Tuesday, July 07, 2015

TV Watch: USA's "Mr. Robot" brings us yet another of those fiendishly world-conquering villains from Scandinavia


Episode 3 of Mr. Robot airs tomorrow night on USA Network.

by Ken

I admit that the first thing that put me off of USA's new series Mr. Robot was the title. Wouldn't you assume that a show called Mr. Robot is about robots, or at least one robot? And I wasn't in the market for a show about robots, which sounded suspiciously like an offshoot of the vampire/zombie genre, which I don't participate in.

Fortunately, Noah tipped me off withthe advisory that it's his favorite TV offering since Breaking Bad, which, coming from him, is exalted praise indeed. So I confirmed that the already-aired first two episodes are on On Demand (I've since discovered that they're also readily accessible on YouTube), and when I had an opportunity, I tackled the extra-length pilot episode. I found it sort of intereresting, but I realized that, especially since I wasn't watching all that carefully, half of it was going over my head -- especially all the computer babble.

As I say, though, there was enough there to keep me curious. So I circled around. For starters, On Demand has, in addition to the first two episodes, a series of promos in the form of 2-3-minute interviews. I started with the one with series creator-showrunner Sam Esmail, then proceeded to those with the cast principals. armed with a good deal more knowledge of the characters, I went back to the start, this time watching with more concentrated attention, and this time I had a much easier time fitting the pieces together and getting involved with those characters.

It turns out that, at least two episodes in, there are no robots in Mr. Robot. Mr. Robot is the nom de guerre of the mastermind of a guerrilla-hacker collective -- played with deliciously dowdy aplomb by Christian Slater -- who claims to be devoted to bringing down the supersecret, superpowerful superconglomerates that supersecretly and superpowerfully run the world, starting with the biggest conglomerate of them all, E Corp.

Under mysterious circumstances -- in this show there are almost nothing but mysterious circumstances -- Mr. Robot recruits the central character, Elliot (Rami Malek), a young computer genius who's vastly underemployed as a tech at a cybersecurity company, having been brought in by his childhood friend Angela (Portia Doubleday), who's tech skills are passable but nowhere near in Elliot's class. We should specify that Angela is Elliot's only friend, and even here we have to use the word "friend" carefully.

Elliot has profoundly poor social skills, which he has dealt with mostly by not dealing with them, and what with their long association, Angela is the only person whose company he can bear. Elliot hates his job, and the corruption of the world, and Krista (Gloria Reuben), the shrink he has apparently been forced to see, doesn't have a clue how to reach him, though she does seem to have helped him through the worst of his psychotic episodes. (One of the intriguing aspects of the show is what happens when a person with strong paranoid instincts is actually being followed.)

To fill these massive life voids, Elliot hacks. He is, naturally, a genius hacker, and can almost instantaneously find out everything about just about anybody. It's an interesting glimpse into hacker culture, though I suspect there aren't many hackers who use their pastime largely to make bad people pay for their badness, especially when they're doing bad things in the lives of the few people he cares about, like Angela and Krista.


Johanes Karlsen (Tony-nominated Jeremy Shamos), the nefarious (if occasionally buffoonish) Norwegian who spearheaded his Norwegian group's acquisition of All Saints Hospital in Season 7 of Nurse Jackie, coopted Jackie (Edie Falco) with the promise of helping with the restoration of her nursing license.

Not since Viking days have so many Scandinavians set out from their homeland wreaking such devastation and destruction. It seemed pretty amusing when the new villains in Season 7 of Nurse Jackie, the developers whose acquisition of the All Saints Hospital site -- for teardown and redevelopment -- led to its closing were wily, nefarious Norwegians, overseen by the wily and relentless Johanes Karlsen (Jeremy Shamos).

Then came "the Swedes" of Showtime's HAPPYish, the pompous and pea-brained twits Gottfrid (Nils Lawton) and Gustaf (Tobias Segal), who are the face of the Swedish group that has taken over the advertising agency where Thom Payne (Steve Coogan) works.

Watch for the pompously, pea-brainedly platitudinous Swedish twit Gottfrid.

My first extended contact with HAPPYish, as I mentioned recently, was watching the last couple of episodes without knowing anything about the characters. So I assumed that Gottfrid, the big blond boy with the funny accent who sounded off at every agency meeting, was some sort of intern, who was listened to because he's young, and goodness knows advertising agencies need to hear the "youth" outlook. When I decided to watch the whole series I quickly discovered that Gottfrid and Gustaf are in fact the agency bosses. (The elfish Gustaf we don't even get to hear. He speaks only in the ear of Gottfrid.)


We haven't actually seen this scene yet (it's coming up tomorrow), which shows us yet another villainous Scandinavian, Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström), who was a senior VP for technology at E Corp. when we first met him, and now is interim CTO.and it's not all that riveting, but it shows Mr. Robot joining the growing roster of TV shows featuring villainous Scandinavians. Here I gather we see him rehearsing his pitch to land the job for real.

The lesson, I guess, is to watch out for those nefarious Scandinavians!



At 8:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is there any character, real or imagined, in this show that isn't repulsive, creepy or nauseating? Even the pathetic victims are disgusting. And New York never looked as putrescent as in this show.

At 5:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched two episodes. There are pieces here worthwhile but I'm already a bit tired of being in Elliot's head and I find it doubtful that I will manage long-term investment with this character and by extension the show. That might change if some women are added who aren't victims. His friend, his therapist and his sometime lover / drug supplier are all portrayed as victims to be saved since we are in this guy's head.


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