The pilot leaves that question unanswered, and before its conclusion, Elliot finds himself caught between competing job offers from the very corporation he hates and the hackers who seem primed to destroy it. Luckily, the episode does such a good job of complicating Elliot – who’s just as human as the rest of us, subconsciously pining for his ex (Portia Doubleday) even as he falls into bed with less appealing options (like his drug dealer, played by Frances Shaw) – that there’s still uncertainty about where he’ll end up.
As slickly written by creator Sam Esmail, coldly directed by Niels Arden Oplev (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and seductively articulated by Malek, Mr. Robot is essentially a Fight Club for the Edward Snowden era. Aesthetically, it’s even more of a David Fincher joint than the director’s own political drama (House of Cards), despite the fact that his fingerprints are nowhere to be seen on it. And narratively, Elliot is (like Edward Norton’s nameless protagonist) as wary of his own mind as he is contemptuous toward others.’ And he may have good reason for that, given that he imagines men in black everywhere, regularly gets high on morphine and suffers from a social ungainliness that would make the entire cast of The Big Bang Theory cringe. But Elliot doesn’t seem crazy so much as numbly terrified to discover he’s woken up to witness a dystopian reality no one else can see.
That’s just an opinion, though. The unreliable narrator angle works well for a series this steeped in the paranoia of our plugged-in times, and Mr. Robot isn’t afraid to treat Elliot as a symbol for mankind’s larger battle between having a political conscience and being resigned to the powerlessness of existing in a system ruled by entities much more powerful than just one person. The guy is complicated and remarkably compelling – though Mr. Robot‘s ambitions seem lofty, with a narrative that will find the hackers essentially attempting to delete capitalism with some well-placed lines of code, a less well-crafted show would have its hands full simply trying to keep the myriad aspects of Elliot’s characterization believable.
What’s most impressive about Mr. Robot, in the end, is how perfectly formed it feels at this early stage. Malek will garner awards attention for his portrayal of the central Internet rebel, and the unsettling tone never misses a beat. Should Esmail and company commit to the thematically intricate path they’ve set out upon, Mr. Robot is on track to become one of television’s best series, as well as the only one that’s intelligently talking about the big-picture issues of our generation. It’s already given us what’s far and away the most promising pilot to grace the airwaves in a long, long time – but perhaps the real test of the show’s success will be whether it can get people talking. Mr. Robot is many things, but it’s far from fantasy; the most exciting thing about the show is the possibility it could push viewers into looking up from the very screens on which they’re watching it, electrifying them into actually thinking about the world we’re all living in.
By pilot's end, Mr. Robot is already one of the most ambitious, exciting and thought-provoking dramas on television. You'd be well-advised to log on early.