TV Series Review
Elliot Alderson has a problem. Several, actually.
He has an anxiety disorder. He doesn't like to be touched. He takes morphine. He hallucinates. Oh, and he thinks an omnipotent corporate entity is out to get him.
Elliot's biggest problem? He may be right about that last one.
After building a brand on featherweight dramas and funny crime stories, USA Network has pushed into prestige television with Mr. Robot, a subversive, creepy serial centered on the most unreliable of narrators: a dysfunctional, delusional, sometimes drug-addled hacker with a persecution complex.
Part Anti, Part Hero
Not that Mr. Robot's antihero is all anti and no hero. He has his good points, too. He loves his dog. He cares about the few people close to him (albeit so much so that he'll digitally spy on whoever's getting close to them). And he is, naturally, a veritable Merlin with a computer. In Season One, he figures out a way to use those skills to become, he thinks, an information-age Robin Hood. Joining an organization called F Society—led by the enigmatic Mr. Robot—Elliot manages to cripple an organization he calls Evil Corp, wiping away the collective debt of millions of ordinary folks.
Well, maybe not so much. Plenty of ordinary folks were hurt by that cleansing of debt, too. E Corp, though weakened, is still viable, and now out for blood. Oh, and Mr. Robot? Turns out the guy was Elliot himself—a fragment of his personality that's growing more and more violent. Is it possible that Elliot, under the influence of Mr. Robot, might be a killer, too?
Clearly, this Robin Hood is on the crazy train to Nottingham, and Elliot wants to jump off the tracks. In an attempt to weaken Mr. Robot's hold on him, Elliot flees off the grid and into an imagined facsimile of his mother's apartment, doing his best to hold to a strict, innocuous regimen as he tries to retain his sanity.
But Mr. Robot is still there—threatening him, hurting him, egging him back into the game. When Elliot's asleep, Mr. Robot's at work. And Elliot wonders just who or what his alter-ego may take out next: Evil Corp or Elliot himself?
Mr. Robot is a well-written dramatic thriller that received a bevy of critical praise after its first season. Indeed, the show was nominated for four Emmys in 2016, including Outstanding Lead Actor for Rami Malek, the guy who plays Elliot, and Outstanding Drama.
But as is often the case with dramatic darlings these days, the series also comes with a litany of serious content concerns. In the very first episode, Elliot tells us that it's possible to take morphine without getting addicted. Sure, series creator Sam Esmail intends his antihero to be an unreliable narrator. But Elliot's anguished loner persona might still seem pretty attractive to some viewers who might be struggling with the same kinds of issues he struggles with.
Elliot's been known to sleep with his dealers, too. Sex is a regular theme on the show—both heterosexual and homosexual—and onscreen trysts can be frank and lewd and downright disturbing. Also, as Elliot descends ever deeper into the murk that surrounds him, violence is a common theme. Those around him are sometimes terminated with lethal prejudice. Characters smoke and lie habitually, too. The language can be brutal. F-words (censored in the broadcast version, but unbleeped if you buy episodes off Amazon and Apple) make regular appearances. They're also referenced right in F Society's very name.
And then, of course, you've got the series' strong anti-capitalist thread.
"Everyone steals," Mr. Robot tells Elliot. "That's how it works. Someone in the chain always gets bamboozled." And the show, unreliable narrator or not, sympathizes. Plucking themes in vogue around the time of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Mr. Robot suggests that big corporations ("Evil Corp") are the real crooks today, asking us all to shovel money into their pockets while we stagger through the streets shackled to anvils of debt. It's no coincidence, Esmail admits, that the E Corp logo bears some resemblance to Enron's.
The Lesson in the Irony
There's both good and bad in making such sweeping judgments. And there's even a certain irony in play with these themes, given that this show is televised on a network owned by Comcast, a Top 50 global conglomerate worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $150 billion. It, like all companies, tends to ask for payment for its services, and given the 139,000 people it employs, rightfully so. Does Comcast know, then, that one of its "employees"—Mr. Robot—would likely advocate the pirating of its cable signals?
Or to put it another way: Even if the entity you're fighting is evil, being just a bit less evil doesn't make you good. Perhaps, if Elliot sets aside his drugs and works on his paranoia and starts really talking with his psychologist for a change, he'll come to see that.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson; Portia Doubleday as Angela Moss; Michel Gill as Gideon Goddard; Christian Slater as Mr. Robot