Mr. Robot Pilot Review: A First Look at the Intriguing New Series

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By: Haylee Fisher (@haylee_fisher)

More and more networks are putting their newest show’s pilot episode online before it premieres on TV and for that, I thank them. Last week, the new ABC Family show Stitchers was previewed and this week it’s USA’s latest offering, Mr. Robot.

Despite such a weird and frankly kind of stupid name, Mr. Robot is anything but. After watching the show, it was clear a lot of thought did go in to naming it. Even just in the pilot, it is obvious this is a show that operates on multiple levels and the title works for those levels.

And this is where you say, “huh?”

The basic premise of Mr. Robot is this: Elliot (Rami Malek) is a cyber security engineer at a company called AllSafe by day and a vigilante hacker by night. He also presumably has an intellectual disability like autism or Asperger’s. He has trouble talking to people and doesn’t like to be touched. He comes off cold and emotionless (and slightly robotic), which works here, unlike in Stitchers. Kirsten was annoying, Elliot is fascinating. His whole life changes one night when he is tasked with fixing the biggest hack he’s ever encountered. He soon learns the attack was part of a bigger plan being carried out by the shadowy Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) and his company.

Or is it?

Mr. Robot is very Tyler Durden-esque and viewers are left to wonder in the end if he was even real at all. Elliot did carry on conversations with him and even visited his “office” on Coney Island, but Elliot also talks to the audience through voiceovers as if they are real, too. It is established through his therapist that he is prone to delusions and self-medicates through drugs. It will be interesting to find out, likely in the next episode, if it’s all real or if Elliot now belongs to the equivalent of Hacker Fight Club.

Malek is unparalleled as Elliot. Slater may be the biggest star attached, but this is Malek’s show. His big doe-eyes and detached stares are slightly unnerving, but looking closer, it’s clear it’s the wall he’s put up because of his social anxiety disorder. He’s actually vulnerable, as demonstrated by crying alone in his apartment. He uses morphine to drown out his feelings of isolation and possibly wants to pursue a relationship with his best friend Angela. He uses his hacking for good.

Rounding out the cast is Martin Wallström as Tyrell Wellick, the Senior Vice President of Technology for E Corp, one of AllSafe’s clients. He’s a mysterious figure who takes a liking to Elliot when he tours AllSafe. He’s even more secretive than Mr. Robot and will probably end up being the biggest unknown of the series.

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The show doesn’t shy away from computer jargon. I’ll admit I tuned out some of the lingo, but it was clearly used as a way to not slow down the episode. When E Corp is hit by a DDOS attack and when a rootkit is discovered, there’s no stopping to explain what those are. Viewers are expected to keep up and the show won’t help out if they can’t.

Hacking is not really the most action-packed profession, but through tricks like close-ups on the events happening, suspenseful music, and Malek’s performance, it is elevated beyond what could just be a guy sitting behind his laptop typing fast.

Mr. Robot will inevitably draw comparisons to AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire. They’re both about computers, after all. That’s on the surface, though, and as much as I love Lee Pace, I think Mr. Robot has more to offer. This is new territory for USA, as their fare usually includes lighter shows like White Collar and Royal Pains, not psychological thrillers. But within the dark world of hacking in New York and the mystery of Elliot’s mind, Mr. Robot is sure to be an unpredictable ride.

Mr. Robot premieres on USA June 24 at 10/9c, but the pilot is already available to watch on USA’s website, YouTube, Hulu, and iTunes.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


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