Third-episode verdict: Mr Robot (US: USA Network)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of

In the US: Wednesdays, 10/9c, USA Network. Starts June 24
In the UK: Not yet acquired

10 PRINT “Hello friend”;
20 PRINT “Reviewing Mr_Robot is quite difficult”;
40 PRINT “Mr Robot is a terrible show that thinks it’s saying something very clever and very edgy but actually is very stupid, confusing the audience with ambiguity and a sheen of intelligence and background research into suspending their critical facilities.”;
60 PRINT “Mr Robot is a superb, captivating show that examines modern life, our relationships with each other and how they’re influenced by technology, technology’s power over us, corporations power over us and the nature of reality, while cleverly using the standard tropes of hacker stories to distract us.”;
70 END

Tricky, hey? Mr Robot could be many things. When I’m most hopeful, I believe it to be a sort of hacking Fight Club in which a socially impaired hacker (Rami Malek) talks to the viewer, makes observations about normal life and drinking Starbucks, before taking down capitalism with the help of his Tyler Durdenesque hallucinated pal, Mr Robot (Christian Slater) – all while using his powers with computers to take out low-life internet paedophiles like a Batman who trained with code ninjas rather than actual ninjas.

Just as good is the possibility that maybe Malek is being made to think this by people who know exactly how to mess with the mind of someone paranoid with a diagnosed history of hallucinations. They may all be real, but they’re not who they’re pretending to be. How could they be? They’re so implausible.

When I’m at my least hopeful, I suspect Mr Robot is dicking with us. Sure, there’s the superb direction, the greatest attention to technical detail bar none of any TV show (surely the first usage of IPv6 addressing in a browser URL bar on TV?), the adult themes and characters, the 80s soundtrack, and the furniture of quality TV such as foreign languages, drug taking and diverse sexuality.

All the same, this could be a show that actually believes that the world is run by a secret cabal, the 1% of 1%s, and hackers like fsociety really do exist, dress and act exactly like the way it depicts, and are anarchist-socialist-libertarian heroes who are protecting us. Or worse still, come the end of the season, they’ll send us a goatse or a Rickroll link of a finale that’ll all be about the LOLs and how they messed with us so bad.

Certainly, this tightrope walk with reality is what the show would like us to have to do, that much is clear. And making us doubt everything we see and hear is half Mr Robot’s game, I suspect – to somehow make the viewer conscious of the weird blurring of reality and the virtual which we’ve all normalised, where lives can be destroyed at the touch of a button and people across the world can be inside your home with you, watching what you’re up to, simply because you tried to listen to a CD.

Whether it’s actually ‘true’ or not is as unimportant as whether the show’s Evil Corp is actually called Evil Corp – even though we know it’s not called that, everywhere we look, that’s what it seems to be called. It even has an evil logo. Is it Mastercard? Is it Visa? Perhaps it’s both and yet neither.

Similarly, do people avoid looking or even talking with Christian Slater because he’s not real or because he dresses like a twat? Perhaps it’s both and yet neither.

So the Barrometer has had to go all quantum mechanical on us for the first time in its history, although I doubt its shiny, highly polished, barely used brain really understands more than whether it simply likes a TV show or not. It’s got two review waves – blue for “it’s all in his mind or a set up”, red for “we’re showing you the true nature of society”. I suspect that only when the series has finished, if then, will the wave function collapse into one of these waves.

Until then, I’m going to absolutely captivated – and doing my very best to get someone in the UK to pick it up. If I can do it with The Last Ship and Halt and Catch Fire, surely I can do it with Mr Robot?

Barrometer rating: 0 or 3
TMINE prediction: Already renewed for a second season and the ratings are doing well


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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