I took my own sweet time to complete this show in order to be able to properly assess my fandom towards it. I started writing this post midway through the show because each passing episode has been developing an extremely strong connect with me as a viewer.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the binge-watching culture that (at this point) my generation is pretty much defined by. The whole point of an episodic structure in long-form stories is meant to give the audience a pause, a breather, after each episode ends. The “Watch next episode” feature inherent in streaming services has really spoiled us as viewers by tapping into our greed. I take pride in being a slow watcher, taking my time digesting each episode. With a plot structure as complex as Mr. Robot, it actually becomes necessary to meditate on where you are as a viewer in the world that the show inhabits.
Mr. Robot flows with a certain concept known as ‘circular storytelling’. Events that occur during the course of an episode or a season are referred back in later episodes/seasons, often from a different perspective, thus connecting seemingly unrelated (but, in hindsight, super major) dots. The filmmakers very consciously deal with information – how much to hold on to, how much to give away – meticulously planning and charting out the journey as each episode plays out.
I picked up the show around end of 2016/early 2017 (Season 2 had finished airing by then). Between Seasons 2 and 3, however, my time gap exceeded a year and a half. I saw the third season during mid 2018, but throughout its run there was this feeling of not being able to fully understand some of the things going on. It made me realize that maybe a recap was necessary.
Shortly after Season 3 finished airing, showrunner Sam Esmail tweeted that Season 4 would be the show’s last. I remember feeling bittersweet, as I had to bid farewell to a show that I knew was really upto something but couldn’t figure out exactly what.
Sometime later in 2019, when promos announced that the final season would premiere on October, 2019, my first thought was to revisit the entire show so far (all 3 seasons) before I started with this last one. I’ve not even had a complete rerun of the most popular sitcom of the world, so this was a first for me. As a movie buff, there’s a ton of stuff I’d like to re-watch but I can’t because there’s much more of other, newer stuff that I would like to watch first. Mr. Robot, however, has most definitely been a very special exception.
Each passing episode en route my recap journey made me sadder, and it wasn’t the bleak nature of the show to blame. Come Season 4, I was torn between wanting to watch all the successive episodes as soon as possible and not watching it at all, as each passing episode was also an inevitable exercise in preparing to say goodbye to the show.
Mr. Robot provides incredible thought-processing value for any viewer with a hunger for food for thought. It’s one of the major reasons I’m glad to have started writing this post midway through my (re)run of the show. While every episode can spark a full-blown discussion, every season has an episode or two where the makers outdo themselves and deliver an absolutely outstanding outing over and above the show’s own stunningly unique outlandish nature. Programming channel USA Network have shown their support in airing such episodes commercial-free and it just goes to show how much respect the show has garnered.
A deep dive into Mr. Robot will make one realize that although it demands attention, it certainly rewards it too. Much in contrast to the themes of isolation and loneliness that the show explores, the filmmaking involved here is very inviting in that each episode is sprinkled with easter eggs throughout for audiences to either anticipate or just appreciate. Each episode is doused with pop culture references and throwbacks to the 80s, be it movies, shows, novels, or even nods to filmmakers themselves. Plot points mirroring the messed up current global economic and political scenario are way too on the nose to go unnoticed. Monologues are superbly used to offer scathing commentary; some are thrown right in the face, while others are voice-overs that make great use of the fourth-wall-breaking narrative style. Apart from being a self-confessed nerd, creator Sam Esmail is also a very self-aware individual with a strong voice and proves it with much success by executing the show the way he does. Cyber security specialists and hackers have also praised the accurate portrayal of hacking involved on the show.
Mr. Robot has major repeat-viewing value in very many aspects. The time spent with the characters, their individual journeys and the head-banging plot twists that the story bakes gradually, are best earned by the slow-burn momentum that the show progresses with. There is so much attention given to detailing each and every single aspect of the show that it would only be fair when Mr. Robot is regarded as a modern classic and talked about in the same breath as Breaking Bad. If Walter White is “the one who knocks”, Mr. Robot is “the gun”. And “the storm”.
Each body part of the show from a filmmaking standpoint can rightfully warrant one full viewing. Strong performances, even stronger writing and directing, quotable dialogues, powerful editing, carefully-composed production design, incredible range of excellent background music and score, handpicked selection of soundtracks, highly stylized opening titles/intros and some very unique and exclusive cinematography make Mr. Robot operate on God mode.
A technical achievement on all levels and yet that is not what the show would be remembered for. At least, that’s not what Sam Esmail wants us to remember it for. While Mr. Robot may bear its roots in the modern techno-thriller/cyberpunk genre, at its heart, the show will go down in history as a very confidently-presented, bizarre journey of wholesome characters who fall into a self-constructed pit of loneliness and make or break their paths in doing so. Each episode tends to offer feelings that alternate between crushing and cleansing the viewer’s mind and soul.
The show creates excellent intrigue in its own highly original fashion where the viewer is always left wanting for more. The fabric of the show seems to be stitched with contradicting extremes: moments of brutal honesty with an unreliable and disorienting narrative, high tension with warm emotions, frightening creepiness with pitch-black humour and character-centered episodes following plot-heavy episodes.
I know some folks who’ve watched the show and stopped it midway because of its “dark and depressing” nature. While Mr. Robot is definitely not a casual viewing experience, I personally feel that, given the right treatment and purpose, the darkest of shows can ironically have a genuine uplifting quality to them. The pilot is an excellent representation of the look-and-feel and tone of the show.
It’s always appreciative when creators know when to bow out and not overstay their welcome with filler episodes/seasons and in that regard, Mr. Robot surely set out with a definitive end point. Creator Sam Esmail had originally planned for Mr. Robot to be a feature film. In hindsight, it would’ve been criminal injustice to the subject matter and material dealt with, as a two-hour treatment wouldn’t even come close to what was achieved with the episodic storytelling structure.
Each episode (and by extension, season) is in service of a highly definitive vision which only seems to grow as the journey goes on. The fact that Sam Esmail single-handedly directed each episode from Season 2 going forward is proof of the solidifying nature of the show’s vision. The slow-and-steady build up culminates into a powerful climax that manages to successfully soar beyond what the show makes you believe it was going for. The final season is a behemoth, with each episode hitting you left, right and centre with its narrative gut punches, shocks, twists and turns and straight-up filmmaking genius. By taking really bold risks and turning them into unique creative surprises, the makers hit the nail right on the head as the finale (aided by every single episode that preceded it) leaves the audience not only emotionally fulfilled but also mentally transcendent. There’s an undeniably special meditative quality about the show that makes it the cinematic equivalent of a beautiful head message that one will surely keep wanting to go back to, whenever one has had enough of the world. And in these days, quite frankly, that happens a lot.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.