Mr. Robot: The Show That Hacked Into Pop Culture

People say that we live in a golden age of television. A strong statement, but one that’s hard to argue with. Especially when you have shows like Sherlock, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead; shows that challenge what we define as classic television by creating profound characters in unique settings. Shows like this tell their stories in a uniquely cinematic manor, one that you would expect to see in films rather than in television. And when you have networks like Netflix and HBO, who are known for investing in such ground-breaking stories, the doors are open for more shows to emerge. This is a golden age for television.

But if there’s one flaw to this golden age that I can find, it’s that there may be too many shows. You could spend an entire week catching up on Breaking Bad, The Wire, or any other show you’ve heard too much about to ignore; there’s still going to be another show that you’re missing out on. Some are highly-acclaimed and always talked about on social media; others are more under the radar with a cult-following. USA’s Mr. Robot is the first show I’ve found that falls into both categories. It tells the story of a vigilante hacker, Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) trying to save the world from a sinister corporation, E Corp (a.k.a Evil Corp), composed of the top 1%. After it’s first season, the show received critical acclaim and took the Golden Globe for Best TV Drama, while co-star Christian Slater took the award for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Series. But despite this praise, when I ask people around me if they’ve seen it, only a few of them actually know what I’m talking about. Well, Mr. Robot will be returning to TV when it’s second season premieres this Wednesday. And I’m going to show you how it’s become one of the greatest stories on television and why you should be watching it when it airs.

Something interesting I have noticed about television nowadays is how technology has blended seamlessly into the stories. It seems that every show set in our world has social media and smart phones fit into their stories. But they never address them, or question it. It’s just there. However, our dependence on digital technology is often a source of debate in society. We wonder if it really is social media when we spend more time online than we do in the real world. That’s exactly what Mr. Robot questions from the very beginning. In the first episode, Elliot argues with the idea that we are living truthfully through our devices. He reveals that we are in fact living a lie. That social media has only brought us further apart while making us believe that we are connected to the rest of the world. That it’s all just a distraction from our real problems and it’s designed to make us feel like we are happy and content.

I’m not gonna lie: I was tempted to delete my Facebook profile after watching that episode. I couldn’t argue with the show’s logic. And even now, I can’t get over how bold it was of them to create a show like this. This show represents our world more honestly and provocatively than any show before it. These conflicts have rarely been explored in television before. And this is the first show I’ve seen that not only addresses people’s dependance on the internet, but challenges that dependance. It questions the digital culture that has taken over society. It questions whether it really is connecting us.

Not only is this the first show that I’ve seen paint the digital age in an honest light, it also has an accurate depiction of cyber-warfare. In the last few decades, Hollywood has shown hacking like it’s a strange, unique form of combat. To be honest, I’ve seen hacking scenes in films like Skyfall, and it made me excited. This looked like a cool and bizarre thing that only spies had the power to use. Sadly, real hacking is not like that at all. If they were to use actual footage of a hack in progress, it would look very boring. So I can’t say that I blame Hollywood or television for trying to build more suspense. But it still feels like they’re tricking the audience into believing that this is what hacking is, instead of showing what it’s really like.

That’s not the case with Mr. Robot. Given that this was a show about hacking, creator Sam Esmail found it essential that they were showing what real hacks looked like. Granted, I’m no computer expert, so I wouldn’t have known if this was an accurate depiction anyway. But I do know that the show felt this was so important that they had a tech advisor, meaning they had someone on the show who reviewed and edited their hacking footage to make sure it was an accurate portrayal of what hackers did. They could’ve gotten away with doing what Hollywood has been doing before them, but they chose to show audiences the real deal. In my mind, this is shows how far the team behind Mr. Robot will go to give us the truth.

It seems that this show has been getting a lot of praise because of it’s honest portrayals of the world. I’ve also seen a lot of praise for the show’s development of it’s protagonist, Elliot Alderson. Many people with experience in cyber-technology say that he is one of the most accurate depictions of hackers on television. Apparently he tapes into the psyche that is typical of hackers, which details a sense of isolation and paranoia towards the people around them. Basically, they have a hard time connecting with people, and therefore rarely trust anyone.

But that’s not what makes Elliot a great character to me. For me, the greatest part of him is how much humanity he possesses. We live in an era of storytelling where we’re tired of seeing the perfect hero; the guy that will do the right thing no matter the cost, with no question of morality, and never sees any consequences to his actions. Everything he does is perfect. No one wants a main character like that anymore, and Elliot is the perfect example of that. His plan to take down Evil Corp is motivated because he wants to free people from the prison of today’s world, but that doesn’t make him perfect. He hacks everyone he knows because he doesn’t know how to interact with people, because he doesn’t trust anyone. He has no one, and that makes him severely lonely and depressed. While other people would reach out to friends, he has to resort to morphine so he can hide from his depression. And on top of all of this, he talks to the audience like they’re his imaginary friend, because who else can he talk to? Not only does it give us this sense of intimacy with Elliot, it shows just how vulnerable he really is. He may talk about how messed up society is, and how we have chosen to live in a world of lies so that we can hide from the pain of reality, and how he wants to free society; but he wishes that he could pretend like everybody else. He wants to be able to forget about his pain, and act like the world isn’t really that bad. To live in the bubble and be normal. That’s why he wants to help them. He wants to protect them.

Look, I have hundreds of reasons why I can’t stop watching this show. But at the end of the day, the main reason I love this show is that I’ve learned more about our society from it than any other show. It’s made me realize the truth about social networks, and the disconnection this digital age has created. I see now that it many cases, it more often pushes people deeper into isolation than it is connecting them. I see that dark things have been done to create the reality, and dark things have been done to maintain it. More importantly, I see that we have chosen to live in this reality. So that we can pretend we’re not alone. So that we can think that we aren’t alone. Mr. Robot has open my eyes to the truth.

Season 2 of premieres Wednesday, July 13 at 10 pm ET on USA


A future film director and writer who’s a sucker for superheroes, comics and monsters!