As we near 2020, there’s a lot of talk on the ‘top shows of the 2010s’, but it’s rare to see Sam Esmail’s show, Mr Robot, get a mention.
Warning: the second half of this post contains spoilers. We’ve made it clear where they start. If you’re planning on watching the show, avoid avoid avoid!
Mr Robot is a show, produced by USA Network, following the life of hacker-vigilante Elliot Alderson. The programme, loved by many film and TV nerds, has gained notoriety for its many unexpected twists and turns, character portrayal, and creative use of cinematography that is hard to illustrate without spoiling the series.
Perhaps what I find most captivating about this show is the storytelling. Elliot, who is introduced to us as the show’s narrator, has an unusual view of the world. As an audience, we are also introduced to the mental health struggles that Elliot faces. From the start, he makes it clear that he does not trust us (the audience), and doesn’t show us the entire story. This gives the show the feeling that not everything is at it seems, and that even though we’re nearing the end of the fourth and final series, the finale still seems a long way off.
And that’s one of the things I love most about the show. Although 4 episodes remain at the time of print, the whole reality of what we’re watching could change in a few minutes. Every fan will tell you a different interpretation of the story so far. I guess it’s a little bit like Game Of Thrones in that sense.
For a show with a lot of hacking, Mr Robot has never been a show about hacking. Although (and, as a software engineer I love this) the show takes great care in making sure that its hacks are actually possible in the real world, the show’s focus has moved.
Although definitely not the same show as it was in 2015, the fourth series sees bigger budgets and Esmail yet again pushing the limits on American dramas. We’ve seen episodes filmed in (what appears to be) a single shot, a gripping dialogue-free special, and most importantly, realistic and careful tackling of issues that simply don’t get shown on television (and yes, this is intentionally vague).
As fans eagerly await the show’s final episode, which looks like it’s premiering on the 22nd of December, let’s take a look back at the episodes that have aired so far.
(That being said – if you haven’t seen the show yet, now might be your last chance to watch it before the inevitable twist(s) in the final episodes become well known. )
Spoilers below – you’ve been warned!
A Detailed Recap
Series 1 of the show introduces us to Elliot, and tells us the story of how he is (supposedly) recruited into the hacker group fsociety by a stranger called Mr Robot, who is leading a ‘revolutionary’ hack of a major bank to effectively erase all records of debt. He wants, more than anything, to take down the ‘top 1% of the top 1%’. It is revealed later on in the series in a fight-club-style twist that Mr Robot is part of Elliot himself, and that Elliot struggles with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). We discover that Mr Robot (Elliot’s ‘alter’) started fsociety, who worked out of an abandoned Coney Island arcade, and recruited Elliot into it. Esmail uses plenty of misdirection to avoid giving us answers, with a lot of the audience not considering the question ‘why does Mr Robot exist, and why did he start fsociety?’.
The first series ends with Elliot and fsociety successfully beginning their revolution, by executing a hack on the multinational conglomerate giant E-Corp. The unanswered questions remained. Why did Mr Robot exist, and who
The second and third series takes a very different turn to the first. We get to see the fallout of Elliot’s hack and its real-world impact, discover who the real bad guys are (the Chinese government, led by BD Wong’s excellent character whiter0se), and shakes up the show’s narration to give us more insight into the lives of the other protagonists. Series 3 sees the reveal that Elliot’s childhood friend Angela is actually the daughter of Mr Price, the CEO of E-Corp, and ultimately sees Elliot ‘undo’ the original hack. We discover that the Dark Army is working against E-Corp, and that whiter0se manipulated fsociety into carrying out the attack.
If you’ve been following the show, you might have known that Esmail’s original concept for Mr Robot was a feature film. The first half of the movie would have roughly followed the story up until the Cyber Bombings in Series 3, so the second half is essentially Series 4 plus the last episodes of the third. There’s still quite a way for us to go, and, with the speculation and hints of a Sci-Fi twist, who knows what will happen to Elliot now?
What Do We Know About Elliot Now?
This section contains a discussion that some readers might find distressing.
Even though Esmail hasn’t revealed much important background information, here’s what we know about Elliot as of last Sunday.
Elliot was born in 1986. At some time during his childhood (potentially during 1995), his father became sexually abusive towards him. He creates Mr Robot (what, in dissociative identity disorder is known as an ‘alter’) as a way of fighting back against his father – to protect him. It is not clear whether or not Angela or Darlene know about the abuse, but it is very strongly implied that whiter0se knows about Elliot’s childhood.
At some time in 2015, Elliot loses (most) of his memory. He forgets who Mr Robot and his sister are, most of his childhood memories, and the real (and unknown) reason as to why he and Mr Robot started fsociety. In series 4, it is revealed that Mr Robot can ‘hide’ memories from Elliot, and only shows him what he’s meant to see. It’s strongly implied that Elliot can’t remember his childhood because he isn’t able to accept or deal with
At some point, Elliot/Mr Robot deletes all public information on the Alderson family.
Many fans have posted on the show’s subreddit to discuss its portrayal of mental health conditions. The overall consensus is that the show represents some very difficult topics very well. The topic of child sexual abuse, absolutely the biggest scourge on humanity, rarely gets shown on television.
Fans have also been quick to notice that almost everything Elliot remembers/tells us is either from the year 1995 or 2015, and that we see virtually nothing from outside these two years.
The Best Episodes To Watch
Series 1 Episode 4
This is probably the first episode that shows Elliot as an unreliable narrator. To execute their hack on E Corp, fsociety must break into the datacentre equivalent of Fort Knox. In this episode, Elliot (who is suffering strong withdrawals from his morphine addiction) hallucinates. We get our first real look into Elliot’s subconscious that, until now, had been kept somewhat closed off.
What I particularly love about this episode is how the writing very strongly teases (and foreshadows) many of the twists of the show. What is also fascinating is how we, as an audience, only know what Elliot knows. It’s revealed to us that Elliot knows virtually nothing about himself or his past. Rewatching this episode after some of the recent reveals of series 4 places the show in an entirely new light. If anything, it shows that the writing team had a clear direction for the show and (hopefully) that the ending won’t be, er, Game of Thrones-like.
The most revealing quote from the episode is said immediately before Elliot the sequence continues and the scene changes. Dream Angela tells him: “Isn’t it obvious? You’re not Elliot, you’re the [unknown, possibly ‘mask’]”
If you rewatch this episode after Series 4, the symbolism of the ‘key’, which seems pivotal in every part of the dream sequence, becomes much more apparent. This key, which is later revealed to be Elliot’s father’s key to his room, is teased as the clue to ‘unlocking’ Elliot’s memories.
Series 2 Episode 11
The main storyline in this episode involves Angela, Elliot’s close childhood friend, meeting the elusive whiter0se for the first and last time. To manipulate her to drop a lawsuit against an E-Corp Power Plant (revealed, later, to be where whiter0se is housing her “borderline psychotic” project), whiter0se plays a mind game with Angela. Placing her in a locked room with a character who bears a stark resemblance to her 8-year-old self, whiter0se and team ask her a set of questions about her childhood that series 4 paints in an entirely new light. This is the first time we see whiter0se ‘hack’ a person, which is ultimately revealed to be her most useful skill.
Although Esmail keeps the dialogue vague, and doesn’t show us all the interactions between Angela and whiter0se, a lot of attention is paid to detail. The entire room is shown as a slice from the 80s – from decor to hardware, and the combination of scene and dialogue has, according to some fans, hinted at a time travel angle of the show.
Season 3 Episode 5
Esmail isn’t the first director to pull off a ‘single-shot’ type episode. But the entire episode (part of a two-parter) still maintained its intensity.
The episode sees Elliot try to stop whiter0se and her group, the Dark Army, from attacking E-Corp, where he now works. Her plan: to destroy all the paper backups that weren’t destroyed in the original hack.
Season 3 Episode 6
Following immediately on from the previous episode.
What is particularly chilling about this episode is the major misdirection and twist that is revealed at the end. Elliot spends so long trying to protect one building in New York that he misses the bigger picture, leading to the destruction of 71 buildings, killing thousands.
This is a huge turning point in the series – potentially Elliot’s biggest defeat.
The timeline of the episode, however, leaves us with a lot of questions. We find out that whiter0se tried to start her attack on the New York building at 6 in the morning, but the attack on the other 71 buildings doesn’t happen until later in the afternoon. This leads to the question: did whiter0se try to mislead Elliot, given her real targets, and why?