It has always been said that TV and cinema are a reflection of the current state of society. Commercials are a clear example of this, showing the current and existing trends and role-models of the time. The same can be said about TV shows: they’re a reflection of society’s identity, aspirations, and fears. Almost all TV productions and movies try – successfully or not – to represent, satisfy, criticize, or solve all kinds of pretensions and fears: the nuclear bomb, world wars, global warming, alien invasions, and so on. And Mr. Robot is an embodiment of many societal fears.
Nowadays we live in a globalized world that is constantly changing. Society is undergoing a never-ending digitalization process. One of the concerns generated by this process is cybernetic security. This fear of mass surveillance through technology and cyberbullying are both an essential part of Mr. Robot’s discourse.
USA Network’s cyber-hacking drama Mr. Robot, starring Rami Malek and Christian Slater, executes that discourse with artistry and mastery, resulting in a unique and mind-blowing TV show. Considering this, what is it that makes Mr. Robot such an appealing and special TV series, even to those who have no knowledge about cyber security and hacking?
Mr. Robot Has Depth
The first thing that needs to be considered is its depth. From the very first episode, we meet a series of characters, and each of them have an importance and a weight on the plot. Their decisions matter and they have a psychological depth that makes them much more interesting and human, to the point that we may feel awkward watching how these characters behave. Moreover, characters not only have their own stories, but they also relate to each other, forming a network of infinite connections. We may not see these characters again until a later episode. Characters come and go.
Other TV shows that have gone that way, like Game of Thrones, prove this makes a show much more intriguing and appealing.
The Show Plays With Your Mind
Mr. Robot is not about a single level storyline. It is about a multi-layered plot the center of which is the lead character, Elliot. We are told everything through Elliot’s mind and voice. However, he has his own mental health issues and, since we rely on his judgment, that means the audience can be tricked by these same issues. We can never be certain of anything because it could be a hallucination, a vision, or an imaginary creation of Elliot’s mind. He is an unreliable narrator. This is evidenced when the fictional conglomerate E Corp is mentioned, but we hear Evil Corp instead. The show is constantly trying to play and manipulate the audience, but that’s the interesting part of the show: one cannot see the real reality coming.
Elliot constantly breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience, just as Frank Underwood does in House of Cards. However, Elliot’s tone is less confident, quite desperate and even distrustful. In fact, at some point in the show, Elliot stops talking to the audience. He doesn’t trust it anymore and he thinks it’s hiding something from him. The show doesn’t treat the audience as a fool, but rather as a smart one. We, the audience, are respected. The creator, directors, and writers, however, are even smarter.
It Breaks the Rules and Conventions of Television
The creator of Mr. Robot, Sam Esmail, has proven to be a great producer. He has no fear of overlooking the rules of television and breaking its conventions, and he masterfully does so. Sam’s creation is a psychological show. Its characters have their own issues and it tries to psychologically trick us throughout the storyline.
But there’s another way of conveying the psychological theme of the show to the audience: cinematography. Through breaking the rules, Sam Esmail has created his own style. In Mr. Robot, he often completely ignores traditional composition rules. The characters are usually placed out of the axes of the Rule of Thirds, as seen here. Similarly, during dialogue scenes, characters are placed on the opposite side of the frame. This results in a suffocating feeling.
Season 2 has continued to amaze its audience. In one episode, the crew of Mr. Robot emulate old sitcom shows. Through the use of obsolete aspect ratios and the typical TV sets from the 90s, the show delivers a retro dream-like experience. Later on, the show features an entire shooting scene as one impressively long take. That proves Sam Esmail is not breaking the rules because he doesn’t know how to use them, but rather that he knows and respects the rules, and understands when to ignore them.
Mr. Robot is a one-of-a-kind TV show. It has brought a breath of fresh air into the drama genre and to the entire TV industry. It’s set to become one of the most successful TV shows of all time. If anything, people will remember this television series for being different and doing things in new and original ways.