Mr. Robot and my guilty conscience

Permit me to explode for a moment about Mr. Robot, USA's remarkable summer series about unreliable narrator Elliot (Rami Malek) and his hacker involvement in taking down corporations.

This show is un-effing-believable. And not just because we have a hard time believing Elliot. It's visually stunning, morally argumentative, powerfully written and narratively captivating. Think Fight Club and American Psycho and A Clockwork Orange for 2015, in a 10-episode serialized form.

What I love most about this show is Elliot's unabashed, paranoid take-down of capitalism, corporate America and the hyper-connectivity of our world. There are several standout characters, including Tyrell with his Swedish chill (the excellent Martin Wallström), and Mr. Robot himself, but Elliot is the most compelling (and confusing). As a skilled hacker whose delusions fuel his drive both to destroy and also unite, Elliot's world is scattered and disjointed yet webbed like a computer security network, bits and pieces whirring together. He's an angry young man who hates greed and people and in his extreme loneliness he may or may not have the means to destroy both these things. I won't spoil it, but the question of what's real nowadays, for Elliot and hence the viewer, is ever wavering after the explosive finale.

This show unhinged me a bit this week. His stance on social media (as well as consumerism, naiveté and a host of other social maladies) is that it's an infectious disease--super spreadable and toxic. Complacency through social media leads to laziness which leads to helplessness and mental illness. It's a strong viewpoint to be fair, but it left me nevertheless extremely conflicted about how networked my life is, personally and professionally.

Here's the thing about Mr. Robot. I watched it relentlessly, captivated, glued to the TV while trying to avoid spoilers on Twitter. But as soon as a huge plot point or character reveal happened (ummmm BD Wong as the White Rose?? Wut that was amazing!) I wanted to tweet my heart out with others watching. Thus employing what Elliot denounces. Thus buying into the system he crusades against. Sam Esmail, the creator of the show, seems to be using Mr. Robot as a platform for his brutalist perspective on the world, yet he nevertheless has a platform entirely supported by advertising to get his message across (ie, basic cable broadcasting). Such a morally complicated narrative would be a no-brainer fit somewhere like HBO or Showtime, whose subscribers dictate the kind of stories told on the channel, not like USA.  Which is why this show fascinates me - it actively calls out the evils of advertising/corporations/the 1% even though those things are its foundation. That this particular show exists on basic cable makes me think of Brutalist architect Le Corbusier's Pilotis pillars (PS do he and Sam Esmail share a philosophical brain?), those concrete columns that hold up stories upon stories of concrete.  If those pillars crumble, so does the whole structure, but they are deceptively, relentless strong. So is capitalism. So is advertising. So is Mr. Robot.

 Pilotis : brutalism :: advertising : Mr. Robot

I can't wait for the next season.

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