I have just finished watching season 2 of this gripping series that was initially shown on the USA Network but both seasons are now available on Netflix. It is the story of Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a young computer hacker, a total genius at it, who spends most of his spare time using his skills to routinely hack into the computers of people, either out of idle curiosity or a desire to help them. He also acts as a kind of vigilante, and in his hacking if he finds someone engaged in some kind of heinous crime, he will inform the authorities. He finds it hard to talk with others or reveal anything about himself, but lives in the rich world of his own mind where he analyzes things and shares his thoughts with you, the viewer, often by directly addressing you.
The series begins with him working for Allsafe, a company that provides computer security to companies and whose biggest client by far is the world’s biggest financial-industrial corporation known as E Corp. Because of his skills, he is recruited by a mysterious figure known as Mr. Robot, who is the leader of an anarchic group called fsociety who seek to destroy the capitalistic system by hacking into E Corp and erasing everyone’s debt records, thus throwing the world’s financial system into total chaos. Like the real-life group Anonymous, they use a mask in their videos to hide their faces and also create a brand identity. The series deals with this plot and the aftermath. The catch is that Elliot, the person who had the ability to pull off this major hack, woke up three days after it happened and cannot remember what he did during the three days when the hack took place and what the next stage that he supposedly set up was. He frequently finds himself unable to recall events that he was supposedly involved in.
Here’s the trailer for season 2.
WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD! Only those who have seen the series and want to discuss it or do not care about knowing some plot developments in advance should continue.
The series deals a lot with the world of computer security and hacking and I am pretty sure that the many readers of this blog who know a lot about both have seen the series. If not, I can recommend it to them. But those who are not that aware but are interested in politics generally may well find it as absorbing as I did because the time is set in 2015 in the aftermath of the financial crash, the housing market collapse, and the bailout of the big banks. The story is based around the control of the world by big corporations like E Corp that can push even the US government around, and much of the background to the narrative will be familiar.
While fsociety’s motives for crashing the system may be noble (they do not seek to enrich themselves but feel that this is the only way that ordinary people can fight back against the corrupt oligarchical system dominated by the financial institutions), there is another shadowy and much more powerful hacker group known as the Dark Army that is more malevolent and seems to be using fsociety for its own purposes. It seems to be based in China but has operatives in the US and its members are not above murdering people who cross its path. The leader of the Dark Army is someone known as Whiterose, a time-obsessed transvestite.
The series is definitely dark in tone, dealing a lot with the inner psychotic world of Elliot and his complex relationship with his father (Christian Slater). It also goes back and forth in time and requires effort to follow the story. A major plot point that I felt was implausible is that Whiterose also happens to be the minister for state security in the Chinese government and yet despite being in such a high visibility position and thus of great interest to the US government, seems to be able to spend a lot of time in the US incognito running the Dark Army operations. Another confusing plot development is the one in episode 7 of season two. Following a long sequence in which Elliot gets embroiled with people who are running a dark web operation like Silk Road that deals in drugs and sex slaves, it is revealed that it was all in his mind and that he was in prison all the time. At that point, as with all unreliable narrator plot devices, the viewer is left confused about what things in the past are supposed to have really happened and what were his imaginings.
But despite those faults, I must say that I am enjoying the series and look forward to the third season. I hope it is the last and that the creator Sam Esmail does not fall into the trap of many TV series in the US, in that initial success leads them to drag things on and on, introducing ever more incredible storylines. Then audiences drop away and the sponsors abruptly pull the plug, leaving everyone dissatisfied. The creators should see this as a three-act play. They have ended the second act on a good note and now need to wrap it up. Apart from the major storyline, there are some other minor storylines that are dangling, such as the drug dealer who kills Elliot’s friend and neighbor in season one and the man who shoots Elliot’s former boss at Allsafe in a bar for no apparent reason.
One thing of note is the highly diverse cast. They belong to wide variety of ethnic groups and this is treated routinely in that their ethnicity is just background and not a necessity for their role. More films and TV shows should be like this.