What was once thought as a second-hand medium, the small screen is now the home to some of the most prestigious filmed content. The evolution of the at-home experience over the last decade has seen televised stories and the way we consumet hem expand into unknown territory. Years of trial and error have lead to what many today are calling the Golden Age of Television. What first arguably spiked with series like The Sopranos in the late 90’s and early 2000’s went on to create room for The Wire, Lost, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones. The innovative programming that dominated the small screen ushered in a new wave of expertly crafted stories, reaching a special point with Mr. Robot in 2015.
Created by Sam Esmail, Mr. Robot debuted on June 24, 2015 via the USA Network and subsequently left its mark as the best television has to offer. Nowadays, nobody is calling the small screen a “lesser medium”. Mr. Robot is a very good reason as to why.
Mr. Robot follows Elliot Alderson, cyber security engineer by day and vigilante hacker by night. His mission: take down the biggest conglomerate on earth and wipe the world of all its debts. He is aided by “fsociety”, a group of hackers with goals that align with his – led by the eccentric and foul-mouthed titular “Mr. Robot”. However, things reveal to be not as they seem as the narrative unpredictably unfolds. The problems these characters face are indeed real-world problems; it stems beyond the semi-dystopian setting and delves deep into each character’s psyche, revealing what makes them tick.
Though Elliot may be an anti-social, anxious loner – he possesses a special ability in being able to read people’s own insecurities. Through hacking and accessing the private data of anyone he comes across, he can determine what ruins their day. It initially may not be that hard, seeing as how people will post anything on social media now. The show rightfully adopts this meta-commentary, further reveling in its timely context.
The series, especially for its time, boasts a great cast that had been relatively unknown. Rami Malek, Carly Chaikin, Martin Wallström, and Portia Doubleday are all fantastic in their unique roles. Accompanied by them are veteran actors Christian Slater, BD Wong, and Michael Cristofer, who always steal the spotlight anytime they are on screen – not to mention Grace Gummer, Bobby Cannavale, and many others! The biggest props go to Rami Malek, who brings an endearing yet cold vulnerability to the leading figure. The writing staff brings their A-game, crafting incredible tales and captivating dialogue in the process. Mac Quayle’s score elevates the already masterful material tenfold, creating a must-watch experience.
Immediately, what will catch your attention is the grounded yet ever so stylish direction. Its consistency and commitment can be attributed to Sam Esmail directing nearly every episode! Even more so, what can be really appreciated across its four-season run is that each season feels like a completely different animal. Yet, they each still complete the larger whole required of them.
Season 1 goes by at a breakneck pace, exploring the world under a capitalist society and all the problems that arise. Each character represents a study. With Portia Doubleday’s Angela Moss repping the indebted person trying to climb up the corporate ladder, to Martin Wallström’s Tyrell Wellick, the privileged yet sociopathic businessman, and everyone in between. The season is built around Elliot’s mission of ridding the world of its debts, following him and fsociety’s various undertakings. Anyone would be remiss if they did not bring up the show’s excellent handling of mental health, particularly with Elliot and Mr. Robot. It is nothing pretty or glamorous, but it is commendable in how far the writers were willing to go.
Season 2, in turn, is the polar opposite. The pacing is much more relaxed and does not offer much in terms of overall plotting. But it is an exploration of the world and the characters that inhabit it; how far corporations and the government are willing to exploit their people and entrench themselves into society. Through fsociety’s successes, the main characters learn that their revolution & Ecorp hack that took place on 5/9 had been taken advantage of. Everyone has been a chess piece in the secret launch of a new currency system, really critiquing their neo-anarchist image. Though the mystery box storytelling may feel tiresome, it does eventually pay off. What you are left with is a great dissection of common man protagonists and the lengths they are willing to reach for success.
Season 3 goes right back to the first’s intense pacing, but now adding a layer of anxiety with a ticking clock that had not been present. Every character feels as though they are in major danger as the big players manipulate the situation around them. But even the evil and most corrupt characters face setbacks of their own. The season serves as the ultimate payoff to the last, answering the biggest questions raised thus far. Highlights would absolutely have to include “Runtime Error”, “Kill Process”, and “Fredrick+Tanya” – which all take place within the same day and spotlight the sheer pressure and danger the show nails. “Runtime Error” is particularly a special entry for being the show’s only one-take episode.
Season 4 combines the absolute best aspects of every season. The quick pacing and simple plot from the first, character studies of the second, and anxiety-fueled storytelling from the third. The season happens to be both the darkest and most sentimental of the show, while also somehow featuring plenty of experimental episodes. The silent episode, “Method Not Allowed”, that doubles as an exciting heist being just one example.
A unique aspect of the entire series is Elliot’s relationship with Mr. Robot and the latter’s growing role. The first season sets him up as the anarchist leader of fsociety, with the second portraying him as Elliot’s tormentor, the third continuing to see him as an antagonist, and the fourth presenting him as the narrator and partner to Elliot. This being one prime example of how the show constantly stays fresh and interesting. Despite many television programs having weaker endings and being controversial for it, Mr. Robot is an outlier in that department. It just might contain one of the best endings to a television series that perfectly encapsulates and sums up the point behind hours of content.
All in all, the series is a must-watch for anyone interested in binging television. The darker themes may be a turn off for some, but the masterful storytelling is worth sticking around for. Another aspect that makes the series easier to swallow than the competition is the fact that each season only has about 10 or so episodes. A blessing when many programs continuously grow notorious reputations for dragging on too long.
Mr. Robot is one of those rare shows that is able to finish what it started. Each episode is consistent in writing, performances, score, and cinematography – which is a feat even most forms of media simply cannot accomplish. If you are looking for the best of what the Golden Age of Television has to offer, look no further.