Posts Tagged ‘mr. robot’

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Ten: “eps3.9_shutdown-r”

December 15, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

The best part was the axe murder.

When Dark Army fixer Irving drives the blade into corrupt FBI Agent Santiago’s chest, and eventually many other parts of his body, a lot of things happen at once. Bobby Cannavale is finally given a chance to cut loose after a season of playing Irving as a model of chatty, casual restraint; now he can go full Gyp Rosetti, and it’s a thing of beauty. Moreover, Mr. Robot has had horror in its DNA, from Tod Campbell’s often eerie cinematography to the roots of fsociety’s iconography in a slasher film; an axe murder seen in that light seems almost overdue. Finally, an explosion of intimate, savage, gory violence after a season full of tension and sadness, in which even a gigantic series of terrorist bombings is witnessed only at a remove, takes all of the show’s unspoken resentments and hatreds and buries them in a warm, wet body, over and over again. “These are for me,” says Irving as he sends his traumatized and cowed new slave at the FBI, Dom DiPierro, away. They’re for everyone on the show, really.

I wish the rest of Mr. Robot’s Season 3 finale (“eps3.9_shutdown-r”) cut half so deep. Instead, it’s a claimant for the most disappointing episode in the history of the show — a profound narrative miscalculation that sees the show retrench rather than create new possibilities, yet also denies the basic sense of completion and catharsis you’d think such a retrenchment would require. Axe murders aside, it just sort of sits there, waiting for something else to happen.

[…]

All told, it doesn’t surprise me that the finale, and the season itself, is being held up by other critics as a return to form. It was — to a fault. Audacious episodes like the Tyrell Wellick spotlight and the long-take high-rise thriller, the highlights of the season for me, now feel like respites in a long act of creative backpedaling, to get the show back to where it was when it was a zeitgeisty phenomenon during Season 1. “Like 5/9 never happened”? More like if Season 2, a phenomenally bold season of sweepingly despairing and vicious television that risked alienating the audience the show had built, never happened. We’re headed back to the start, and that’s not a ride I’m sure I want to take.

I reviewed the season finale of Mr. Robot, which made one baffling and disappointing narrative choice after another for an hour, for Decider. A truly dispiriting letdown.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Nine: “eps3.8_stage3.torrent”

December 7, 2017

The reason I singled out the kisses at the start of this review, though, is because they represent something larger. At an impromptu meeting between E Corp CEO Phillip Price, his once and future underling Tyrell Wellick, and Tyrell’s ersatz hacker ally Mr. Robot (who’s just Elliot, as far as Price knows), Price tells Elliot “World catastrophes like this? They aren’t caused by lone wolves like you. They occur because men like me allow them.” Certainly the past year of real life has borne this out. Much as we’d like to pin the rise and fall of campaigns, parties, and countries on rogue actors, who therefore can be isolated and eliminated if we’re smart and good enough, the real fault is systemic, and that system is run by men who make themselves increasingly untouchable with each Supreme Court decision and tax cut.

And yet! Here’s why Phillip Price, Master of the Universe, decided to hire Allsafe, the firm that Elliot and Angela worked for, to handle E Corp’s cyber-security, thus setting all of this in motion:

Stages 1, 2, and 3 happened because Phillip Price fell for Angela Moss at first sight. They happened because Angela and Elliot and Darlene were heartbroken over the deaths of their parents. They happened because Whiterose, as the cracks in her voice betray, is tired of men like Price, who “only understand force, and a lot of it. That is the only currency with these men!” They continue to happen because Grant loves his boss, and because Dom is a lonely person who turned to Darlene for comfort, and on and on and on. Systemic causes trump individual ones, yes. But the personal and the political are inextricable, because external power and internal passion are inescapable. If you want to survive, you must endure them both.

I reviewed the penultimate episode of Mr. Robot Season Three for Decider.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Eight: “eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko”

December 1, 2017

mr-robot-s3-ep8-04

Mr. Robot may have bobbled the immediate aftermath of Stage 2, the mass murder at the center of its Season 3 storyline. But in its own melancholy way, the follow-up feels like the show has found itself again.

Entitled “eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko,” this week’s episode avoids the pitfalls of the previous installment. Last week, most of the characters were too blasé about the terrorist attacks they’d either unwittingly helped unleash or failed to prevent, with the exception of Angela, whose regression into childlike magical thinking felt cartoonishly severe. This time around, characters do what people really do, a couple of weeks into the new normal following a catastrophe. They drift apart, or drift together; they settle on self-destruction, or rebound to self-improvement; they watch movies they love, from The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie to Back to the Future. They act like we’ve all been acting for a year now.

I reviewed this week’s episode of Mr. Robot for Decider. Man, look at that fuckin’ shot.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Seven: “eps3.6_fredrick+tanya.chk”

November 26, 2017

The Dark Army’s plan may have worked, but for the first time this season, Mr. Robot’s plan failed. This week’s episode, “eps3.6_fredrick+tanya.chk,” follows all of the major players — including a few we haven’t seen since last year — in the hours immediately following the 71 simultaneous bombings of E Corp storage facilities that constitute the dreaded Stage 2. Yet the soul-crushing dread and despair you’d expect, particularly if you remember weathering similar tragedies, is missing in action. Usually surefooted even when traveling the most treacherous and tricky narrative paths, Mr. Robot’s storytelling seems to have stumbled the second it got past the finish line.

Much of the problem lies with the protagonist, or more accurately the lack thereof. Mr. Robot is Elliot Alderson’s story, and the catastrophic success of Stage 2 is something he’s spent the entire season trying to prevent. The past two episodes in particular chronicled Elliot’s attempts to physically put a stop to the operation in practically real-time detail. Yet now that the trigger has been pulled, we cut away from Elliot almost immediately: No sooner does he make it to the office of his therapist, Krista, than he’s subsumed by his sardonic Mr. Robot persona before he can mutter more than a few broken sentences about his role in the attacks. The show pushes him aside at the exact moment he should be front and center.

Hell, he’s not even our gateway into the episode itself. That would be Leon, the sociopathic sitcom fan who serves as the Dark Army’s main American assassin. The hour’s cold open depicts him with Trenton and Mobley, the fsociety members last seen living under assumed names until Leon approaches them in the parking lot of the big-box electronics store where they work in the post-credits stinger for the Season 2 finale. While the country reels from what incessant news reports describe as the deadliest attack in its history, Leon does a deadpan comedy routine about how Frasier Crane’s success with women strains credulity, paling in comparison to the prophetic realism of (drumroll please) Knight Rider. Indeed, the familiar synth-pop theme song for that old-school techno-thriller about a talking car and its Hasselhoffian driver plays over the opening credits. I get the ironic effect the show is going for here, and both the theme song and Joey Bada$$’s performance as Leon are as big a hoot as ever. But with the success of Stage 2, Mr. Robot had the chance to examine the trauma, terror, and grief of its own personal 9/11. Dropping that ball feels like more than just a missed opportunity — it’s almost a dereliction of duty.

I reviewed last week’s episode of Mr. Robot, the first one this season I felt didn’t work, for Decider.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Five: “eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00”

November 13, 2017

Over the course of its commercial-free runtime, “eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00” hits a quartet of long-running narrative climaxes: Elliot learns that Darlene has betrayed him to the FBI and Angela has betrayed him to his Mr. Robot persona, while the Dark Army clears a path for its lethal “Stage 2” plan as its scheme for China to annex the Congo achieves success.

And it does so, as becomes increasingly obvious with each passing minute, in a single uninterrupted take. Whether gliding along with Elliot via steadicam as he tries to avoid being ejected by E Corp security in the episode’s first half or jittering around with Angela via a handheld camera as she races to install hack the conglomerate’s backup facility in the second half — the transition marked by the start of a Dark Army–instigated activist riot inside E Corp’s stately Manhattan headquarters — the action flows continuously from start to finish.

But don’t get so sucked into the technique that you simply coast on conventional wisdom about what long takes, or even “oners” like Rope, Birdman, and that one X-Filesepisode, are supposed to do. Sure, there are the usual peek-around-corners, cat-and-mouse thrills you associate with long takes from time to time, whether it’s Elliot doing a oner version of the Neo-in-The-Matrix routine, dodging security guards through a sea of cubicles and goldfish bowls, or Angela on that Clive Owen tip, fighting her way through the chaos of battle. But the thing is, there aren’t really any bravura, standout segments of the take — nothing on the level of Children of Men’s backwards car chase, True Detective’s shootout, Better Call Saul’s smuggler truck route, Game of Thrones’s 360-degree battle at Castle Black, or (the holiest of holies) GoodFellas’s Copacabana entrance, where you sit back and marvel at how they could keep it going so far for so long. Indeed, with the exception of the visceral thrill you (or at least I) get when Dark Army agents in activist drag first storm the building like an anticapitalist fever dream, the most memorable moments don’t involve motion at all. By employing a long take, the show is paradoxically even better able to emphasize the times when nothing is happening and no one is going anywhere.

I reviewed last week’s much-hyped (both positively and negatively) single-take episode of Mr. Robot for Decider. I really don’t think it does what long takes usually do, which makes it more compelling than the “wow how’d they do it” takes would suggest and belies the “ugh empty film-geek gimmickry” criticism too.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Four: “eps3.3_m3tadata.chk”

November 3, 2017

It’s all gussied up in cyberthriller drag, but what Mr. Robot is now really forcing us to confront is whether or not bringing down the hypercapitalist backers of American hegemony — ending its endless death dance of credit-card debt and drone strikes — is worth the risk, and the cost. Who is the hero of this story? Elliot, with his humane reluctance to kill? Or Mr. Robot and those conspiring with him to keep Elliot down, with their insistence that in this case, killing is humane? Placing Elliot’s good-hearted, if broken-spirited, friend Angela on the side of the sociopaths is an indication that Mr. Robot sees this question as harder to answer than it looks.

How should we see it, though? How do we see it? Who’s seeing it at all? Normally I don’t pay much attention to how a given show I care about is going over with the general viewing public, mostly because I don’t give a shit. In a world where we can get four miraculous seasons of Halt and Catch Fire despite an audience size not much larger than the cast, how much does it really matter? I’m much more concerned about shows I dislike (the empty Reaganite culture recycling of Stranger Things, the fascism of The Walking Dead) getting more attention than they deserve than shows I like getting less.

But I am curious about how this season of Mr. Robot is playing with the people who are watching it, and the people who watched the first two seasons (in varying quantities) as well. There’s a bleak, enervated energy to this year’s run so far that resonates so closely with the relentless awfulness of life under the Trump regime that I wonder if it’s hard for some viewers to take — like two notes nearly identical in pitch but off just slightly enough to become discordant and abrasive.

Though this season has been both stylistically and narratively straightforward compared to the previous outings, it’s no less challenging a viewing experience. Watching it so far, this episode included, feels like wandering around a big empty room, where the walls are gray and your voice falls flat and the light is an eye-clouding haze and rising up from the floor is the faint but unmistakable smell of death. Tonight’s episode ended to the tune of Elliott (ahem) Smith’s grindingly grim “Everything Means Nothing to Me,” a song he wrote while blood from a self-inflicted injury was literally dripping on to the keys of the piano he was playing, from the final album he released before he is believed to have stabbed himself to death. If you’re of a certain mindset that values the catharsis of hopelessness, this can be a nice place to visit. Mr. Robot is asking you to live there.

I wrote about death, hopelessness, and the most recent episode of Mr. Robot for Decider.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Three: “eps3.2_1egacy.so”

October 27, 2017

Aside from the unusual time-jumping, it’s one of the most narratively straightforward episodes of Mr. Robot since Season One. It just gets you from point A to point B, is all, even if it had to backtrack a bit to do so. It satisfies a narrative itch, nothing more.

Primarily, it’s a showcase for Martin Wallström as Tyrell Wellick. The character and performance alike have their diehard partisans and their dismissive detractors. For my money, when you add Tyrell’s mental, moral, and professional collapse to his fixation on doing right by both his family and the man of his dreams, you get a whole different sort of sociopath from either the Patrick Bateman one-percenter murderers or the Phillip Price/Whiterose puppetmasters. Wallström lacks the golfball-sized convex eyes of his castmates Rami Malek, Portia Doubleday, and Carly Chaikin, but man those things are blue, and the person behind them seems to be in almost agonizing psychological pain at all times.

That’s the key to Tyrell Wellick, really. Despite being one of the ostensible archvillains of the piece, he’s more emotionally open and expressive than any of the fsociety “good guys”—Elliot, Angela, Darlene, Cisco, even Mr. Robot himself. He’s the only one who embodies the sense of dislocation and terror on a permanent basis that characters like Elliot and Darlene can only access during acute breakdowns. In a weird way, he’s the heart of the show, and that heart is warped as hell. In that light, the standard-issue storytelling of the episode can be forgiven, even if you suspect it’s part of a slight creative retrenchment in the face of the vituperative reaction to the show’s fearless fuck-you of a second season. A character this peculiar can take all the time to fill in the blanks he needs.

I reviewed this week’s backtracking episode of Mr. Robot for Decider. 

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Two: “eps3.1_undo.gzh”

October 20, 2017

Now, however, Elliot’s mission is reform rather than revolution. In this new worldview, “Evil Corp” is “a necessary evil that just needs to be kept in check.” Get rid of “the corrupt, moronic managers” — “purge Evil Corp of all their shitbags” — and the company will “no longer be evil, because changing the world is never about tearing E Corp down — it’s about making them better.”  These could be Obama or Clinton campaign slogans. Meanwhile, of course, CEO Phillip Price is igniting a global currency war with China in order to make himself the supreme ruler of the world’s economy. Elliot’s reformist bromides are the kind of technocratic liberal bullshit we’ve been hearing for the better part of a decade as the entire planet goes to shit and billionaires fund fascist takeovers. The sequence is a savage own of empty centrism, just as Elliot’s dismissal of his previous motives as “dorm-room philosophizing” is a fuck you to critics who levied that charge at the show. Look around you, folks. The dorm-room philosophers were right.

I reviewed this week’s vicious episode of Mr. Robot for Decider.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Three, Episode One: “eps3.0_power-saver-mode”

October 14, 2017

That’s why I insist to this day Mr. Robot Season Two was a tremendous creative success. With the possible exception of Game of Thrones and its allegorical brutality, no show on television last year had the courage to be so honestly discouraged by human nature. That pessimism proved prophetic just a few months later, when Donald Trump’s installation as president ushered in a wave of corporate rapaciousness and white-nationalist belligerence by which we all continue to be battered day after day. Trump and the forces he represents didn’t come out of nowhere, though. While the rest of TV culture was consumed by a dozen different adorkable sitcoms and the Reaganite nostalgia of Stranger ThingsMr. Robot blazed a bleaker, truer path.

In this relatively low-key premiere, that’s the path it continues to tread.

I reviewed this week’s season premiere of Mr. Robot for Decider. I know I said it’s low-key, but there’s one major exception. Let’s put it this way: Here’s how I started the review…

Did…did Mr. Robot just do what I think it did?

‘Mr. Robot’: What to Remember Before Watching Season 3

October 9, 2017

Stylish cyberthriller. Anticapitalist agitprop. Cassandra-esque prophecy of doom. Experimental canvas for the auteurist creator-writer-director Sam Esmail. Surprise-twist generator. Think of “Mr. Robot” as a gadget capable of running all these programs and more simultaneously, making it one of television’s most engrossing shows.

It can also be one of its most complex and confusing. Esmail and company weave conspiracies into conspiracies, shift points of view and bury them beneath elaborate hallucinations, and rely on tricky hacker plots for their action sequences. Season 2, which aired in summer 2016, spent more than half of its running time immersed in a reality that only existed in the head of its main character.

Worried you won’t be able to follow when Season 3 debuts Oct. 11 on USA? (You can watch the new season on the network’s app and digital on-demand platforms.) Here’s a quick refresher on the main players.

The Mystery Men: Elliot Alderson, Mr. Robot and Tyrell Wellick

Technically, Elliot Alderson is Mr. Robot. Played by Christian Slater, the title character exists only in Elliot’s head — a mental projection of the hacker’s dead father, embodying all the rage Elliot feels against the colossal conglomerate E Corp for its role in his dad’s untimely death from environmental toxins. As a separate personality existing within Elliot’s head, Mr. Robot can hijack their shared body to advance his militant agenda, leaving Elliot himself in the dark about the plans everyone else believes he, not his imaginary alter ego, devised.

Season 2 embroiled them both in two main mysteries. The first involved Elliot’s short stint in prison after copping to a minor charge following the 5/9 hack — which the show kept secret for seven full episodes, depicting a false reality Elliot constructed to protect himself from the truth.

The second mystery centered on “Stage 2,” the mysterious next step in the war against E Corp that Elliot’s Mr. Robot personality helped organize in collusion with the sinister cyberterrorism organization the Dark Army. He discovers the truth from an previously hidden co-conspirator: Tyrell Wellick, the disgraced and unstable E Corp executive who was blamed for the 5/9 hack, and who had been missing ever since. (Elliot assumed he’d murdered the man and disposed of his body during a three-day period of amnesia following the hack itself.)

Wellick informs Elliot that they plan to hack into the secret storehouse where E Corp’s paper backup records are kept, blowing it up and destroying the company once and for all — but also killing everyone in the building. When Elliot balks and tries to shut down the program, convinced Wellick is just a figment of his imagination, Wellick shoots him, following the by-any-means-necessary instructions that Elliot had issued himself while under Mr. Robot’s control.

I wrote a quick-and-dirty refresher course for Mr. Robot in anticipation of Wednesday’s season premiere for the mighty New York Times.

Emmys 2017 Predictions: Who Will Win, Who Should Win

September 11, 2017

Best Actor in a Drama
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Anthony Hopkins, Westworld
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us

WILL WIN: Here’s a Drama category in which the absence of Game of Thrones actually doesn’t wreak havoc, since HBO nominates everyone from Peter Dinklage to Kit Harington in the Best Supporting Actor slot. Plus, last year’s winner – Mr. Robot‘s Rami Malek – isn’t even nominated this year, so the field is wide open. Our guess is that the mass appeal of This Is Us gives the excellent Sterling K. Brown an edge over the star power of Anthony Hopkins on Westworld, whose show has plenty of other opportunities to take home trophies.

SHOULD WIN: Matthew Rhys and Bob Odenkirk are both plumbing such depths of unhappiness on The Americans and Better Call Saul that their performances should come with an antidepressant prescription; we’d give either of them the gold, particularly over such “well, we’ve got to nominate these guys again, I guess” choices as Schreiber and Spacey. Let’s go with Odenkirk, thanks to his material’s higher degree of difficulty this year.

ROBBED: Rami Malek won the Emmy in 2016 for his indispensable work on Mr. Robot; this year he wasn’t even nominated. The yeoman’s work that Justin Theroux has done on The Leftovers for years deserved recognition. And while we realize the networks decide which actor is submitted for which character, it’s nutty that Jeffrey Wright got tapped for Westworld‘s Best Supporting Actor and Sir Anthony got Best Actor, rather than the other way around. But tops on the list is Michael McKean on Better Call Saul, delivering a performance of such profound misery that you’ll forget Spinal Tap and Laverne & Shirley within minutes.

The tradition continues: I took a stab at predicting the outcome of all the major categories at this coming Sunday’s Emmy Awards for Rolling Stone. I have no truck with awards shows as barometers of quality, but they can be a lot of fun to analyze like a sport.

The 10 Best Musical TV Moments of 2016

December 20, 2016

Vinyl: “Wild Safari” by Barrabás
“Think back to the first time you heard a song that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up,” Richie Finestra bellows at his record-label employees. “Made you want to dance, or fuck, or go out and kick somebody’s ass! That’s what I want!” Vinyl showrunner Terence Winter had similar goals, but virtually none of the musical elements of his period drama clicked. This despite the imprimatur of co-creators Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, who know a thing or two about making magic with music, and supervisors Randall Poster and Meghan Currier, whose previous collaborations with Winter and Scorsese on Boardwalk Empire and The Wolf of Wall Street were all killer, no filler.

There was one grand and glorious exception, and it had nothing to do with Jagger swagger. Rather, it was the result of an unlikely alliance between demoted A&R doofus Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid) and his mail-room buddy Jorge (Christian Navarro). When the latter takes Clark to an underground dance club, they enter in slow motion to the ecstatic sounds of the 1972 proto-disco song “Wild Safari” by Barrabás. The killer clothes, the fabulous dancing, the beatific smiles on the faces of beautiful people, the irresistible rhythm, the rapturous “WHOA-OH-OH” of the chorus, the sense that an entire world of incredible music has existed right under his nose — you can feel it all hit Clark right in the serotonin receptors, and damn if it doesn’t hit you, too. Perhaps my favorite two minutes of TV this year, this sequence demonstrates the life-affirming power and pleasure of music.

I wrote about major musical moments in The Americans, Atlanta, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, Horace and Pete, Luke Cage, Mr. Robot, The People v. O.J. Simpson, and (yes) Vinyl in my list of 2016′s 10 Best Musical TV Moments for Vulture.

The 20 Best TV Characters of 2016

December 20, 2016

Dr. Robert Ford, ‘Westworld’

Smile, and smile, and be a villain. As the co-founder and chief narrative architect of the Westworld theme park, Dr. Robert Ford is not unfamiliar with Shakespeare; he’d recognize Hamlet’s description of evil every time he looked in the mirror. Or would he? As played by Anthony Hopkins, who taps the quiet menace he mined so effectively decades ago as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, Ford spends the bulk of the HBO hit’s first season manipulating and murdering everyone, human or android, who threatens his control. But late-game twists hint at an even more disturbing truth behind Ford’s highly erudite villainy, this time one out of Nietzsche: To fight monsters, is it necessary to become a monster yourself?

I wrote about Cottonmouth, the Punisher, Agent Dom DiPierro, Sarah Wittel, Detective Dennis Box, and Dr. Robert Ford for Rolling Stone’s list of the 20 best new TV characters of the year.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Ten: “eps2.8_h1dden-pr0cess.axx”

September 7, 2016

there’s more to television than plot, or plot twists; there’s more to character than dialogue; there’s more to acting than line readings; there’s more to narrative fiction than figuring out what comes next. A sequence like the one that juxtaposed Dom’s confrontation with her suspects and their assassins with Elliot and Angela’s kiss shows how sight and sound, score and cinematography, body language and silence can produce an emotional effect far beyond the sum of its parts, and irreducible to sound bytes about “How ‘Mr. Robot’ Season 2 Lost Its Way.” On a show this good, getting lost — alone in the dark, the roar of the approaching monsters growing louder by the second — is the way.

I reviewed tonight’s magnificent Mr. Robot for the New York Times, with a focus on the gorgeously constructed final sequence.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Nine: “eps2.7_init_5.fve”

August 31, 2016

The malevolent beauty of “Mr. Robot” Season 2 is such that knowing and not knowing are equally unpleasant options. The show’s twists earn it constant comparisons to films like “Fight Club” and “The Sixth Sense,” but its ability to create and sustain the look and feel of a bad dream has much more in common with David Lynch’s roughly contemporaneous, twist-based mind-benders “Lost Highway” and “Mulholland Drive.” You’re no better off on one side of the reveal than you are on the other.

I reviewed tonight’s creepy Mr. Robot for the New York Times. A point I’m trying to make here is that an overly literal focus on Elliot’s dissociative identity disorder, either in terms of twist-based plot mechanics or psychological realism, misses the point, which is to viscerally illustrate powerlessness and dread.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Eight: “eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12”

August 24, 2016

The most striking thing in this week’s episode of “Mr. Robot” wasn’t in this week’s episode of “Mr. Robot.” It’s Elliot Alderson, the mentally ill mastermind behind the hacker collective fsociety’s rapidly disintegrating plan to level the world’s economic playing field. For the first time in the history of the series, Elliot — and Rami Malek, the wide-eyed actor whom the role has made a star — did not appear.

When prominent characters drop out of the stories they sparked, they still sometimes function as a structuring absence, tying the action together even when they’re nowhere to be seen. Think of a generation of Stark children trying to live up to their slain father, Ned, in “Game of Thrones,” or even of Marlon Brando’s Vito Corleone casting a shadow over Al Pacino as his son and Robert DeNiro as his younger self in “The Godfather Part II.” But in “eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12,” by contrast, Elliot’s absence has a destabilizing, disintegrating effect. Without his high-tension energy thrumming through the hour, without Malek’s unmistakable face serving as a landmark, viewers are sent the message that something is missing, off, wrong. Sure enough, the episode chronicles the downward spiral of Darlene, his sister and successor, and her compatriots into paranoia, flight from the law, violence and murder. When the center cannot hold, things fall apart.

I reviewed tonight’s Mr. Robot for the New York Times.

Summer Bummer: Why the Failed Revolution of “Mr. Robot” Is Exactly What We Need

August 22, 2016

What makes Mr. Robot unique is that it weds its politics to its emotional and visual palette. “We’re exploring what loneliness looks like today,” Esmail has said, and he’s dead on. This starts with the singular look cinematographer Tod Campbell has established for the show: characters “shortsighted” against the edge of the frame, like people staring into their laptop screens or smartphones; vast empty spaces above and around them, creating a sense of isolation and oppression. It extends to how Esmail and his fellow writers script the thing: Elliot and his companions communicate primarily the way most young people do these days—digitally. Text messages are more common than face-to-face meetings, which are riddled with anxiety when they do take place; even phone calls are reserved for only the most crucial information. Angela ensconces herself in the sonic womb of her headphones. Elliot stares listlessly at his few friends and his computer screen alike. Even relative go-getter FBI agent Dom DiPierro masturbates joylessly while sexting between bouts of insomnia. Talk to anyone who really loves Mr. Robot this season and you’ll get the same message: This show speaks to how it looks, sounds, and feels to be alienated in 2016, alone in a house or apartment with the internet at your fingertips and a world outside you but no real human connections.

That’s the difference between Mr. Robot and other political dramas—or, for that matter, between Mr. Robot and other shows that attempt to capture, and even succeed in capturing, young urban ennui, like Girls. It depicts the way political failure and personal failure blend together in our hearts and minds, becoming this inextricable, sticky depressive goo. It’s televised weltschmerz, and not since The Sopranos and The Wire were on has anyone done it better.

Mr. Robot’s first season was televised catharsis: a bracing breath of fresh political air on the TV landscape, unafraid to call out corporate and cultural malefactors by name and construct a story in which these evildoers could be taken down a peg or two. But to continue in that direction would be to betray the plight in which America finds itself—it would be a left-wing version of The Walking Dead’s hyper-violent paean to protecting ourselves from the dreaded outsiders by any means necessary. The bullet fsociety attempted to fire into the head of E Corp was no more fatal than the imaginary ones Elliot’s Mr. Robot blasted into his own brain. For the problems the show is confronting, there is no magic bullet; there may well be no remedy at all. That’s an unpleasant message, but that makes it all the more vital to hear. By wedding its political critique to intensely personal anxieties, Mr. Robot delivers that message loud and clear.

I wrote a defense of Mr. Robot Season Two for the New York Observer.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Six: “eps2.4_m4ster-s1ave.aes”

August 12, 2016

Using the uncanny, ugly cheeriness of vintage sitcoms as an ironic locus of fear has been done before, certainly, from Adult Swim’s viral hit Too Many Cooks to the still-harrowing “I Love Mallory” sequence from Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers,” featuring Rodney Dangerfield as a monstrous abusive father. But “Mr. Robot” is neither an 11-minute one-off on YouTube nor a single segment in a collagist media satire. It’s a prestige drama during a time when that’s seen as somewhat degraded currency. And Sam Esmail, its creator, showrunner and director, is cashing in the clout he earned with the series’ surprise-hit first season by opening this episode — a follow-up to last week’s first action-packed episode of the season — with a 17-minute TGIF pastiche.

The proximate cause is Elliot’s retreat into a fantasy world constructed for him by his hallucinatory father as an escape from the beating he’s taking from Ray’s goons, but the go-for-broke attitude stands on its own. In both respects it’s reminiscent of the masterful, uncategorizable Kevin Finnerty episodes of “The Sopranos”; in both cases it’s a sign of a show that totally believes in itself. That kind of confidence is breathtaking to watch.

I reviewed this week’s Mr. Robot for the New York Times. This show is leaving it all out on the field this season; trust no one who tells you otherwise.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Five: “eps2.3_logic-b0mb.hc”

August 4, 2016

“Have you ever wondered how the world would look if the 5/9 had never happened? How the world would look right now?” This question is being posed by a minister of the Chinese state security to a guest attending a party in his home, a young F.B.I. agent who’s investigating the attacks to which he’s referring. They’re standing before a closet full of amazingly intricate women’s dresses. He says they belong to his sister. He does not have a sister.

“In fact, some believe there are alternate realities playing out that very scenario,” he continues, “with other lives that we’re leading, other people that we’ve become.” His smiling eyes welling with tears, he pauses for breath. “The contemplation,” he concludes with a lump in his throat and a slight, self-effacing laugh, “moves me very deeply.”

As well it should. This may be the high-ranking official charged with heading the E Corp hack on Chinese soil, but this, we’ve learned, is a secret identity no closer to the mark than Clark Kent is to Kal-El, the Last Son of Krypton. She is really Whiterose, the transgender woman who leads the lethal cyberterrorism organization the Dark Army. On both sides of her secret life she wields tremendous power, power which she will unleash the next day in the form of a mass shooting that wipes out nearly the entire F.B.I. contingent tracing the hack.

But in this moment, with these words, it’s clear she wants nothing so much as to end the fiction of the fake sister and shed the male-presenting mask once and for all. The sequence is a variation on the Bluebeard fairy tale, but the locked room is full not of the bodies of women Whiterose has killed, but the dresses of the woman she wishes she could always be. If you’ve ever been momentarily overcome by the profound power of a beautiful, impossible ideal, you’ll recognize its effects etched into the actor B D Wong’s face and echoing in his quavering voice. On “Mr. Robot,” even supervillains suffer.

I’m proud of this passage from my review of last night’s Mr. Robot for the New York Times.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Four: “eps2.2_init1.asec”

July 29, 2016

One of the most fascinating aspects of “Mr. Robot” has been its ability to capture the moment — whether airing its series premiere days after the revelation of a massive breach of United States government computer systems, or postponing its Season 1 finale because of a real-world shooting — despite being made months in advance of the news. So it feels right for the show to seize the pop culture moment as well. Thus, even as Netflix’s 1980s horror homage “Stranger Things” becomes one of the streaming service’s buzziest shows of the year, this week’s episode of “Mr. Robot” opens with a paean to getting high and reliving the fright flicks of your youth.

In the opening flashback scene, set immediately before the events of the first season, Elliot and Darlene celebrate an impromptu family reunion by watching a fictional slasher film called “The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie.” (Luis Buñuel and Tobe Hooper, call your lawyers.) It turns out that movie’s rich-kid-targeting killer wore the moneyman mask eventually embraced by fsociety as its symbol. Sure enough, when Elliot tries on a copy provided to him by his sister as a gag, the monster is unleashed. His posture straightens, his low-energy voice grows raspier and more strident, his Rs harden and his vowels sharpen into the distinctive vocal cadence of the actor Christian Slater. Elliot’s not here anymore — we’re looking at and listening to Mr. Robot.

The transformation’s so striking that I wondered if the two performers’ voices had been digitally blended; I might have thought the actors themselves had been switched, if Mr. Malek’s eyes weren’t so big and bright they could be seen clearly through the eyeholes of the mask. The horror movie orchestral music cue that accompanies the appearance of the “Mr. Robot” logo in the credits completes the uncanny effect.

I reviewed this week’s Mr. Robot for the New York Times. This show has reached Hannibal levels of speaking in a cinematic language of its own devising. Don’t believe anyone who tells you this isn’t a great thing.