Mr. Robot is an intermittently excellent TV show, capable of dazzling the viewer one episode and seemingly spinning its wheels the next. Its ideas, plotlines, and images pass by in a fugue-like blur. It all seems to be adding up to something, but, barring a few clear-cut reveals and climaxes, it can be hard to say what that is. There is a lot of Rami Malek furrowing his brow, and many people framed in the corners of the screen. People die, then don’t. Malek furrows harder.
Why the furrow? A new video from Screen Smart lays out the themes of the first season with surprising clarity, and draws a few interesting conclusions.
While the show itself draws frequent comparisons between the layout of society and that of a computer, the video pays special attention to Malek’s character, Elliot, who has social anxiety disorder and clinical depression, and the role he plays within that “computer.” As a hacker, he sees through the codes of a computer to the structures that compose it; his anxiety comes from his ability to see through the codes of society, or, as the video puts it, “how people exploit and manipulate each other through (their) vulnerabilities.” In addition to the show’s many clickety-clackety keyboard hacks, characters themselves are hacked, whether it’s pandering to insecurities gleamed from social profiles or using their arrogance against them. It’s damning stuff: that we’re all a bunch of compromised and compromise-able balls of weakness, crawling over each other.
In short, it is the central metaphor for the show, splayed out. But this is helpful! Mr. Robot is a dense show, worth revisiting; and while there are plenty of explainers out there covering the show’s hacks and programming references, this video reminds us that they’re all in service of a larger emotional narrative arc, and also a very furrowed brow.