Mr. Robot, a series hatched from the mind of Sam Esmail, stars Rami Malek in the role of Elliot Alderson, a cybersecurity engineer, and hacker who suffers from social anxiety disorder and clinical depression. Elliot is then recruited by an insurrectionary anarchist known as “Mr. Robot”, played by Christian Slater, to join a group of hacktivists that go under the name “F-Society”.
Mr. Robot, for all its complex plots and visuals, started off with a relatively simple premise. Elliot and fsociety are bent on taking down a global corporation called E Corp. Along the way, Elliot was helped, and occasionally impeded, by the mysterious figure named Mr. Robot.
“It’s one thing to question your mind; it’s another to question your eyes and ears. But, then again, isn’t it all the same? Our senses just mediocre inputs to our brain? Sure, we rely on them, trust they accurately portray the real world around us, but what if the haunting truth is they can’t? That what we perceive isn’t the real world at all, but just our mind’s best guess? That all we really have is a garbled reality, a truly fuzzy picture we will never make out?”
– Elliot Alderson
Towards the end of Season 1, we discovered that Mr. Robot wasn’t real; he was a personality Elliot constructed based on his own father, Edward Alderson. Elliot had (and has) Dissociative Identity Disorder, meaning that like Elliot, it was tough for us to trust what we were seeing in the show at any point.
Spoilers ahead: As it turns out, Elliot wasn’t just an unreliable narrator, we actually never met Elliot, at all. The big reveal is saved for the very last episode; the character we’ve been watching the whole series was another construction of Elliot’s psyche, called “The Mastermind.”
There are some evident parallels with Fight Club and it’s not random happenstance. Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot owes a huge debt to Palahniuk’s 1996 novel and moreover, to the David Fincher-directed film that followed.
“How do I take off a mask when it stops being a mask, when it’s as much a part of me as I am?”
Elliot is a somewhat poor young man with great hacking skills and an inclination towards drugs. As Fight Clubs ‘The Narrator’, Elliot cannot see life as normal people do. He seems to be aware of the trivial lies we decide to cover our lives with.
“We’re all living in each other’s paranoia.”
Elliot’s narration also functions as a vehicle for lengthy, cynical state-of-society monologues. He castigates modern life for being corrupt and counterfeit, and modern people for “spamming each other with our running commentary of bullshit masquerading as insight, our social media faking as intimacy”.
Elliot, which completely calls out every social media tactic, every way we, as a society, have focused on material goods and unimportant fake relationships versus real ones. He believes all of this numbs us to reality, to what’s really going on in the world.
Then we have Fight Club’s Project Mayhem that finds an equivalent in Mr. Robot’s fSociety. Both are vigilante groups led by mysterious and charismatic individuals with the ultimate goal of causing financial chaos by erasing debt.
“I’m good at reading people. My secret? I look for the worst in them.”
Mr. Robot’s cyber-thriller story refreshes parts of a cult classic, blending them with original elements and genre inspirations – creating something new and refreshing. What Esmail and company have created is both far more complex, and simpler.
When Elliot was a child, he was sexually abused by his father. Terrified, trying to escape, he threw himself out of a window, and in order to protect himself from the pain, created a new personality. That was Mr. Robot, the idealized version of his father, the one who did not, and would never hurt him.
“…I never want to be right about my hacks, but people always find a way to disappoint.”
The second personality was Elliot’s mother, but not his real mother… As Mr. Robot hid his pain, this other personality — The Persecutor — filled in the gaps, blaming Elliot for the pain, making him feel like the abuse was all his fault. I.e. Elliot recreated his family; not an ideal version, but one that could exist in memories to keep him safe, and cold.
In the last season, we see Elliot’s personalities merging when the mastermind joins the other personalities once he’s ready to relinquish control and let the real Elliot wake up. The four personalities watch Elliot’s life play out in a movie theater and the film projector morphs into the real Elliot’s eye as he wakes up. While the mastermind’s “friends” never see the real Elliot in action, Elliot’s sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin) instantly knows he’s back and welcomes her brother with a, “Hello, Elliot.”
“Control can sometimes be an illusion. But sometimes you need illusions to gain control. Fantasy is an easy way to give meaning to the world. To cloak our harsh reality with escapist comfort. After all, isn’t that why we surround ourselves with so many screens? So we can avoid seeing? So we can avoid each other? So we can avoid truth?”
Darlene was the one person in the real world who loved — and loves — him unequivocally. As she reveals when The Mastermind emerges from his coma, she’s always known he wasn’t the real Elliot, just like she knew when Mr. Robot would pop out of hiding.
The first season of the show is stunning, a must-watch for everyone who likes a show that’ll mess with your head. The story is excellent and you’re always wondering what will happen next. I cared about pretty much all the characters. Solid performances from the actors across the board, especially from Rami Malek.
“The world itself’s just one big hoax. Spamming each other with our running commentary of bullshit, masquerading as insight, our social media faking as intimacy. Or is it that we voted for this? Not with our rigged elections, but with our things, our property, our money. I’m not saying anything new. We all know why we do this, not because Hunger Games books make us happy, but because we wanna be sedated. Because it’s painful not to pretend, because we’re cowards.”