Alibi V.24 No.25 • June 18-24, 2015 

Idiot Box

Life Hack

“Mr. Robot” on USA

“Mr. Robot” is either a gripping high-tech thriller or a gripping psychological drama. The brilliant thing is you’re never quite sure, at any given moment, which. You can be sure of one thing though: It’s the most instantly addictive show of the summer.

The appeal of the show all boils down to our main character Elliot (Rami Malek from the Night at the Museum series). Elliot is a strange figure—bug-eyed, soft-spoken and saddled with crippling social anxiety. He’s also a computer genius. By day he slaves away in an office working for a cyber-security firm. By night he moonlights as a vigilante hacker, bringing down criminals, child pornographers and the like. Between visits to his psychiatrist, self-medicating with morphine and launching into epic rants against modern society (which only take place in his head), Elliot has convinced himself that the power elite—the ruling “1 percent of the 1 percent”—have taken notice of his white-hat hacking activities and are out to get him. Are mysterious men in black actually dogging his every footstep, or is he just dangerously paranoid? ... Or is it a little from column A and a little from column B?

In the tense, tightly plotted pilot, Elliot’s day job pits him against the mysterious “F Society,” a group of underground hackers determined to bring down the colossal E Corp., which has its fingers in seemingly every business in the world. Elliot foils F Society’s attempts to crash E Corp.’s computer system—but it soon becomes apparent the attack was simply a “test” for Elliot. Suddenly, the wary computer genius finds himself being recruited by F Society’s head geek-in-charge, “Mr. Robot” (Christian Slater in a bravura supporting role). Mr. Robot seduces the rebellious Elliot with antiestablishment talk about bringing down the conglomerates and unleashing “the largest revolution the world has ever seen.” Assuming Mr. Robot is a real person and not a figment of Elliot’s somewhat scrambled mind (that’s a big “if” in this show), should Elliot join the cyber-revolution or run like hell?

Malek is incredible as our messed-up antihero teetering between heroism, paranoia and outright psychosis. He’s certainly one of the most intriguing, endearing characters on television right now. We feel for the guy. After all, we spend a lot of time in his head thanks to the show’s conspiratorial voice-over narration. Then again, as Elliot freely admits, we’re just an imaginary person he made up so that he’ll have someone to talk to. Imagine WarGames crossed with Fight Club and you’ll have some idea what this show is aiming for. Edgy, mind-bendy and thoroughly original, “Mr. Robot” delivers deep, dark social commentary hidden under a rich layer of goosebump-inducing high-tech thrills.

“Mr. Robot” premieres Wednesday, June 24, at 8:01pm on USA