Every week it seems some new corporation has been hacked, with stories about data theft seemingly on loop; it’s odd that this hasn’t really been reflected in recent film and television, until now, that is. Mr Robot, a hacker thriller recently acquired by Amazon Prime, has come to fill that void, telling a timely story of a disillusioned young computer expert, Elliot, who works cyber security by day and attempts to bring down one of the world’s largest corporations by night.
Put aside any preconceived notions you may have about what a hacker drama will look like. There are no frenzied coding sessions here, no shouts of “He’s in the mainframe!”. Mr Robot is careful to portray the realities of that world, keeping technical experts on staff to ensure credibility and it really pays off, grounding the series in our world. This is important, because Mr Robot also plays heavily with the idea of a non-reliable narrator, quickly establishing that what you see on screen shouldn’t necessarily be trusted.It’s impossible for the series to avoid comparison to Fight Club, which also plays with this idea, but Mr Robot takes it even further, showing us the entire world through an Elliot filter – when he nicknames the morally corrupt corporation Evil Corp in his head, every character starts to use that name too. It’s an effective way of pulling the audience in, immediately connecting us with Elliot whilst at the same time being slightly disorientating. Just like him we’re not quite sure whether to believe what we’re seeing.
This unreliability leads to one of the show’s biggest reveals. Admittedly anyone even half paying attention will have guessed the twist at the end of episode one, but this is a fine piece of narrative bait and switch on the part of series creator, Sam Esmail. So much time is spent teasing clues for something you’ve already guessed that when a second, bigger twist comes along, it completely blindsides you.
This feeling is further reinforced through an incredible visual style that is often jarring, but always striking and one that imbues the entire show with Elliot’s mood. Cinematography often goes unnoticed, especially on television, but here it is a key part of the show. The standard shot reverse shot of simple conversations is transformed, with characters placed at the edge of frame, the world behind them dominating. The result is that everything feels slightly off-kilter, matching Elliot’s own view of the world.A series which is so inherently untrustworthy could be a difficult watch but its success relies heavily on Rami Malek’s performance. His softly spoken voiceovers, in which he directly addresses the audience, literally allow us inside his head. In a world which he finds so scary and overwhelming at times, we become his only ally. Special mention must also be made of Martin Wallström’s scheming Evil Corp executive, Tyrell Wellick (a villainous name if ever there was one), whose icy rage is matched only by his equally calculating wife.
For a show which radiates loneliness, it is not unbearably cold, thanks mainly to the central performances, which give a bit of much needed heart to proceedings. It’s definitive style and subject matter also make Mr Robot quite different from anything else currently on television.
Season 1 of Mr Robot is available on Amazon Prime now.