Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Hack Attack

Over the last week, while waiting for the new TV season to start, I've been catching up on Mr. Robot.  I'd heard good things about the USA network series, created by Sam Esmail, so figured I'd check it out.  Turned out to be pretty good.

The plot follows Elliott Alderson (Rami Malek), a super-hacker with mental problems who works at a cybersecurity firm.  He's contacted by fsociety, an anarchist group who plan to take the economic system down by hacking into a giant conglomerate--served by Elliott's company--and erasing all the debt the corporation owns. 

Representing the anarchists is Mr. Robot himself (or so it says on his cap), played by Christian Slater in a tailor-made role--i.e., he gets to rant a lot and act crazy. Other characters include Elliott's coworker Angela (Portia Doubleday), hacker Darlene (Carly Chaikin) and tech exec at the evil corporation Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom).  I don't think I'm giving too much away in saying the characters are not always what they seem.

There's plenty of intrigue and the occasional act of violence.  Though the plot sounds political, that doesn't get in the way of the action too much--though the clichéd speeches from rich people putting down the poor get tiresome, as do the anti-consumerism rants that one starts to feel are meant to be taken seriously.  Though the show is smart enough to never simply state who's right, it is mostly told through the eyes of the characters invested in the scheme, and thus doesn't seem to say it would be that bad to erase everyone's credit card debt.  It's an intriguing thought experiment--my guess is that any celebration would be short-lived, and in the immediate aftermath, at best, the things people want would be much more expensive, if available at all.*

Mr. Robot vaguely reminds me of Orphan Black, where there are all sorts of people involved in the conspiracy and you're never sure where you stand.  But OB, while a great showcase for lead Tatiana Maslany, got too elaborate for its own good, while Mr. Robot, as complex as it is, keeps moving straight ahead  The plot may remind you of other TV series and movies dealing with rebel groups, but in particular owes a lot to Fight Club.  And the show isn't ashamed to admit it, using a piano arrangement of "Where Is My Mind?," memorably featured in the movie, in one of the later episodes. (In general, Mr. Robot uses outside-sourced music quite well.)

The cast, for the most part, does solid work.  It's interesting to see Doubleday and Chaikin, both of whom I'm familiar with from sitcom work, in more serious roles. Above all, holding it together, is Malek, both canny and crazy, in a performance that deserves Emmy attention.

As good as the show is, I found the finale a little flat.  But not so much that I won't be watching next season.

*Purely by chance, Megan McArdle recently watched Mr. Robot, and here's her article about what it would likely mean if all debt were wiped out.  As you'd expect, it's not a pretty picture.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I will hesitate to watch a cliched show where big evil corporation is the cardboard villain. But maybe Mr. Robot doesn't fall into that trap.

One of the things I liked about Heroes (one of the few things, by the end) was that the "Company" was not all bad. There were terrible excesses, but they also addressed a real problem in "evos" who were insanely powerful and threatened to conquer or destroy the world (like Siler). And they didn't victimize the world (whybother when the CEO could turn anything into gold - they didn't need money).

Of course the downfall of the series was too many insanely powerful evos, making it a ridiculous story to watch. When they introduced regular time travel, they tied themselves into inescapable knots.

I watched the Pilot/prequel to "Heroes Reborn." They seem to have done a lot to clean up the mess created by the original series - I think most evos were killed in an explosion of violence that took place after the series ended. Micah (the kid who could control anything computer operated) is still around, and from previews, I can see Hiro will be back - but older and wiser and (I hope) not trying to travel through time a lot.

The new series seems to be more "X-Men" like. Mutants - er - Evos have less awesome abilities, are registered in the US, interred in Russia and China. The "Company" is back, with a new name - hopefully they will not be a cliche. And Mr. Bennet is back, in hiding, and he was the best part of the original series, so I'm hopeful. No sign of Claire yet (the cheerleader).

10:28 AM, September 09, 2015  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I could go on quite a bit about the failings of Heroes, but I already did years ago on this blog. And wasn't the Company a government organization--I always thought it was.

You might want to check out Mr. Robot. It's a lot odder than most shows, but tells a pretty solid story.

12:04 PM, September 09, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ColumbusGuy household enjoyed "Breaking In." Is Slater's character in MR named "Oz," by any chance?

SWMBCg, etc.

3:08 PM, September 09, 2015  
Blogger LAGuy said...

He's Mr. Robot himself.

6:43 PM, September 09, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Indeed. Descended from the Swiss Robots, no doubt.

3:49 AM, September 10, 2015  

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