"Mr. Robot" Season 1 Review - A Fantastic Hacker Series
Thirty years ago, in South Carolina, a small Muslim boy from an Egyptian family was constantly bullied and insulted by other American children. They called him constantly 'sand nigger' to the point that the boy stopped perceiving the insult as such and just starting believing that label was just who he was.
That boy had his first contact with a computer when he was nine years old. He got a Commodore 64 and started copying programs and even writing his own code.
Years later, that little boy grows into an introspective high school teenager who organized film festivals/sleepovers as an excuse to watch the entire Stanley Kubrick's filmography.
In his college years at New York University, that teenager would get a major in film and a minor in computer science. After graduating in 1998, he created a web company called Portal Vision that basically created software for internet service providers. He basically emulated everything AOL did and then sold his creations to AOL's competitors.
After an economic failure, this already young adult resumed his cinema career and directed his first feature film, Comet.
At the same time, he began writing a story. One that at times became too personal. One that would end up becoming a cultural landmark.
The name of that story? Mr. Robot. The young adult of Egyptian descent, lover of cinema and computing? Sam Esmail.
Mr. Robot is the story of Elliot Alderson (played by the outstanding Rami Malek), a mentally unstable, morphine-addicted, depressive loner cybersecurity engineer and hacker genius who is recruited by an enigmatic character who calls himself "Mr. Robot"(played by the multi-award-winning Christian Slater) to be part of a radical group of hacktivists called fsociety.
Elliot, the soul of the series, is inspired by many aspects of Esmail's own life. In his own words:
”I tend to write about alienated figures who can't connect with others and who are kind of distant from American culture. It's not something I am consciously doing but it's something that happens to be infused inside me because of my experience growing up in America.”
But Mr. Robot is not just about a disturbed genius hacker. It's about much more. It's about that genius hacker not feeling part of the society in which he lives. It's about the fury and helplessness unleashed by the huge gap between social classes. It's also about the generation gap and how both extremes use technology to oppress or resist.
Mr. Robot is a cynical and necessary story about revolutions. As an Egyptian, Esmail lived and fully felt the Arab Spring. He perceived the fury and discontent of the Egyptian youth. And even with its negative aspects, Esmail detected the importance of youth using technology as leverage to express themselves and generate real changes.
That's why the technology approach in Mr. Robot is so accurate and grounded in reality. Forget the hacker-in-the-basement pushing his keyboard and accessing Swiss banks in a matter of seconds. Mr. Robot has worldwide renowned experts faithfully mapping the technology in every scene.
And it's because of that realistic, high-quality treatment of hacktivism that it's impossible not to mention Mr. Robot, a TV show, when talking about movies about the topic.
And it makes sense. The cinematographic artistic sensibility was there from its genesis. Mr. Robot, after all, started being the script of a movie. However, when Esmail reached page 90 and realized that the story had not even finished his first act, he understood that the ideal format was a TV show.
Mr. Robot has the best of both worlds: the longevity and creative possibility of a TV show and the language and treatment of cinema.
And above all, this show has the unique, interesting and relevant voice of Sam Esmail.
If this is about ranking pilot episodes, "eps1.0_hellofriend.mov" is an all-time best. As a good pilot, this hour succeeds in presenting their characters and their conflicts, establishing its narrative style, unveiling the atmosphere of the show and motivating us to be eager for next week's hour.
After a brief fourth-wall-breaking voiceover of our protagonist Elliot Alderson (played by the talented Rami Malek) about the mega-conspiracy of the "1% of the 1%" to continue assuring its dominance over the masses, we have his first big scene and one of the best presentations of any character on TV.
Elliot calmly ambushes the owner of "Ron's Coffee". With his disturbing giant eyes and his social discomfort Elliot quietly informs Ron that he has hacked him and discovered a gigantic amount of child pornography. But Elliot empathizes with the pedo. He tells him that he understands what it means to be different, that he, for example, doesn't know how to talk to people and that his father who died of leukemia years ago, was the only person he could talk to. Ron, of course, thinks he's being blackmailed. But Elliot, while quietly heading to the exit while a group of police enters to arrest Ron, tells him the obvious: He doesn't give a shit about money.
That's our troubled hero Elliot: A disturbing, creepy, but righteous hacker genius.
Of course, we got to dive deeper into Elliot's dark side. Loneliness, clinical depression, addiction to strong drugs and his unethical compulsion to obsessively hack everyone around him including his therapist, his best friend (and her new boyfriend), and his boss. Elliot knows everyone's secrets to paradoxically use that leverage to "protect" his loved ones.
Elliot's life changes when he meets "Mr. Robot ", a man in his forties (played by the amazing Christian Slater) and leader of "fsociety ", a radical group of hacktivists who wants to eliminate E Corp, the world's largest multinational. As an important part of Allsafe, an electronic security company whose main client is E-Corp, Elliot has a unique position for this plans.
And although his first cyber strike ends with the successful arrest of an important E Corp figure, his celebration is brief: Elliot is escorted by some men in black for a face-to-face with Tyrell Wellick, a young and brilliant E Corp executive that sure is destined to become his nemesis.
This episode is about paths, doubts, and decisions. And its title, with the binary code "ones and zeroes", makes that very clear.
Tyrell Wellick has summoned Elliot to a secret meeting to... offer him a big job at E Corp. But Elliot, fearing a "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" kind of move, has decided to reject the offer, for now.
Elliot's mistrust leads to hacking Wellick. What he gets is a life so correct and perfect that his paranoia breaks loose. Convinced that he has been allowed to hack the young executive and that Wellick is one step ahead of him, Elliot activates his panic protocol, which consists of erasing all information, burning memory cards in the microwave and drilling hard drives.
Days later, Darlene, the fsociety-Lolita-glasses-wearing-attractive hacker is waiting for him in his apartment, freshly bathed. Elliot is a little surprised by her intrusion. After meeting with all the fsociety gang (and receiving applause for his first blow to E Corp), Elliot receives Mr. Robot's briefing. On their path to erase all the data of the debts that the world population has with E Corp, they want Elliot to hack a gas plant, cause an explosion and destroy an adjacent offline E Corp backup facility called "Steel Mountain".
Elliot doesn’t want to endanger innocent people, so he’s torn. He’s torn between two positions of power in fsociety and E Corp and his only certainty is doubt. Zeros and ones.
While making a decision, Elliot continues his routine: Morphine, psychotherapy and a vigilante hack to get the arrest of Fernando Vera, the dealer/rapist of his neighbor/"girlfriend" Shayla.
The chapter ends with an extremely rare intimate exchange between Mr. Robot and Elliot on the pier of Coney Island. Elliot confesses that as a child he couldn't keep the secret of his father having cancer, which resulted in his father pushing him through a window (with a broken arm as the only consequence) and never speaking to him again.
Mr. Robot, visibly annoyed by Elliot's confession and his inability to compromise with a pact, pushes him from the edge of the railing to the rocks below.
Apparently, Mr. Robot has made the decision for him.
This episode starts showing us the darkness of Tyrell Wellick's world. Filled with rage for not having being named CTO (since Scott Knowles, an old fox, took that away), we see him unleashing his wrath by paying a homeless person, then kicking the shit out of him. His sexual habits with his beautiful but extremely cold pregnant wife consist of nooses, blindfolds, ball gags and psychological manipulation. As a product of this, Tyrell ended up seducing and fornicating his boss' male secretary just so he can install some hacking software on his phone to get information. Tyrell is at times a cold monster and a manipulated madman at others.
As the name of the episode indicates, Elliot will make an internal debugging process needed to finally start running correctly.
Because YES, Elliot is fine. Dr. Gordon and Shayla are at the foot of his recovery hospital bed. After being quickly discharged, Elliot decides to have a definite conversation with Mr. Robot who admits defeat. Without Elliot, there is no plan. The end.
Elliot, happy and relieved of that weight, decides to try to live a normal life. With LEN's "Steal my Sunshine" in the background, we see Elliot welcome in his life the "superficial everyday things" like Starbucks or the Marvel movies. We even see him accepting his boss Gideon's invitation for a dinner with his co-workers, including Angela and her boyfriend. Elliot even takes Shayla as +1.
But happiness is quickly overwhelmed. Angela must face the fact that The Dark Army, a Chinese hacker group, has hacked (duh) and blackmailed her boyfriend, demanding that they infect AllSafe.
In the end, and largely motivated by the disclosure of documents publicly leaked by fsociety that show how E Corp (and Colby) covered the toxic waste that resulted in the leukemia of his father and the mother of his friend Angela (both E Corp employees at that time), Elliot makes his necessary debugging. The inevitable upgrade. The superficial everyday life is not for him.
Elliot enters the arcade room/fsociety's secret headquarters like nothing happened while Trenton, Molby, Romero, Darlene and Mr. Robot looks in awe. Elliot has a new plan. One that, hopefully, doesn't mean blowing up a building and killing innocents in the name of the revolution.
“Hollywood hacker bullshit. I have been in this game 27 years and not once I have ever come across to an animated singing virus(…)I bet you right now some writer's working hard on a TV show that'll mess up this generation's idea of hacker culture.”
This great line of dialogue is from fsociety member Romero to his partner Mobley while both watch Hackers (1995) on TV. It's a rare meta-self-awareness mix of self-confidence and self-criticism on the part of the show.
It's an interesting new narrative resource especially in this episode that is focused on another aspect other than hacking: Elliot's drug addiction.
Elliot's plan to achieve fsociety's goal without the need to risk lives is, in fact, way more complex: it involves hacking the building's climate control system using a Raspberry Pi to get the temperature to destroy the magnetic tape back-ups. The small detail? The hack must be done physically within the heavily fortified data center. And they have to do it in a matter of days.
In addition, fsociety must convince The Dark Army (who would do the same with the backup sites of E Corp in China) to synchronize the attacks or nothing would have made sense.
This is how the fsociety men start their road trip to Steel Mountain while the women stay and plan the synchronization. This, because Cisco--The Dark Army contact and the one who manipulated Angela and her boyfriend in Allsafe-- is Darlene's ex-boyfriend.
Of course, the plot thickens when, having resistance from Romero and Mobley, Elliot announces that he will be the one risking it all. He'll infiltrate Steel Mountain. But Elliot, being the extreme junkie that he is, must undergo a radical and swift cleanup if he wants to trick Steel Mountain's guards.
And it's on that hell's descent, where the chapter becomes more interesting. Elliot hallucinates in coding mode with scenarios with his rigid mother, his destroyed family, and a love relationship with Angela. All, just to make clear that he has some internal "demon" that apparently he hasn't even recognized. The continuous symbolism with the fsociety mask arouses serious uncertainties.
The episode closes with Angela finally succumbing to The Dark Army's blackmail. AllSafe is not safe at all.
In the tensest Mr. Robot episode to date, Elliot, guided by radio by Mr. Robot, Romero, and Mobley, progressively infiltrates Steel Mountain by installing malware in the seemingly only infallible system of the fortress data center: humans.
Of course, Elliot sees people as software that can be hacked. "People always make the best exploits", he sentenced, while scratching fears and vulnerabilities of workers and gradually surpassing levels of security.
Of course, within meters of his goal, Elliot coincidentally encounters Tyrell Wellick. But a little massage to the ego, good acting and an "I need to go to the bathroom" later, Elliot manages to install the necessary device. Upon reuniting, Tyrell stoically confesses that he knows that Elliot is behind Colby's framing. But far from being upset, Tyrell assures him that he won't turn him in. After all, Tyrell is closer to that CTO spot thanks to Elliot.
After that, the episode changes gear. We know witness an uncomfortable and passive-aggressive dinner at the home of Scott Knowles, the CTO executive whose appointment is practically a fact (which, of course, makes him Tyrell's enemy # 1). By professional courtesy, the Knowles open the door to the Wellicks, that crawl around the house like educated snakes, looking for weak points. Tyrell even makes an aggressive sexual move to Sharon, Scott's wife, just to measure reactions. But the Knowles aren't amateurs. It's not surprising that the fight to reach the 1% of the 1% is disgusting, cruel and calculating.
Fsociety's celebration lasts nothing. Darlene and Trenton have not been able to persuade The Dark Army to synchronize the hacks, which completely eliminates Steel Mountain hacking's purpose. Bummer.
And, oh, remember Fernando, the drug dealer/rapist who is in jail thanks to Elliot? From prison, he has arranged to kidnap Shayla and, by phone, has let our disturbed protagonist know that he considers him responsible for his detention.
Cruel poetic justice, turning Elliot from exploiter to exploited.
It's a normal day in the Wellick's household. Tyrell is still throwing angry tantrums for not being able to break Scott Knowles, while his wife Joanna stoically points out that the weak point of their enemies is the need for Sharon Knowles to feel wanted.
Meanwhile, Angela begins a legal-journalistic crusade to seek justice for what E Corp did to her mother. She even tries to confront a house-arrested Colby.
Now, let's get to the spine of the episode: Prison break time!
Elliot has to get Vera out of jail in a matter of hours. Everything, while Vera's brother Isaac and another thug keep him at gunpoint almost all the time.
Elliot turns to Darlene for help, which she reluctantly accepts. Mr. Robot, on the contrary, tries to persuade Elliot to abandon that plan and denounce them with the police, claiming that it's a lost game without the possibility of a happy ending scenario.
But Elliot, obviously, cannot quit. People depend on him. And deep down, the challenge, the thrill, drives his ego. After a visit to the jail (with a smartphone left in the security checkpoint that will silently do its job of detecting and infiltrating the internal network of the building) and another remote hacking, Elliot achieves a chaotic plan: to open all the cell doors at the same time while generating a blackout.
Elliot and the thugs wait at the getaway car for all hell to break loose. Distant commotion. Shattered glasses. Shouting. The massive prisoner's breakout is imminent. Vera, smiling, arrives at them.
After executing his own brother (who was conspiring behind his back the whole time), Vera throws the car keys at Elliot before disappearing into another vehicle. "She was with you the whole time," he says.
That's when director Deborah Chow unleashes her inner David Fincher persona with the final twist. In the cruelest Se7en style, and even using as musical background "Consummation" by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross of the Gone Girl OST, Elliot opens the trunk and finds Shayla inside with her throat slit.
It's impossible not to remember the harsh words of Mr. Robot in his futile attempt to convince Elliot not to fall for Vera's manipulation:
“Zero sum, Elliot. You're playing a game you've already lost”.
It's been a month since Shayla's murder. Elliot, of course, is in an emotional pit, constantly thinking and remembering her.
It has also been a year since, by court order, Elliot had to go to therapy with Dr. Krista Gordon. He's now free. However, Krista knows that there's still work to be done and urges him to continue attending therapy. Elliot doesn't know if that will be of any help, but in what seems like a desperate move for catharsis, Elliot confesses to Krista about his unethical and obsessive hackings.
This episode distributes the main focus among its characters. After all, Elliot is away in his personal mourning, far from wanting to make any kind of revolution.
The star of this hour is Angela. Thoroughly determined to get justice to her mother, she has teamed up with lawyer Antara Nayar, who for years has been trying to get justice for the families affected by the Washington Township chemical leak of E Corp. The plan is to get Colby to testify against the multinational.
But before reaching any agreement, Colby wants Angela to make the request, face to face, in his house. Angela, far from being intimidated, accepts.
And it's here when this character (and the performance of Portia Doubleday), rises to another level. The exchange with Colby is genuine, tense and the best of the series so far. Two opposite poles of the neoliberal predatory spectrum, which could end up helping each other. The deal is sealed: Colby agrees to testify against E Corp only if Angela lies and says that she broke the chain of custody of the .dat file that incriminated him. The deal, of course, drives Gideon mad, which makes Angela see that Allsafe will go bankrupt if she decides to change her testimony.
On the other hand, Mr. Robot and Darlene try to assemble fsociety again. Romero and Trenton remain reluctant. Darlene, through Cisco, manages a face-to-face meeting with Whiterose, the mysterious leader of The Dark Army. So that's something to look forward to the next episode.
Meanwhile, our deranged antagonist Tyrell, at the celebration party for Scott Knowles' promotion, seduces Sharon, inviting her to the roof, where the cameras--he says--are deactivated. Sharon, interested and challenging, accepts.
But it's not sex that Tyrell wants, but power. During the fiery and passionate exchange of kisses, Tyrell ends up unleashing his anger and impotence, strangling her to death.
Wow. This episode is loaded with so many revelations, that the fact that there are still two episodes left is mesmerizing.
Fearful and paranoid by The Dark Army, Darlene steals a weapon from a friend/lover. Next, we have the first plot twist. In a ballet class, it's revealed that Darlene and Angela are not only friends but that they seem to know each other for a long time.
Elliot finally meets the enigmatic Whiterose, who turns out to be a transgender woman who is so obsessed with time that her watch beeps every time a minute goes by. It is revealed that The Dark Army didn't support the previous attack because, thanks to the Allsafe hack, they found out that Gideon was suspicious of Elliot and had turned the E Corp hacked server into a honeypot (AKA a hacker trap).
Once again, with the help of Darlene, Elliot manages to deactivate the honeypot from Allsafe. E Corp is vulnerable again.
Meanwhile, and after being notified by Gideon, Tyrell locates the fsociety's .dat file. And here comes the second great twist: Tyrell and Mr. Robot meet, and they seem to be working together. Tyrell even reminds Mr. Robot that he knows his "dirty little secret", whatever that means.
Elliot and Darlene meet in Coney Island. Elliot confirms to Darlene that all problems are resolved and that thanks to the deal with The Dark Army, the attack will be a total global success in 43 hours. E Corp will lose all the data of its debtors, suffering an irreparable loss. Darlene, visibly moved, tells Elliot that she loves him. Both have a beautiful moment, which culminates at the exact moment when Elliot kisses Darlene.
Darlene, disgusted and angry, separates him and asks if he has forgotten again who she is. A completely disoriented Elliot slowly begins to remember.
Darlene is his sister,... his sister. And Elliot, from that moment, is a completely unreliable narrator. His perception of reality is evidently compromised.
And although Elliot already recognizes Darlene as his sister, he doesn't quite remember her. Distressed by this, Elliot frantically searches among his CDs for his own information. The shock is even greater. His childhood photos reveal that Mr. Robot is none other than his own father, the one that should be dead.
Of course, Mr. Robot is right outside his apartment, with a worried face. "I think we should talk” he says.
Finally, the series shows us a 1994 flashback of the relationship between Elliot and his father Edward Alderson. In a small store called "Mr. Robot", a customer accuses Elliot of having stolen 20 bucks. After enduring insults, Edward decides to send the angry customer away. When confronting Elliot and making him confess about the theft, Edward calmly decides to use that money to go to the movies together. Elliot chooses Pulp Fiction, but not before asking why he hasn't been punished. Edward let him know that although what he did was wrong, he's a good kid and the client was a bad person, so sometimes that has to be more important. What a way to plant the fsociety seed, Ed.
Back in the present, Elliot and Mr. Robot try to have a conversation that explains the whole situation. Paranoid for the presence of "men in blacks", Elliot and Mr. Robot decide not to stay in one place. So they start a nostalgic tour.
Angela quits Allsafe and is surprised at her home by Colby, who is already back at E Corp with a job offer for her. Angela, visibly annoyed, distrustful and confused, obviously rejects him.
The nostalgic ride of Elliot and Mr. Robot continues. Now they are in Edward's grave. Darlene and Angela, who had been looking for places where Elliot could be, spot him from afar. Mr. Robot, limping, tells Elliot not to let Angela and Darlene "get rid of him." The presence of them leaves in evidence an Elliot more confused than ever. Mr. Robot has "magically" disappeared.
Gigantic (expected) plot twist.
"I Am Mr. Robot," says Elliot. Everything related to Mr. Robot has been in his mind. A part of him has assumed his father persona and has baptized him as the name of his little shop.
Now the episode's name makes sense. Mirroring is the publication of an identical copy of a file. Mr. Robot is a manifestation of Elliot's subconscious, but in reality, it's the same person.
Elliot, of course, prefers to be alone. But Tyrell has other plans. Fired from E Corp for being a "person of interest" in Shannon's death, and manipulated by his wife, Tyrell is desperate.
Sam Esmail closes the episode with a little homage to his evident Fight Club inspiration. With a slow and instrumental version of "Where Is My Mind" by Pixies, Tyrell and Elliot talk in the arcade, alone, with an obscure atmosphere between camaraderie and distrust. Both decide to work together and continue with the hack plan.
However, Elliot cannot stop looking at the popcorn machine, where Darlene's gun is hidden.
Of course this season finale was going to exploit the fact that Elliot is not a reliable narrator, in a fantastic way that didn't generate frustration.
When we see Elliot again, we see him waking up inside Tyrell Wellick's SUV, three days after their meeting in the arcade, with no recollection of the last hours.
What we know happened is that the hack was a success. With Time Zone's "World Destruction" musical background, we see how the world economy is collapsing. World leaders run from one side to the other giving statements and meeting among themselves.
Angela, who has accepted the job at E Corp--we assume because she was convinced with Colby's argument that the changes are only made "from within"--observes in person how the Technology EVP blows his brain out on national live TV after declaring that the situation is hopeless.
Fsociety has invested the last hours in erasing all evidence, creating viral videos and organizing the "End Of The World Party".
And Elliot? Elliot desperately searches for Tyrell Wellick, who has disappeared from the face of the earth. Finally, understanding that when the Mr. Robot persona takes total control of his body he has no memory of those events, Elliot decides to confront his schizophrenia. After all, only Mr. Robot should know of Wellick's whereabouts.
But there’s not clear answer. Elliot and Mr. Robot debate about the perception of reality. Elliot seemed to ask us, the audience, for help, breaking the fourth wall. Mr. Robot orders him to "stop talking to them." Mr. Robot then unleashes a philosophical monologue about the relativity of reality. According to him, throughout this century we have lived more in virtual worlds and socially accepted prisons than in freedom and reality.
In the end, Elliot and his hallucinations decide to shut themselves up at home, relax and enjoy the consequences of the beautiful chaos generated by the hack. At least for now.
But someone knocks on the door of his house with intensity. And, being this a season finale cliffhanger, we won't know, for now, who is behind.
Thankfully, there's a meaty post-credits epilogue. One that lets us take a look at the world of the 1% of the 1%. Whiterose, dressed as a man, arrives at a luxurious mansion full of champagne, harps, candles, African princes, sheiks and a lot of men in costly attire. Whiterose sits next to Phillip Price, the CEO of E Corp, which treats the hacking as a headache, but nothing to die for. Confident and relaxed, Price says he obviously knows who is behind the attack and will deal with the perpetrator "as usual". Whiterose, who obviously is also behind the attack, talks about empires falling and a burning Rome.
The alliances and intentions of the elite aren't clear, but it's obvious that Mr. Robot's universe is about to grow enormously.
Wrapping Up Season One of Mr. Robot
Mr. Robot was the surprise hit of 2015. Without a doubt. USA was (and beyond this show, honestly, it still is) a network that wasn't even mentioned when talking about quality TV shows.
That “out-of-the-conversation/what's-to-lose" mindset maybe was the reason they made that blind bet with an unknown showrunner.
Because if something is pretty clear, is that Sam Esmail, at least compared to the standard, had the full creative freedom to develop his characters, his storylines and above all his own narrative and visual style.
The show's success is not solely Esmail's merit. We must highlight the impressive work of Rami Malek and Christian Slater. Still surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast full of memorable characters, they're the ones who carried the series on their shoulders with a muscular, tense, frenetic interpretation. Their performance is focused more on what is not verbalized, but transmitted through their eyes and body language.
It makes sense. In the end, Tyrell Wellick, Phillip Price or Whiterose were not the main nemesis of our protagonist. Mr. Robot is a show about the master plan of a genius hacker, who must battle his own internal demons. This is the story of Elliot Alderson and his other personality, Mr. Robot, fighting for their own ways to start a revolution.
We cannot fail to mention one of the most acclaimed aspects of the series: The technical rigor. Not in vain numerous bloggers and firms such as Avast, ProtonMail or Avira have dissected and lauded the realistic portrayal of the hacking scenes. Esmail, who in turn has in-depth computer skills, hired Kor Adana (formerly network security analyst and forensics manager for Toyota Motor Sales), James Plouffe (lead solutions architect at MobileIron) and Michael Bazzell (Security consultant and former FBI Cyber Crimes Task Force agent) to be their consultants.
What's Your Favorite Episode of Mr. Robot Season 1?
On top of it all, Mr. Robot also implemented his own visual style. One of the most important characteristics of the whole season and one that quickly became an artistic stamp is the odd framing. In the vast majority of scenes with dialogues, the characters are at the very bottom of the shot. It's an effective way to create tension. All the characters are, in one way or another, oppressed. Visually, their reality surpasses them and keeps them down.
Of course, there are those who didn't enjoy that artistic decision. There is even a tribute sketch to the series on Saturday Night Live where comedian Leslie Jones forces the cameraman to "center" the shot. The viewer desire to "center the characters" is exactly the kind of concrete empathy that Esmail wanted. Of course we want Elliot to be focused and have his shit together.
Mr. Robot loves to maintain a tense relationship with the viewer. Elliot always seems to want to break the fourth wall, calling us "friend" and even asking for our help. It's a narrative device that will surely have an explanation or at least an outcome in the very final chapter of the whole series. Maybe is not a fourth wall breaking, but an extra layer of reality that we haven't yet discovered as spectators. We don't know. For now, it works, thanks to the tense tone of the series and the unreliable narrator that Elliot is.
The whole season has, after each episode name, a video format extension suffix. mkv, avi, mp4, etc. It's an interesting choice, which seems to frame the whole season in the importance of the role of audiovisual archives in the shaping of public opinion and the search for justice. TV broadcasts and fsociety web videos, to name just a couple, are what move the big plot forward. It could also be a nod from Esmail to the inevitable piracy. It's easy to imagine a user torrenting and smiling at the sight of the episode name, almost redundant with the same file that he just downloaded illegally.
What will be the extensions of the names of the episodes of the second season? This is just one of the questions we have.
We expect great things of the second season. That epilogue between Whiterose and Price practically relegating the hacking to the background, seems to leave evidence that fsociety has less control of the situation than we think. Is this just the first stage of a much larger plan? Or the 1% of the 1% allowed-and even hyped-the hacking in order to carry out their own agenda?
However, the main question is how to move forward with a series where your main narrator is unstable, without turning it into a repeated gimmick for cheap plot twists. That is the biggest narrative challenge that Mr. Robot faces toward its second season.
But let's be fair. We have no reason to believe that it will be an easy challenge. The track record, so far, is almost perfect.
© 2019 Sam Shepards