I am a Mr. Robot fanboy.
I think it is important to say this because I intake every piece of Mr. Robot content out there – Sam Esmail interviews, reviews of the show – you name it (except for Elliot’s diary – nice try USA Network).
For anyone who knows me or reads my writing, this is not news.
No matter how hard I try to be objective while watching this show, my experience is shaped by these facts.
I still try to remove emotion from the equation and attempt to understand why so many others who hopped on the bandwagon after season one began to question Mr. Robot in its second season.
So, I understood the complaints at the beginning of Mr. Robot‘s second season. A departure from the breakneck pacing of the first season and turn to the troubled psyche of the show’s protagonist is not an easy transition, especially if you do not expect it. But since I follow Robot so closely, I knew this was the route the show would follow, as after last season ended, showrunner Sam Esmail told anyone who would listen.
While audiences and critics were freaking out about the lack of plot exposition and the slow-rolling nature of this season, I stayed patient because Esmail knows exactly where he is steering this thing. It was written as a feature film and Esmail still knows all the major benchmarks he will hit over the next few seasons. All that is left is for him to do is fill in the details. It is this knowledge that makes watching dreamlike sequences between Angela and a child that could double as her past self simultaneously unnerving and captivating. It is the reason why Esmail’s camera holding on Darlene and Dom, rather than the illustrative white board they are looking at, builds suspense rather than frustration.
Lindsay Zoladz of The Ringer is right – modernity has in a lot of ways hurt Mr. Robot in its second season. However, it is not so much the lunacy of our political environment, that as hurt the audience’s perception as Zoladz suggests, but in our collective loss of patience and the inability to accept nuance.
Mr. Robot‘s first season was perfect for modern television. It was fast paced enough for the most action-hungry TV fan, tapped into the national fervor in a way that made it accessible to anyone who cared about current events, and was edgy and unique enough for TV-loving hipsters (like me) to trumpet it to their friends. The second season, however, was the opposite.
It was an introspective, slow-burner, obsessed with its own story and ingenuity to the point where it largely ignored the world it had built, save for small glimpses of the aftermath of the 5/9 hack in rolling brown outs and burning dumpsters. The plot was lost in Elliot’s attempt to untangle himself from the grip of Mr. Robot and find inner peace and mental health, by any means necessary including overdosing on adderall. While this allowed the characters on the periphery a chance to grow – and in many cases shine even to the point where one of this season’s brightest spots was the 8th episode that Elliot was entirely absent from – but that isn’t what the audience signed up for. They want a not-so-merry band of hacktivists breaking into Steel Mountain. They want Elliot and Shaela’s quirky romance. They want a clear image of where this show is going and progress reports along the way.
But honestly, fuck that. Sam Esmail deserves all the credit in the world for crafting the show he wants. It may not necessarily be the show that audiences want but it is the show that true believers deserve. Critics and viewers alike have widely credited his ingenuity behind the camera while panning the plot and the time it takes him to tell his story. In a time when Weiss & Benioff, the showrunners of Game of Thrones, won an Emmy on Sunday night for creating a more fan service-y form of a show that has already reached a critical mass of followers, Esmail has been harangued for telling his story on his terms and at his pace.
Spoiler alert: Mr. Robot is not Game of Thrones – nor is it like anything else on television. The show is aesthetically and emotionally dark and is not made for the lowest common denominator of television viewership, unlike the “tits and dragons” Game of Thrones (a quick note: anyone who knows me knows Game of Thrones is one of my favorite things in the world so please don’t take this as me saying it is undeserving of its popularity).
Instead, Mr. Robot invokes the audience to think about the intersection of society, privacy, and psychology and how morality shapes those spheres. It is built upon a mentally disturbed, lonely man seeking companionship by turning the audience into his imaginary friend, thus breaking all the rules of conventional TV within the show’s first line. It is a show that’s second season’s big reveal was that “Stage 2,” is a plot to blow up a building full of paper records of debt and real life people – also known as domestic terrorism. And that this act is nonetheless orchestrated by the dark desires lurking in the consciousness of the show’s guiding light. Yet, somehow this potential attack on the highest echelon of society was trumped by the finale’s quieter reveals – like the fact that Angela has been in cahoots with Tyrell this whole time, that Joanna Wellick’s lover Derrick is simply a pawn to pin the murder of Sarah Knowles on her husband Scott, and that Dom has known who was behind the 5/9 hack this whole time.
Mr. Robot is operating on a different creative plane than anything else on the small or large screen. And to do that while also maintaining a compelling, fresh story is legitimately unique and possibly once-in-a-generation. So maybe, it’s time to stop asking Mr. Robot to play by the conventions of television and enjoy it as the film-making masterpiece that it is.
By Matt Atwell