Mr. Robot’s first episode opens up and authoritatively communicates to the audience the premise of the show and how we will be exploring these themes. Rami Malek plays Elliot Alderson, a cyber security engineer for Allsafe, a company that is hired by corporations to safeguard their information. Alderson suffers from social anxiety disorder, which causes him to be overly paranoid and delusional. Alderson receives a message to join Christian Slater’s Mr. Robot, a hacker who formed fsociety, an organization that is determined in taking down big corporations such as E-Corp (cleverly referred to by Alderson as “Evil Corp”), Allsafe’s biggest client. It’s such a straightforward plot that allows for important messages to be trickled throughout the episode.
Malek deserves special recognition for introducing and carrying the episode, as he fuels Alderson with a distinct level of emotion that adds to the characters depth. We don’t see Alderson as some freedom fighter, but a paranoid young man living in New York City. He isn’t as easily confined to stereotypes that have plagued television and film for decades; the notion that in order to fight back against a system or government you have to be an individual filled with angst and fiery emotion. Alderson is angry, yet anger does not consume his personality. He carefully dabbles in morphine, has a drug dealer, curls up and cries, as he is presented in a very emotional, everyman manner. It allows us to better connect to Alderson and I hope this presentation is further examined throughout the series.
The rest of the cast is great as well. I’m not too sold on Christian Slater’s Mr. Robot, as he seems to be a man without a cause, but the rest of the cast balances Alderson’s paranoid with their own skeletons stuffed in their closets. Carly Chalkin, one of Mr. Robot’s hackers named Darlene, is also nothing more than stocking stuffer in this episode and I’m glad. She doesn’t seem terribly interesting from first glance, as opposed to Portia Doubleday’s Angela and Martin Wallstrom, Evil Corp’s ambitious and unsettling vice president. I fear that fsociety, Mr. Robot’s rebellious group of hackers, will be brought more into the centerfold, and the characters, from a first glance, are not interesting. Hopefully more screentime for Darlene and Mr. Robot means we will understand and begin to connect to fsociety’s drive.
While “disturbed” may be an accurate description of Alderson, “sleek” is the perfect word to describe the cinematography and direction. Careful camera angles compare Alderson to the vast towers of New York City, where the evil men in suits work. The sound brings Alderson’s sense of paranoia onto the viewer in a clever way. While watching, it ensnared me by recreating the same suspicious environment of Alderson’s paranoia.
However, the episodes writing allows Mr. Robot’s intriguing environment and great performances to come to fruition. It’s a tight script that allows for likable dialogue and interesting political conversations to coexist in a deep, thoughtful show. There are very few missteps the script takes in the first episode, as Alderson’s voice-over cleverly comments on each character, while the characters themselves deal with real world problems. Alderson’s social anxiety is portrayed in a very relatable light as well. He doesn’t come off afflicted or totally helpless, but rather complicated, as he deals with his anxiety in various humane ways. Such strong writing and clear character development from the very first episode gives me confidence that this series has a clear idea as well as direction in which they want to go.
A couple of things to note:
- This wasn’t named “Mr. Robot: Pilot” as an episode, but rather a first episode with an actual title, meaning that USA was very confident in ordering this to series
- Where did Mr. Robot get the other hackers/programmers? I hope it makes sense and he doesn’t pull them off the street.
- I doubt Alderson’s work friends will join him. Angela seems too career driven and his other co-workers, while we don’t know them, seem content at Allsafe.
- The series was originally imagined as a feature film. It will be interesting to see how the story evolves.
The first episode of Mr. Robot is a thrilling, as well as engaging, foundation of a modern day David vs. Goliath story. Rami Malek’s unique performance and the script alone demand your viewership, but clever cinematography, casting choices, and underlying messages get Mr. Robot’s story off on the right foot.