Mr. Robot: Diving Into Social Media Paranoia
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With the production of season three in effect, I thought it was high time to get a season one recap of our favorite drama-thriller, Mr. Robot. Instead of an episode-by-episode commentary, a bird’s eye look will allow us to explore the depths and intricacies of this series. As the proverb goes: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Sam Esmail’s breakthrough hit has left us in awe of the dangers that lurk in the Interweb and how it’s influenced the way we form relationships today. In eps1.6_v1ew-s0urce.flv, we watch Elliot divulge to Krista (Elliot’s therapist, played by Gloria Reuben) his knowledge of her darkest secrets. Everything, from her private messages and bouts of hysteria on webcam, down to her unfulfilled Ativan dosages, is analyzed by Elliot to diagnose the same problem he has:

“JUST LIKE ME. BECAUSE YOU’RE LONELY.”

He justifies his grey-hat hacking as an attempt to escape loneliness. In a scene where the evaluator becomes the evaluated, the show makes us wary of just how vulnerable people are in the digital world. Mr. Robot is a show of vulnerabilities. And the characters onscreen aren’t the only ones in the narrative. It’s us too.

This poses the question: how much of our real selves do we show online when there’s so much to hide? In a digital network where we feel the need to project a certain presence and brand of ourselves, Elliot’s criticisms of social media “faking as intimacy,” albeit bitter, aren’t very far from the truth.

SO WHAT ABOUT THE MENTAL DISORDERS?

Everything. The whole essence of the show is shrouded in our own doubt, which Esmail has been trying to communicate to us since eps1.0_hellofriend.mov. From the spontaneous disappearing acts and Elliot’s deja vus, our certainty of the facts has been tested over and over. The majority of what we witness takes place in the head of our unreliable narrator.

These odd occurrences, as it is eventually revealed, are the products of his retrograde amnesia. The vivid auditory and visual hallucinations he experiences are important in his quest to piece back the decayed memories of his past, but also also casts a shadow of doubt: We don’t know if we can trust what we see. Elliot collapses into a morphine-induced stupor multiple times throughout the show, crying that he doesn’t “know what’s real anymore.” It’s synonymous to what digital media can cause us to feel. Mr. Robot’s portrayal of social media as a smokescreen to real human interaction effectively grabs its audience’s attention. And Elliot’s social anxiety disorder caricaturizes that perceived disconnect.

Every time “E Corp” is mentioned, he (and so do we) hears it as “Evilcorp.” This nuance in the script depicts how our protagonist sees this conglomerate. He makes his hatred for other corporations not-so-subtle in narrated rants that unravel everything we’ve accepted as the truth. In episode one, Elliot accuses society of regarding Steve Jobs “as a great man, even when we knew he made billions off the backs of children.” It’s reminiscent of Christopher Columbus’ “heroism” being hailed in US holiday instead of being recognized for the barbaric massacre that it truly was. Propaganda has a way of suppressing what we know and meshing it into an entirely different entity. It’s widespread throughout the digital media (or “brainwashing seminars,” as Elliot likes to call it) we’ve etched into our culture.

Mr. Robot gives us a chilling example of how gatekeeping in the media and digital editing can be used as dangerous manipulation tools. E Corp’s filtering tactics leaves the public oblivious to a toxic gas leak that kills 26 employees. Clips of Obama speaking are edited seamlessly to create the illusion that he’s addressing hacktivist group fsociety.

Malek’s offbeat ambiance translates beautifully and convincingly into his role as Elliot in a show where we’ll constantly be questioning: Do we truly know what’s real?

 

Image Courtesy: USA Network


IMG_1400Purveyor of invention, seeker of thrill. Janice Hahn is an enthusiast of all things storytelling, no matter what the medium. Being easily distracted, hyperactive and quick to forget, she hopes that one day she can weave all the chaos in her head into a sick video game. Triple-A developers, here she comes.

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