The USA show Mr. Robot wrapped last Wednesday, after a delay due to national shooting tragedy. Tuning in for the finale episode on live TV felt like a singular, special moment within the last few years for me, and not just because I finally signed up for cable the day before.
There are so many shows since 2011 that I’ve bailed on early, but very few that I joined late thanks to word of mouth. Mr. Robot was that exception. Within two weeks, I had nine different internet strangers sporadically reach out to assure me that not only would I love the program, but it definitively transcended its outwardly terrible title.
In reflection, there are a few beautiful moments this first season contained that I think deserve attention, because they couldn’t exist elsewhere.
HELLA SPOILERS TO FOLLOW
A trans-female character is introduced in a heated moment near the end of the story. She is immediately gendered correctly and absolutely nothing within the plot of the show depends upon her genitalia or gender, thereby being the first USA show to pass whatever the trans-extension of the Bechdel Test is. She is simply acknowledged for her talent/intelligence, and then escape with all the power.
The opening moments of the show acknowledge that our protagonist is directing his voice towards an all-powerful non-diagetic Greek Chorus, that we embody. It begins as a stylistic choice, as so many other shows have done, but becomes an invested foundation upon which solving the final mystery revolves.
SECOND DRAFT TOXIC MASCULINITY
One reading of Mr. Robot is that on the most basic level, we’re watching a fan-fic battle royal between Fight Club’s Narrator and American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman for the very soul of Capitalism. As someone who previously lived under framed copies of both posters, the last couple years have invited a reflection on both works that highlights their extensive shortcomings, so watching a TV show broadcast on the USA network attempt to re-purpose and re-pair these cultural works to accomplish what they couldn’t a decade ago is what transcends Mr. Robot from tribute to re-invention.
TYLER DURDEN ACCEPTANCE
For some fans, there’s a bail point in the final episodes where Mr. Robot shifts from tribute to straight-up copying Fight Club. I would absolutely join those nay-sayers, especially since Brad Pitt’s production company created the show, except for how genuinely Mr. Robot hat-tips to its Chuck Palahniuk predecessor. The mutual end-sum is agreed upon in episode three, although the biggest play comes in the penultimate episode, where a stirring arrangement of “Where Is My Mind” accompanies a scene that bonds the season’s protagonist and antagonist in mutually assured destruction. While some of my peers went nuclear over this twist, I maintain that based on the protagonist’s age and psychological make-up, it makes perfect sense that he would borrow a culture-altering thesis from the kind of movie he would’ve re-watched a dozen times in his dorm room, which further grounds this kind of master-plan in a universe we share.
As a kid who grew up idolizing the film Hackers, and by extension believing I could bring down federal law enforcement in funny yet trans-phobic means, there’s an earth-shattering mid-season moment where the show’s cast roast’s the films inaccuracies while waiting out a drug-withdrawal. It’s the kind of cult skewering that would’ve sold me on the shot without any context.
There’s a moment early in the season where DDoS attacks cross paths with Honeypots that you realize Mr. Robot is talking about hacking on hacking’s terms, instead of making-up Snow Crash metaphors for ridiculous Sonic Screwdriver-esque plot cheats. It’s also worth celebrating that a show this invested in getting the tech right never depends on a hack ex machina to escape a real character moment. Even though it could.
CHASING THE DRAGON
There’s been a rash of shows lately, from Difficult People to Bojack Horseman, that explore depression and addiction from fresh and horrifyingly accurate perspectives. Mr. Robot is no different. One of the first big arcs is the introduction of a well-planned system of illegal substances cleverly balanced against anti-addictive supplements. It’s the moment of well-planned confidence which hijacks the truth of inevitable reaction; kind of like pretending your firend’s plan to ask for an open relationship sounds find, even when every part of you knows it won’t work. The episode based around withdrawal is one of the most painfully real drug arcs ever shown on basic cable.
While the protagonist adopts an ambiguous origin, it’s hard to point to a show that feature so few white cis dudes in the ranks of main cast. Those that watched iZombie this year may have glimpsed a Seattle police station full of Asian Black Women extras, but second to that, this takes a cake.
While one character clumsily interjects his homosexuality into a shoe-horned scene early in the season, the ability to build believable and diverse complicated humans spirals out from there. This is one of the few shows in recent years that can point to multiple pansexual characters that are never played for shock value.
This show attacks the tenants and foundations of modern capitalism on such a scale its stunning the series ever found an advertiser. It’s been a while since anything on the idiot box bit the hand that feed, and never bothered to apologize. The fact this came from USA is all the more surprising.
Mr. Robot and Hannibal have both extended their reach far beyond your standard unit of entertainment, and somehow the most shocking element of both productions is not the violence or the design, but rather the ability for unreliable narrators to lead a show for a modern American audience, which is far more frightening to network types than nudity or viscera.