Mr Robot 3.0 – Power Save Mode

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It’s difficult to tell whether or not Sam Esmail’s brainchild will be able to maintain its narrative momentum as we begin season three of Mr Robot. The “split-personality” device is a tricky tightrope walk, especially as contemporary psychology has largely debunked the concept of multiple-personality disorder. This isn’t to say that it isn’t an interesting device that can be used to great effect (think Fight Club or Primal Fear) but it can fall apart very catastrophically (think Identity or Secret Window).

But, for the time being, Mr. Robot hasn’t yet jumped the shark.

Season three has introduced new players to pump some new life into the narrative, but the story is also beginning to fold in on itself. It was clear from the beginning that Esmail hadn’t diagrammed the whole arc; the pilot itself was a grand ‘hail mary’ with wonderful, and likely surprising, success. But Mr. Robot will only last as long as the ratings do. The USA Network will continue to find ways to add new things into the mix, for as long as they can, which could easily doom the show to a fizzling-out in a style not dissimilar to Dexter, Entourage, or Lost.

When the story-teller knows how the story is going to end before the first script it authored, the architecture of the story isn’t compromised by executives and ad-dollars. Deadwood, The Sopranos, and The Wire are excellent examples – all of these ended on a high note that left audiences wanting more, rather than their stories being wrung dry, left to die on the vine, to die the death of a million weeping pinhole wounds.

The opening of season three introduces Irving(Bobby Cannavale), a Robert Goulet/Gordon Gecko mashup whose cold demeanor and self-interest begs for a gaudy pinky ring or gold bracelet. His character is interestingly convincing even while being painfully one-sided and almost clichéd. Untroubled by personal wealth, he’s introduced in a barbecue restaurant arguing with a minimum-wage cashier over the redemption of a coupon. He is modeled after other villains defined by meticulousness – Hannibal Lector, Guss Fring, Anton Chigurh. The idea, really, is to find his style laughable while also recognizing an undercurrent of profound influence and brutality.

There have been a lot of villains like this in television lately.

Irving is tasked with handling the situation between Tyrell (Martin Wallström) and Elliot(Rami Malek). If you can recall, Tyrell put a bullet in Elliot’s stomach at the conclusion of season two when Elliot tried to put a stop to his alter-ego’s machinations. Irving is the linchpin that connects our developed protagonists of the underground hacker network ‘F Society’ with the elusive underground network known as ‘The Dark Army,’ whose goals are still completely, mundanely, boringly obscure; I’m sure there will be a shocking reveal further down the line.

What interests me is Whiterose (BD Wong) and his discussion at the beginning of the episode, following a wide, sweeping shot over what we assume to be a nuclear reactor or a particle accelerator. And this is where I weep for the future of the show – the introduction includes nuclear technicians casually discussing a theory of the multiverse, it then expands to visually reveal a massive technological structure that invites comparisons to the “hadron collider” in Cern, and eventually leads to Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday) asking Elliot what he would do if everything could be changed, if everything could be erased, including what happened to their parents, and that it’s an absolute possibility.

Discussions of the multi-verse and the possibility of changing time – Mr. Robot is tinkering with some tricky subject matter that is completely divorced from a critique of capitalism, illustrations of manufactured consent, and a celebration of the meek rising up to conquer their masters.

The psychological drama takes a back seat, thematically, to the opportunity of changing or shifting reality altogether. The masters of the economic world are transforming into masters of reality itself. The unreliable narrator, Elliot, has been completely changed. The story, moving forward, can be good or it can be a disaster. And this episode doesn’t pass the smell test.

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Mr Robot – Season Two Premiere

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This is an intriguing show, and the effort by director and show-creator Sam Esmail is nothing to turn your nose at. Most series have a team of writers, directors, show-runners and executives to assist in the production. Esmail has single-handedly written and directed every episode of the show – that’s borderline insane.

At the same time, the show is – in my opinion – on shaky ground. It’s a long-form version of ‘Fight Club.’ It’s a narrative with a malcontent protagonist who uses his intellect to try and cripple the global financial system. He has disossiative personality disorder – with elements of schizophrenia sprinkled-in for flavor – just like the nameless protagonist of ‘Fight Club.’ Their taget? Credit card companies and banking systems, with a specific goal to create global financial chaos.

These kinds of stories are played out. The notion of multiple personalities has been thoroughly debunked by the psychological community, which injures ‘Mr Robot’ at its premise; we, the audience, have to take a leap. And so far, the show has been reasonably convincing in it’s portrayal or this disorder, engaging in its narrative, and fun to watch. Elliot isn’t just preternaturally intelligent, but he’s mentally ill and he suffers from substance abuse – all of these things work to sell the notion that he communicates with an imagined dead father. In season two, after kicking his drug habit, the whole idea is starting to feel flimsy.

Esmail and Co. are going to have to work harder to sell this character and keep the show as interesting as it was in season one. Right now it appears to be riding on a razor’s edge – it isn’t too cliched and campy to not enjoy, but it’s structure is becoming predictable and it’s characters too wooden and archetypal.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

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Mr Robot – Season Two Preview

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“Mr. Robot” officially begins its second season run on July 13th. The first season was a runaway success, winning several awards including the Golden Globe for best drama. Tapping into a wide variety of prescient subjects ranging from cyber security, “hacktivism,” and social anxiety, “Mr. Robot” has anticipated real-world scenarios of cyber-warfare, data breaches, and hacker activism. Show creator Sam Esmail has gone to great lengths, in fact, to illustrate hacker culture in a more realistic way, eschewing previous pop-culture iterations of the subculture as bands of pithy computer magicians who drink Jolt Cola and play amusing practical jokes on their enemies – usually school administrators or romantic rivals – from the comfort of their messy bedrooms (typically replete with music posters, comics books, and ironically anachronistic bed-sheets).

“Mr. Robot” taps into criticisms of consumer culture (and corresponding anxieties) in a style reminiscent of David Fincher’s “Fight Club.” The main character, Elliot – brilliantly portrayed by Rami Malek – is torn between the world he inhabits and his own idealism. He simultaneously hates the world, but feels oddly compelled to save it. He hates consumerism, but operates successfully within corporate culture. With his unique skill-set, he isn’t so much an anti-hero as he is a vigilante. Similar to the goals of Project Mayhem in “Fight Club,” Elliot is recruited by an insurrectionary anarchist known only as “Mr. Robot” – portrayed by Christian Slater – to try and wipe the debt record to zero and destabilize the entire global economy.

By the end of season one, the hacker collective has been successful in doing just that. But the social, political, and economic infrastructures of the entire western world cannot be obliterated in one calculated attack. The collective, known as “f-society,” still has plenty of work to do.

I’ll be bringing artwork and analysis after each episode, beginning after Wednesday’s season two premier. Hop aboard, will you? Let me know what you’re thinking about, and don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and also follow me on Twitter.

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