we know it might just be about to end. Mr Robot is compelling drama and a brilliant ride. Just don’t expect it to offer you the meaning of life or whatever else some reviewers may have led you to expect.