‘Mr. Robot’ has a hacked narrative

The show — originally intended to be a movie — continues to mess with viewers' minds.

Sep 14, 2016 at 2:22 pm

Rami Malek stars in "Mr. Robot," which is nearing its season finale. - Photo: Courtesy of USA Network
Photo: Courtesy of USA Network
Rami Malek stars in "Mr. Robot," which is nearing its season finale.
Fans of the 1999 film Fight Club refer to “the Tyler Durden Effect” when a hidden detail about a character is revealed in such a way that it changes not only the course of action that follows but also everything that came before it. It’s a psychological pulling back of the curtain — the ultimate hack of a narrative.

In Mr. Robot (Season Finale, Part 1, 10 p.m. Wednesday, USA), Elliot addresses the viewer directly and calls us “friend,” but really he’s conning us. We saw it all unfold in Season 1, when we — the audience and Elliot himself — were led to believe that the mysterious hacktivist leader Mr. Robot was terrorizing Elliot. Then, we discovered Mr. Robot is Elliot’s dad … and that Elliot’s dad died years ago.

In a very Fight Club-like scene, the narrative came crashing down as we collectively realized that there was no Mr. Robot. It was just Elliot’s dissociative identity disorder manifesting itself in the image of his father. (Even more surprising: We learned Darlene was Elliot’s sister.) Whatever we thought was Mr. Robot’s doing turned out to be Elliot’s actions all along. 

Surely he can’t trick us again, right?


Season 2 opened in June with Elliot fighting Mr. Robot for control of his mind and the world around him. He might still see Mr. Robot, but Elliot knows it’s not just a figment of his imagination — Mr. Robot is dangerous. Elliot keeps track of time to make sure he doesn’t slip into the role of Mr. Robot. 

It looked like he was making progress, but toward the end of this season — at about the same point as last year’s big reveal — Mr. Robot the series flipped the script on us all by revealing Elliot’s world is not as it appears. He has again fooled himself, and the viewers, into not only thinking he was living one life, but also into thinking Elliot’s narrative can be trusted again. It can’t. 

It should come as no surprise that Mr. Robot was initially intended as a movie. Every element, from the realistic depiction of the material to the fully developed characters and killer soundtrack, is carefully orchestrated. And it was the women who carried out most of the real action this season. Darlene, Angela, Joanna and Dom blow the patronizing stereotype of “The Strong Female Character” out of the water.

As dark as Mr. Robot can be, the show knows how to have fun, too. It is often winking at the viewer with in-jokes and references to hacker/tech culture (even acknowledging the references to Fight Club last season with the song “Where Is My Mind”).

Mr. Robot is a perfect example of a show that is referential, alluding to other works without being overly derivative or the least bit stale. It messes with our minds, regains our trust and then tricks us again. 

The two-part finale’s conclusion airs 10 p.m. Sept. 21. Until next season, friend.

Picks of the Week

South Park (Season Premiere, 10 p.m. Wednesday, Comedy Central) – Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Kenny return to prove that even 20 seasons in, Matt Stone and Trey Parker still manage to perfectly skewer current events via animated children unlike anyone else. Case in point: This week’s premiere centers on the National Anthem.

Documentary Now! (Season Premiere, 10 p.m. Wednesday, IFC) – Fred Armisen and Bill Hader are a dream team. Their debut season of this mockumentary series last summer was a runaway hit. Season 2 kicks off with The Bunker, their take on the doc about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, The War Room.

High Maintenance (Series Premiere, 11 p.m. Friday, HBO) – In this latest web series-turned-TV show, Ben Sinclair stars as The Guy, a nameless Brooklyn pot dealer delivering bud to an array of characters — different buyers each week — in NYC.

68th Primetime Emmy Awards (8 p.m. Sunday, ABC) – Jimmy Kimmel hosts this annual tribute to TV’s best. And while Game of Thrones and The People vs. O.J. Simpson and Fargo lead in nominations, I’ve also got my eyes on Mr. Robot (see above), Transparent, Aziz Ansari’s breakout debut Master of None and Better Call Saul.