Mr. Robot: The Breakthrough Show Desperate to be Different

Hacktivist Elliot Alderson, played by the Grammy Award winning actor Rami Malek, is one of the most relatable television characters I’ve ever resonated with. Maybe it's his analytical critique of government or his radical indifference to all social situations. But it’s the dark nihilistic atmosphere of his being, strung throughout Mr. Robot, that I truly sympathize with. When American screenwriter Sam Esmail created the show in 2015, I was immediately drawn to it. The thriller touches on dark subjects that are hard to discuss: wealth inequality, cybersecurity, and struggles of identity. Yet, as I’ve followed its winding journey, I find Mr. Robot has succumbed to the very tropes it originally promised not to be.

Throughout Season 3, aspects of the show are crazier than Elliot’s schizophrenic episodes—and trust me, they’re not pretty. But even when viewers witness Angela finally becoming a badass asset (although she made learning how to hack much simpler than it appears), Mr. Robot and Elliot weaving in and out of each other interchangeably, and Dom’s career falling harder than conglomerate E Corp at fsociety’s hands, the big reveals were foreseeable and its accuracy along the way is put into question.

Let’s start with one of the biggest downfalls first: Elliot’s portrayal of hacking. Unfortunately, that concept isn’t new in Hollywood, which is done poorly every time. What do you envision when you image a hacker? Probably the same old stereotype. A man is dressed in black, hood up, in an isolated, unlit room. His fingers furiously type away at a green screen with code that’s just a tiny bit higher than the average understanding of programming. And all the darkness surrounding the hacker behind the monitor has to make him evil, right? Elliot is no exception. A Halloween costume of him is laughably low effort: simply grab an oversized black hoodie and hoist an even larger oversized black backpack over your shoulder. Don’t forget to include the Evil Corp laptop; not to mention his social isolation and inability to communicate clearly. I’ll give Esmail some credit: there are no green screens throughout the entire show; it’s real code. But the counter to Elliot’s unstoppable skill is the producers still get it wrong. 

Don’t even get me started with Angela. Her rise to becoming a useful asset to fsociety was in no way realistic. Before she snuck around FBI headquarters hacking passwords, she sat thoroughly perplexed at the code sitting in front of her as she was coached by Darlene and Mobley. Her task was of the highest risk: gaining access to the FBI database. Most people wouldn’t be able to get far practicing for months even without the pressure of stealing information from the government. Despite all her determined “I’ll get this” verbal confirmations, she represents what much of the public thinks of hacking. Its task requires patience and a user with proven knowledge, understanding how to problem solve any and every difficulty. It certainly does not happen in one afternoon by simply memorizing code. Hacking doesn’t benefit the user if no knowledge of what is being done and why is understood first, which can take years to fully master.

Due to Mr. Robot’s inaccurate depictions, it waters down the physical skill and problem solving involved in hacking. Throughout Season 3, all the seemingly impossible tasks end up miraculously getting resolved. In the real world, it would take most programmers three times as long and many more hours poured in. Having run the cybersecurity training application Juice Shop myself, I can attest that hacking, whether performed with ethical or malicious intent, isn’t glamorous. Juice Shop’s objective is clear: it’s an introductory program designed to inform the programmers on ethical hacking, free floating on Github to be picked up by individuals or universities alike. Among user tasks are achievements ranging from finding the hidden Score Board to flooding the fake site with malware. It’s tough, time consuming, and sure isn’t meant to make an individual feel like some top tier white hat after a few mere minutes. 

Just because an individual can boot up Kali Linux like Elliot infamously advertises throughout Season 3, it doesn’t make them a master. Angela makes it look easy and attainable, but it doesn’t happen over the course of an afternoon. My hope would be the general audience doesn’t passively agree with all the scenes of learning how to hack or problem solving through an impossible situation and always winning. But Mr. Robot doesn’t display to viewers what’s important: if you don’t know what you’re looking at, it doesn’t mean anything toward a reputation. 

That leads to my next point: the reputations of fsociety’s members. Created by Elliot as a group to take down the world’s largest conglomerate, E Corp, one would imagine each hacker in the alliance to be equivalently skilled to its leader. In reality, Elliot proves to be a mastermind with exponentially higher intelligence and plan over the entire squad. To top it off, most of them die anyway. The mysterious death of Romero and Mobley and Trenton’s slow torture turned staged suicide all minimize the developments they each made in Season 2, making Season 3 all the more disappointing. Elliot and Darlene prove to be the only ones carrying their own weight, but with all the family drama revealed, it only makes sense the two siblings would make it to the end.

I can’t say the twisted familial reveals about Elliot, Darlene, and Mr. Robot are really surprising, though. After finding out Mr. Robot was a schizophrenic projection of Elliot’s father and he was another personality in his mind, it was just another plot point I had already solved episodes before. Prior to the plot point, the possibility of his father still being alive amid the cancer that took his life never did seem sane to me. With Elliot’s confusing and collapsing reality, I knew it was only time that would eventually unravel Mr. Robot as a representation of his alter ego. The same goes for Tyrell and Elliot’s later revealed involvements with fsociety. All the scenes of Mr. Robot meeting with Tyrell and exchanging heated discussions all began to make sense once I put the pieces together and thought about who Mr. Robot actually was. 

In one of the early scenes of Mr. Robot, Elliot publically cheers his own accomplishment toward bringing down E Corp’s monopoly in society. In the following seconds, he is confronted and whisked away into a black SUV by two bodyguards, unknowing of what is in store for him. Upon reviewing that recollection, viewers will be able to relate that scene to their own expectations going into Season 4. No matter the reaction fans give going into the final season, Mr. Robot will take what we celebrate about the show and kidnap us beyond what we could have ever imagined what would occur in the first place.