I Won’t Give Up On Us
by ETHAN PETERSON
creator Sam Esmail
With its low camera angles and unnatural-natural cinematography, Mr. Robot has never been the easiest show on television to watch. Eliot (Rami Malek) has a voice which reverberates at such low tones it can be hard to understand without subtitles. The Egyptian-American actor has a moment in the second season of the show, airing now on USA, where he explodes into an effluvium of natural speech, explaining his reaction to Seinfeld in a bubbly excitement. It is very funny to see him break out of the darkness, but it doesn’t last for long enough.
This is by way of answering the question of why no one is watching Mr. Robot. The explanation from the show’s fans after a promising first season have been enlightening, though perhaps more revealing of themselves than the show’s flaws. The truth is that the dark and merciless world Eliot operates in remains wildly pessimistic and optimistic, but in both ways it echoes the worst tendencies of our own.
The news on television is already bad. Mr. Robot tells people that simply by going to work they are feeding into this vicious cycle. Maybe it was like reading the beginning of The Communist Manifesto, the fun part before fully realizing the gravity of what was implied — control, fear, violence and deprivation. The hacker group Eliot founded in the first season of the show, fsociety, seems more and more like a terrorist group. In the season’s first episode, the group messes with the home security system of a corporate lawyer, who is forced to move out to her house in Greenwich for the evening.
One of the best parts of Mr. Robot was the story of Angela (Portia Doubleday), a security analyst for the evil bank that is the focus of fsociety’s hacking efforts. Despite whatever they accomplished in season 1, the financial industry seems to be moving on roughly as usual. Angela’s mother was killed by corporate malfeasance relating to a toxic gas leak, and yet we still find her working for this company directly under its CEO, Philip Price (Michael Cristofer), even after she has spearheaded a lawsuit against them. It doesn’t make much sense.
The additions to the cast are generally welcome, but their exact place in the winding narrative that Esmail has created will only become clear after six or seven hours of television. It is a long time to wait to identify with someone. FBI agent Dominique DiPierro (Grace Gummer) is the main addition to the cast, and she quickly becomes basically the main star of Mr. Robot as a masturbating loner insomniac who reads people as well as Eliot doesn’t.
Craig Robinson and Joey Badass have come aboard as Eliot’s new compadres. Both are excellent at playing off of Malek, but so much mystery surrounds them and every other aspect of the show that I understand why even informed fans of Mr. Robot might be confused. “Maybe truth don’t even exist,” Robinson bleats at one point in a park, stroking his dog.
The best part of last season was the rise and fall of Eliot’s primary antagonist, Tyrone Wellick. He has yet to show up on this season in any meaningful way, and it has substantially hurt the show. Christian Slater’s performance as the titular character is as awful as ever, and the machinations occurring within Eliot’s disturbed mind are no longer the novelty they were. None of this directly answers the primary question of why no one is watching Mr. Robot. I guess it’s because at the end of a long day, they probably don’t want to feel like cogs in a corporate machine.
Esmail has been writing much of this second season himself, and directing it as well. He is immensely talented at both tasks. Watching Mr. Robot, you can feel his singular vision for this world. That is what makes the show so completely different from anything out there. Because it hasn’t been focus-tested and revamped a million times, plenty of moments are rough around the edges, and performances and scenes play a lot more like theater than we are used to in this medium. Despite all its problems, you sense that Mr. Robot has something absolutely terrible to say. By the time it says it, we will all be watching Westworld or some shit.
Ethan Peterson is the senior contributor to This Recording.