Aname like Mr Robot might set alarm bells ringing that this is simply another clichéd tech-thriller, riddled with scenes of hackers hunched over laptops. Or that it genuinely is a TV show featuring a robot with a masculine social title as its hero. However, when Mr Robot tickled my niche interest in cyber ethics, I had stumbled across one of the best shows of the summer.
The show centres around the double life of Elliot Alderson, a software engineer at the cyber security firm, AllSafe, in NYC. He finds himself out of his depth after being invited to join an underground anti-capitalist hacker group, seeking to take down E Corp, the multinational conglomerate he is employed to protect – or, as Elliot refers to it, Evil Corp.
Despite his social anxiety disorder, morphine addiction, penchant for black hoodies and deep-rooted distrust of society – or indeed because of all these things – Elliot’s acute sense of justice makes him a compelling protagonist. Rami Malek is riveting in the role, exposing Elliot’s humanity with the slightest inflection in his monotonous voice or flicker of eyes under his hoodie. Like some kind of digital vigilante, Elliot hacks his way into the lives of everyone he knows, punishing the wicked or corrupt, but equally recognising in his few friends when he has found “one of the good ones”. Whether it’s his therapist, his childhood friend or his enemies at Evil Corp, each character is revealed as flawed and calculating – neither likeable nor dislikeable – and therefore all the more real.
At the heart of Mr Robot is an uncomfortable truth – that all our vulnerabilities and weaknesses are an open book on the internet to those with the skills to read them. This is not sheer dystopia. As revealed by Edward Snowden’s leak in 2013, personal information and private messaging are readily available to authorities around the world, notably the NSA in the States. This degree of global surveillance can also be manipulated by hackers. Any computer scientists watching will appreciate that the technical details of Mr Robot plotlines stand up to scrutiny, with many of the tactics employed by the fictional resistance movement, society, having also been deployed by the Hacktivist and Anonymous movements.
After an excellent opening couple of episodes, Mr Robot seemed to slightly lose its pace in the second half of the series until a shock revelation in the penultimate episode. However, the sinister electronic score, intelligent use of voice-over sequences and smart editing maintained an intriguing aesthetic throughout the series.
The writers of Mr Robot have tapped into a deeply relevant social and technological phenomenon, made all the more thrilling for viewers as it reminds them of their ignorance and vulnerability in the brave new digital world. It’s a risk that impressed the critics in the States and no doubt Mr Robot will make waves when it officially crosses the pond. Stay tuned.