I binged Mr. Robot, an odd, yet striking cyber-thriller on USA network. It is very skillfully constructed and produced, with a very unusual tone -- the closest thing I can think of as far as atmosphere is the old cult favorite The Prisoner. The basic story is of an clinically anti-social computer genius who gets sucked into a cyber-terror revolutionary cult with anarchistic aims.
There are two major threads running through the season, one is following the plans and schemes of the anarchists, known as "fsociety". This thread ham-fistedly advocates anti-corporate, anti-capitalist, occupy-style class warfare. The bad guys are a business conglomerate so vast that bringing them down will upend society. The company is called Evil Corp -- that's not a nickname, it is a corporation literally named Evil Corp -- and it is peopled with slick folks who speak like cartoon villains. In other words it's the sort of narrative that someone who got the bulk of their knowledge of the world from watching network TV and reading Buzzfeed would build. Here's how bad it is: In the end, when the anarchists pull off their coup and society disintegrates and chaos rules the streets there is complete unity of public opinion that it is a good thing. Consequences never occur. It's an adolescent revolutionary's wet dream.
It's so bad, and in such stark contrast to the obviously high level of thought and effort that went into the show, that it makes me wonder whether it's actually just a set up for something either more realistic or more fantastic.
The other thread is the personal story of the main hacker, who is clearly in the throes of mental illness and for much of the series cannot be certain that anything he does or remembers is real. This is a bit more human and affecting. It takes a number of twists and turns all hinging on what is or isn't just happening in the protagonist's mind. The most interesting story lines are when he uses his hacker superpowers to help the individuals he cares about; it's here that the idea of a cost to good intentions is actually broached and it makes these stories more fulfilling.
But any way you cut it, the storylines are really just kind of "meh". The star here the dramatization and production. It's one of the few shows around that does a good job of showing rather than telling. Complicated situations arise, but more often than not we are blissfully spared the standard expository dialogue. And the sets, the lighting, the camera angles and beautifully done and generate an individualistic style. I wouldn't argue with a cinematography Emmy here.
Despite that, I'm on the fence whether I'll pick it up again next season. And if I do, they'll need to elevate the plotlines if I am going to stay.