By day Elliot (the excellent Rami Malek) works for Allsafe, a cybersecurity firm which protects corporations from online attack. Among Allsafe’s clients is E Corp, the epitome of corporate nastiness, known to Elliot as Evil Corp. He has a therapist; he’s supposed to be on meds, but either supplements or substitutes with a carefully-calibrated dose of morphine; he’s socially awkward and doesn’t like being touched, although frankly I thought this was overplayed a little: after some molly he seems to be more than happy to sleep with his dealer. And one of his colleagues is his childhood friend Angela (Portia Doubleday), with whom he seems to be, perhaps, a little in love. Which would be good, because CJ and I have been bemoaning the lack of shipping opportunities on TV recently, and Angelliot is one I could get behind.
When he’s not working, though, he pulls his hoodie on and roams the streets, either literal or virtual, using his skills to right wrongs and mete out some vigilante justice: we first see him, in fact, when he confronts – with righteous, bug-eyed intensity – someone who runs child porn sites. He’ll also take care of his therapist’s dodgy boyfriend, and keep an eye on Angela’s romance as well.
One night, as part of Allsafe’s team, he manages to stop an attack on Evil Corp’s network, but once he’s inside the server he declines the chance to delete the malware. This is shortly thereafter revealed to be a test, set by the mysterious Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), who takes him to FSociety, a hackers’ nest on Coney Island. Their plan is to bring Evil Corp down, and to achieve the greatest financial redistribution in history by wiping all the debt records it holds. (The logic is a little shaky at this point, but let’s go with it.) So will Elliot throw his lot in with FSociety? Is anyone who, or what, they seem to be? Why were the heavies at the end delivering Elliot to Wellick, Evil Corp’s tech guy, and what does he want?
Mr. Robot isn’t, it should be said, without flaws: I thought this pilot episode, hellofriend.mov, was perhaps a little too long. Christian Slater’s style sits uneasily with the rest of the show. I could have done without the repeated blathering homilies about the evils of capitalism, although I would imagine they play well to the target demographic. (I’m not saying that I necessarily disagree with them.) And I don’t know how I’m going to feel about the very clear implication that some at least of what we see is a hallucination on the part of Elliot: the fact that he, and therefore we, see and hear “Evil Corp” for E Corp whenever it shows up is enough in itself to make that point. I’ve been known to get fed up with dream sequences, unreliable narrators, and that sort of thing.
But is Mr. Robot good? Oh yes. It’s terrific. At times I was reminded of Dexter when it was cool: the moral vigilanteism co-existing with a hint of sexy amorality, the deadpan voiceover, the protagonist who says things like “I don’t know how to talk to people”, and “What I wouldn’t give to be normal. To live in that bubble”; and, as it turns out, the souvenirs he keeps of his successful takedowns. But it’s a different show, and there’s much more to it than that: I was struck, in fact, by the way in which Mr. Robot, and the world it’s set in, seemed fully-formed from the very first scenes, as if the people behind it know exactly what they’re doing and where they’re going. I’m in. Weekly (or whatever) reviews.