Making The Case For ‘Mr. Robot’

In the first of an on-going series, Robin Write makes the Emmy case for Mr. Robot to win the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy. Over the next week and a half, the writers of AwardsDaily TV will pour out their hearts and minds to try and convince Emmy voters to follow their expert opinions.

USA Network’s Mr. Robot

Metacritic: 79
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Number of Nominations: 6
Nominations: Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actor Drama Series (Rami Malek), Outstanding Writing (“ (Pilot)”), Outstanding Music Composition, Outstanding Casting, Outstanding Sound Mixing

It may well be full on corporate drama, but Mad Men this is not. It’s eerie and dark, but it’s not Twin Peaks either. It’s a psychological thriller, sure, but it’s nothing like Hannibal. TV is a continually revitalizing medium. In fact, this is especially true in relation to how the quality is easily out-weighing that of film. We long for what we like, but we also want evolution. We want originality. We want to be knocked out of our socks. We don’t always get what we want, sure, but every now and then something comes close to fitting the bill. Dark drama. Psychological thriller. Whatever your tastes, TV finds a way. Sam Esmail’s creation Mr. Robot can be categorized as the above, but the 10-parter is much more than that. Bringing computer hacking and national security to the forefront as well as the mental, human torments that come with such a relevant, in-our-face source of communication, USA’s Mr. Robot challenges our own paranoia and fears of the modern world.

At the core of the techno-noir-TV-business-trip is a multi-layered narrative thrill-ride, both visually and mentally exhausting. And this is nothing if not a plus point. Mr. Robot has plenty of strong, refreshing ideas not just brewing at the surface but over-flowing through the bloodstream. The mind boggles at times as we get lost in online security and the world of computer hot-wiring, a dark world it seems. But there is a real panache about the whole delivery as characters are dropped to the corners of the frames, emphasizing the atmospheric isolation. It’s pretty cinematic in scope too, a sprinkle of Kubrick at times. Director Niels Arden Oplev, who aptly made the Swedish The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo imprints some real David-Fincher-esque tones on proceedings. Composer Mac Quayle, too, gives off a whiff of the Trent Reznor / Atticus Ross collaboration.

Mr. Robot
(Photo: USA Network)

Dug out of a mundane yet well-suited job and swept into a new world of potential anarchy a la Neo in The Matrix (only briefly), young computer whiz Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) falls into the F-Society crowd. F-Society is a bunch of underground hackers apparently lead by the title character deftly played by Christian Slater. His big plan is to banish all debts by launching a cyber attack on the super-corporation E Corp. Cautious, Elliot treads the water carefully but still clearly wants to splash around here, danger or not. In fact the hacking makes him something of a savior as we are introduced to him (uncover child pornography hoarder or discovering another man’s infidelity) but also proves a source of immense trouble. Elliot’s early dilemma is whether to cave to peer pressure and the buzz of the score. I mean, this is what drives Elliot. This is why they chose him, right? His own self-medicated social anxiety and depression don’t make things easier. Fight or flight.

Elsewhere, the slime-ball-come-murderer Tyrell Wellick is a Senior VP at E Corp, doing whatever he can to upgrade his career status. When at home we get to share the extraordinary relationship he has with his pregnant wife, they appear to speak to each other in Danish, and she does not bat an eyelid to his chaotic behavior. Elliot’s real-world allies include his work colleague and friend from childhood Angela (Portia Doubleday) whose own storyline steps into the sympathetic. And then there is his therapist Dr. Gordon (Gloria Reuben). Elliot taps into their lives too through the electronic world, though he will play the protection card much stronger than the ethical one here. Fearless Darlene (Carly Chaikin), one of Mr. Robot’s more prominent hackers, seems to be on the very edge of bother, actually has an incredible loyalty and determination.

In the midst of some truly excellent and very different performances, this is Malek’s game. An actor we no doubt recognized at first (Short Term 12 here), he relishes the big lead role, taking center stage with those big eyes on that sullen face. He never appears to be moping about or dragging his feet. There is still something warm in his gravelly, subdued voice-over. We hear near-enough every thought in his head, building an instant intrigue and impact.

Subconsciously, too, you have your own moments of doubting what Elliot presents us with to be possibly imagined, or at least to what extent. The hoodie implies more the natural concealment Elliot craves than the mere appearance of a street thug. And just when you might mistake him for a whiny super-nerd with a drug problem in the first episode, he sinks to the floor in tears, curling up into a ball. His loneliness is a sucker punch to your own heart and credit goes to Malek for making this wide-earned sociopath a sympathetic character, a kind of anti-hero. Or someone we route for regardless of impulses or integrity.

Claims that the show’s title might mislead viewers into thinking this is about, well, robots, could be a claim for idiocy too, especially if you have seen the trailers, the posters, the word of mouth, opened your eyes, and your mind. Like walking into an advanced I.T. course, it appears complicated and daunting. You could well get lost. But you want to learn. The anticipation is too much. There is still that longing to be on the right track. The show is executed so well. There is no need for a niche or routine to follow. Your attention is held up high enough throughout, given the acting on display, the stirring music (some outstanding songs), the direction, the writing. And although perhaps we crave a detailed or logical explanation from time to time, it is not like we are being cheated here. I was perfectly happy to get swept up in all the technical drama without being distracted by an overuse of computer jargon.

Mr. Robot‘s paltry six nominations at the Emmys might well signify the lack of favorite status (Golden Globe winner Slater was not even honored), but the nods for Writing, Music, Sound Editing, and Casting are justified, and it could well swoop a couple here. Given the shortlist in the Drama Series category, too, Mr. Robot still remains a contender. Lead Actor nominee Malek, without over-analyzing the other actors in the list, must be a real front-runner. Although Emmy voters are creatures of comfort and like what they know, the breakthrough appeal of Malek, representing this brave new show (already hurtling through Season 2 as we speak), on top of what is an obsessive-compulsive, adventurous, emotive turn of alienation and anxiety from the young actor could force him to the front of the queue. That, or the fact his character’s pet goldfish is named Qwerty. Or greater still, get Emmy voters to re-watch episode six, the best of a very good bunch, as Malek shows us a depth of skill, playing Elliot with a fearless swagger, subtle urgency, and then question in that mesmeric, heat-rending final sequence whether or not he loved Shayla.

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