Posts Tagged ‘mr. robot’

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Seven: “eps2.5_h4ndshake.sme”

August 18, 2016

And while Angela tries to eat away at E Corp’s rotten apple from the inside, the F.B.I. agent Dom DiPierro is chasing her down a wormhole. Very nearly catching fsociety’s inside woman in the act of helping Darlene hack the bureau’s computers, DiPierro remains confident all the same, last seen jauntily striding through the F.B.I.’s makeshift headquarters in the company tower with her “Kojak”-style lollipop.

Grace Gummer stands out in this accomplished cast for her portrayal of DiPierro because, even if (as we’ve seen) she suffers from the same information-age ennui as everyone else, her character is in the business of dragging secrets into the open, not covering them up or creating new ones. Her crisp, confident tones and relative ease among her co-workers and subordinates is a world away from Elliot’s paranoid tension, Angela’s fake-it-till-you-make-it code-switching and Darlene’s studied surliness. With characters this well drawn and carefully framed, “Mr. Robot” can flip the world on its head as often as it likes. The really important things remain constant.

I reviewed tonight’s Mr. Robot for the New York Times, trying to make the point that the show’s big twists and shocking reveals are the icing, not the cake.

“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.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Three: “eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd”

July 21, 2016

Tonight, after over a season of portraying a character with bug-eyed, lock-jawed, pharmaceutical-numbed restraint, Rami Malek cut loose.

To the pseudo-orchestral strains of “Lovely Allen” (a mid-’00s music-blog hit by a band with a name not fit to print), Elliot Alderson goes on a sleep-deprived tear of Adderall-induced optimism and excitement. He’s filmed in fast forward, or with multiple versions of himself walking one behind the other, as if a single body’s not enough to contain his manic good cheer. When he climbs stairs, they light up beneath his feet. When he washes the dishes, the sun gleams off a plate like the sparkle of a cartoon character’s smile. When his pal Leon talks to him about “Seinfeld,” he starts screaming things like “It’s classic George, am I right?” in response. (“I don’t like this, bro,” Leon deadpans in return, a fine and funny moment from the M.C. turned actor Joey Bada$$.)

The freakout concludes at the basketball court as the hacker genius turned paranoid recluse sounds his barbaric yawp: “WOOOOOOOO, SLAAAAAAAM DUNNNKKK!!!” It’s a thing of goofily cathartic beauty …and it’s almost immediately cut off at the knees when he turns to us and his narration says, with weary resignation, “You’re not buying any of this either.”

This week’s episode of “Mr. Robot” takes great pleasure in these moments of unexpected, self-effacing humor. Given that the main rap against the show is its grim tone — as if seriousness and self-seriousness are conterminous phenomena — it’s a useful tool for the series to have in its arsenal. On a surface level, this installment is concerned with some of the bleakest events in the story to date: the discovery of the old-school phone hacker Romero’s corpse by his confederate Mobley, the latter’s increasing conviction that their group has been marked for death by the fearsome organization the Dark Army, Elliot’s desperate attempts to overdose himself out of his Mr. Robot persona’s clutches, his garrulous new pal Ray’s tragic and violent back story. But the writing, the performances, and the filmmaking make it seem like all involved are having the time of their lives, off-camera anyway.

I reviewed last night’s Mr. Robot, which was delightful, for the New York Times.

“Mr. Robot” thoughts, Season Two, Episodes 1-2: “unm4sk-pt1.tc” and “unm4sk-pt2.tc”

July 13, 2016

“Why this mask? It’s a bit silly, isn’t it?” The opening lines of the second season of “Mr. Robot” may emerge from the mouth of corporate creep turned America’s most-wanted missing person Tyrell Wellick, but the man speaks for many of us. Despite having joined forces with the show’s mentally unstable main character Elliot Alderson and his hacker confederacy fsociety, Wellick is not above questioning the group’s corny iconography. The Anonymous-indebted disguises, the snide sobriquet, the “Fight Club” posturing: Is there really a method to this madness, Wellick wonders, or is it all a cheesy cover for adolescent anarchism that won’t change a thing in the long run? That’s the question “Mr. Robot” is apparently trying to answer — and so far, that answer is a surprisingly grim one.

I’ll be covering this season of Mr. Robot for the freaking New York Times, where I made my debut with my review of tonight’s season premiere.

Command/Control: How Mr. Robot’s Creator Took the Reins of Season Two

July 7, 2016

On the overcast May morning when I meet Esmail at a Bed-Stuy basketball court where Mr. Robot is shooting, he seems very real indeed. At 6’ 4″, Esmail stands a head higher than star Rami Malek or cinematographer Tod Campbell. Until the basketball-playing extras show up, he’s the tallest person in the playground — his black-rimmed glasses and air of stubbly, slightly artsy dishevelment make him look like an overgrown film student. He wears a Canada Goose coat far bulkier than anything else being sported on the temperate late-spring morning, which adds to his imposing figure as he buzzes around the location. “He’s a presence,” says a network rep watching him work in the same awestruck tone I’d heard from the cast.

When he speaks loudly, his voice turns into a booming baritone. “LET’S DO THAT ONE MORE TIME,” he bellows from the director’s chair halfway across the playground, as Malek, Christian Slater, and newcomer Craig Robinson — plus a canine co-star who’s proving somewhat difficult to wrangle — run their lines. “GREAT!” Esmail says after the take is completed, before he grins and adds “I’M TALKING TO THE DOG.”

“He’ll definitely yell at us all the time,” Doubleday tells me. “You’ll hear a resounding ‘CARLY!’ or ‘PORTIA!’ or ‘NO, RAMI!’” But the actor insists he’s neither a dictator nor a disciplinarian. “He just knows us so well,” says Doubleday. “He’s said so many times, ‘You guys know these characters better than I do. I don’t know if you’ll have a better idea than me, so bring it to the table and we’ll see if it works.’ If he likes it, it sticks. If he doesn’t, then I trust that it wasn’t right for the moment, because he’s seeing the entire world.”

I profiled Sam Esmail and his show Mr. Robot for my debut at The Verge. A lot of work went into this one on all sides and really I hope you enjoy it.

The 25 Most Anticipated TV Shows of 2016

February 8, 2016

Game of Thrones (HBO, April 24)

The cable network’s dark-fantasy juggernaut has left a long trail of dead characters and shocked audiences in its wake, though readers of George R.R. Martin’s books always knew when to duck. All that changes when the show returns for its sixth season this year — because The Winds of Winter appears to have hit the proverbial Wall, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been free to plan their own red weddings this season. While the show will continue to be based at least in part on future plans revealed to creators by Martin, it had already begun deviating from the source with increasing regularity and boldness. (Is Jon Snow alive or dead? Who the hell knows?) Look for an even stormier winter than usual.

I joined forces with ace writers David Fear and Rob Sheffield to run down the year’s most anticipated TV shows for Rolling Stone.

How “Mr. Robot” Became One of TV’s Most Visually Striking Shows

September 2, 2015

Fitting for a show about those occupying society’s technological substrata,Mr. Robot’s characters are often placed at the very bottom of the frame. This leaves massive amounts of headroom that suggests a great weight hanging over their heads, and echoes their isolation: When they’re talking right to each other, they seem alone. In more conventional filmmaking, conversations are cut with the characters looking at each other from opposite ends of the frame, leaving what’s known as “leading room” between their faces that helps convey the physical space they occupy. Mr. Robot inverses the norm by “shortsighting” the characters, positioning their faces at the edge of the frame closest toward the person to whom they’re speaking.

“Shortsighting is unnerving,” Campbell explains. “It further accentuates how fucked-up Elliot’s world is. The idea was to convey the loneliness. That’s the internal dialogue I had with myself: How do we tell that story? How do you get Elliot across?

The effect goes a long way in selling audiences on the mounting paranoia and dissociation of the show’s main character, hacker Elliot Alderson (Malek). Without the usual pattern to help us intuit spatial relationships, these scenes create the sense that the characters don’t know where they stand in relation to one another. They also remind us of the picture-in-picture, face-against-flat-surface nature of video chatting, which can’t be overlooked on a show this attuned to the alienating effects of technology.

I spoke with Mr. Robot’s director of photography, Tod Campbell, about the show’s gorgeous shot compositions for Vulture. It felt great to write an article about television that focused on pure form. Woo!