It's not easy to successfully pull off heavy narration in a TV series.
It's difficult to maintain the right balance and resist veering into pedantic, unnecessary over-exposition territory, and it's even harder to pull it off with an unreliable narrator like Mr. Robot's Elliot.
I was prepared to be annoyed at the narration, but boy, Mr. Robot Season 1 Episode 1 definitely proved me wrong!
I do morphine. The key to doing morphine without turning into a junkie is to limit yourself to 30 milligrams a day. Anything more just builds up your tolerance.Elliot
The narration technique doesn't feel the least bit hokey – it feels true to the character of Elliot, a tech whiz who's "just an IT guy" by day and a technological Robin Hood of a hacker by night. Elliot, right off the bat, is established as suffering from abnormal psychology.
It's one of his defining characteristics. He's medicated (legally, for his delusions, and also recreationally for... well, everything else), he has trouble interacting with others, he's depressed and has social anxiety.
Despite all that, Elliot is a surprisingly sympathetic and enigmatic main character. He displays amazing insight in reading others and cares earnestly and deeply for those he believes are "good" people (Angela and Krista, in particular).
His mission to crack the mystery of Krista's sketchy online boyfriend, "Michael Hansen," was one of my favorite parts of the episode – it front-and-centered what a good person Elliot is (despite his questionable means).
Elliot's inner monologue betrays his deep-seated paranoia, and we're treated to the world through his occasionally delusional eyes (his imagined diatribe to Krista, railing against a diseased society dependent on social media, and his visual/auditory "Evil Corp" hallucinations, were two particularly potent examples of his skewed perspective).
He talks to an imaginary person he even acknowledges is imaginary, and he stresses over his inability to consistently tell what's real and what's delusion, adding another layer to the audience's perception of events, (namely: is all of this actually happening?
Is this partly happening and partly in Elliot's unreliable head? What the fsociety is going on here, exactly?)
Overall, based on this first episode alone, Elliot is presented as an amazingly complex and original character: damaged, unhinged, and self-aware, all at once.
To top it off, he's played to near-perfection by an astounding Rami Malek, who embodies the character so well I have a hard time imagining he's anything other than just like Elliot in real life.
The development of the show's supporting characters was a little less spectacular, on some counts. Elliot's boss in the cyber security biz, Gideon, randomly comes out to him as gay en route back from Elliot saving Evil Corp's system from being breached.
That moment was really out of nowhere and didn't contribute anything plot- or character development-wise.
I can sort of see where the writers were going with that moment – having Gideon confide in Elliot to cause Elliot to feel indebted to him personally and to helping Evil Corp for his boss – but it was a little ham-fisted. It could definitely have been done better.
Elliot's childhood friend, (and obvious object of affection) Angela, was not developed very well either (that, or she's just meant to be a not particularly likeable character). So far, she's Elliot's closest friend, but right out of the gate she displays a shocking lack of insight into and sympathy for Elliot's cache of mental and emotional issues.
She definitely seems aware of Elliot's problems, but she doesn't appear to fully comprehend them, or even to want to try to comprehend them. Plus, she somehow blamed Elliot for her embarrassment in front of those jerk Evil Corp execs, which was completely absurd and annoying of her.
I can't understand what he sees in Angela, especially because Elliot isn't exactly hurting for female companionship – his drug dealer, Shayla, for one, basically threw herself into his bed (and then slept through his whole ordeal with the middle-of-the-night Evil Corp hacking and the fsociety fiasco – what a catch!).
I really enjoyed the gradual introduction of Christian Slater's titular Mr. Robot. He seems to be just a random subway crazy at first, but the out-of-left-field reveal that he is Mr. Robot and was behind fsociety's attack on Evil Corp (revealed as a lure for the hackers to attract Elliot) was really well done.
I wasn't expecting that reveal to come when it did and the way it did. Christian Slater's delivery of Mr. Robot's thematically-important dad-was-a-thief backstory was also great and didn't feel shoehorned in the way Gideon's "Hey, by the way, I'm gay" moment did.
My dad was a petty thief. Never could hold down a job. So, he just robbed, convenience stores, shops, small-time stuff. One time, he sat me down, he told me something I never forgot. He said, "Everyone steals. That's how it works. You think people out there are getting exactly what they deserve? No. They're getting paid over or under, but someone in the chain always gets bamboozled. I steal, son, but I don't get caught. That's my contract with society. Now if you can catch me stealing, I'll go to jail. But if you can't, then I've earned the money." I respected that, man. I thought that shit was cool as a little kid. A few years after that, they finally caught him. Sent him to jail. Dies five years later. My respect goes with him. I thought he was free doing what he did, but he wasn't. He was in prison. Just like you are now, Elliot. But I'm gonna break you out.Mr. Robot
We basically know nothing of the other fsociety members so far, which is fine by me. We met a ton of characters during this very long episode, many of whom are probably going to be varying levels of important to the story. It's entirely fair for fsociety to remain an assortment of names and faces for now.
I do look forward to finding out more about those folks in future episodes – abrasive Darlene, for one, definitely seems promising (and a heck of a lot more interesting than Angela).
I loved the choice of setting for the show, and fsociety's headquarters, in particular. NYC is a perfect backdrop for Elliot's overwhelming isolation and disillusionment with society. And I'm just assuming that the abandoned Coney Island arcade will be fsociety's permanent headquarters, because it would be a huge waste of a really cool location to just abandon it after this one episode.
Speaking of fsociety: I'm not much of a tech person, so additional serious kudos to the writers for making tech-speak semi-understandable and still managing to get across the severity of the situation and the gist of the hacker group's plot against Evil Corp.
On a more abstract note, I was seriously impressed by the episode's soundtrack and the quality of its cinematography. Not to insult other USA shows, but their other programming just doesn't seem up to par in comparison.
Mr. Robot is a well made, visually interesting show, and didn't fall into USA's prototypical bag of buddy procedural drama-comedies (as enjoyable as those other USA shows are, it's definitely cool with me for them to try something else).
Evil Corp and its sketchy execs have the potential to be great villains. I enjoyed that it was Colby's asshat behavior with Angela, in the end, that pushed Elliot over the edge and made him decide to throw in with Mr. Robot and fsociety to take down the company.
Also, Tyrell Wellick, in particular, is definitely an intriguing character.
All in all, I'm definitely looking forward to watching the development and eventual fallout of Elliot's involvement with society. This show has great potential to be a summer must-watch – it's already a favorite of mine, for sure.
What did you think of Mr. Robot's series premiere? Did the narration technique work for you? How do you feel about Elliot as our lead character?
Join in the conversation by commenting below and remember to watch Mr. Robot online anytime at TV Fanatic!
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.