The Information Demon
Mr Robot looks like it is the best series around, even though one has only seen half the first season so far. Even though, for fear of being overwhelmed by such a rich tapestry of what is going wrong in our golden information age, one feels the need to take stock of what has taken place in the first five episodes. This is the midway point, when most series reach a low before either finding a second wind or going down in flames. No such thing here. In full coherence with the series context, hacking, hero Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek, heroic) muses in his hypnotic, drone-like voice-over, “Am I his malware?”. Mr Robot is far from being only about tech wizards infiltrating inexpugnable systems. It has a chilling, exhausted, early, very early fin de siècle about it. How do we get out of the corner we have painted ourselves into, after usual derivatives fail? Can we even get out of it? Is there even a corner, or is it all in our head, ireversibly polluted by the Information Demon?
Interestingly, Mr Robot is not the hero of the piece. He’s the hacker group’s boss, first glimpsed as a homeless man in the subway and basically a piece of trash among the others he carries with him. in the course of three episodes he becomes a father figure for Elliot, but he’s far from paternal. He’s more like a vengeful God from the underground, detaining knowledge, demanding sacrifices and prone to sudden bouts of rage: the end of the second episode, filmed from far behind, is shocking from its suddenness, its brutality and its apparent lack of purpose. It’s an expulsion from a non-existent Eden, after the simulacrum of a bond is forged. A lesson is taught, violently. Christian Slater (never more rodent-like), is great in the role, both poised and feral, an angel of chaos for chaos is the only way society can be purged of its demons, in the early years of the trickiest century there ever was.
Like father like son. Elliot’s appearance makes him totally credible as the embodiment of two agents of mutation, drug addiction and viral technology. Skinny and heavy-eyed under his hood, he’s the ghost in the machine, exacting vigilante justice on his free time, using Internet as Dexter was using his scalpel in his laughable story. The first episode starts with him confronting a bad guy in a plain, soft-spoken manner, in total contrast with what is being tabled during the scene, at such a point that you briefly wonder if the actor is even good. Oh, he is, he’s superlatively good. Elliot is a creep, and accordingly he creeps up on you. By the end of the pilot you will either reject him like the poison seed he is or embrace him. By the end of the pilot Elliot is sexy as hell, in his hallucinated, antisocial way.
“Do you know what your monster is?” he asks. By 2016, we know that the answer is either “yourself” or “the one we have created collectively”. The cyber Frankenstein in whose lap we comfortably curl, like you do right now, like yours truly do writing this. This series is the first, to one’s knowledge, to create suspense out of the time conflict between rehab from morphine addiction and the short timeframe of a major hack. This is oh so clever, the demons from the id paving the way for the cyber devil. A perfect system of enslavement, briefly choosing Elliot’s body as its mascot. It’s not only hacking we’re talking about; “viral” is a frightening word.
“I’m gay”, flatly announces his boss during a flight in his private jet, for Elliot works for a cyber security firm depending on his main client, the Evil Corporation, to survive. Yes, it’s called the Evil Corp., and why not? Mr Robot just takes it one step further than declaring finance the enemy, after all. All characters have the potential for a moment like that, when something important for them, and it it sinks into Elliot without a ripple on his absent, almost abstract surface. He’s very good at non-verbal communication, and most of the time what he expresses is that he has nothing to bring to the conversation.
Refusing the commodity of cliffhangers and very good at diffusing relationships, Mr Robot is your ghost, your monster, your virus, your malware. It’s brilliant and pernicious. Its heroes want to bring down society, still it is very scary to recognise, through the black hole of Elliot’s vacuous glance, that it’s not even the best option we have left. It might very well be the only one.
Viewing essential. Second half soon.