Mr. Robot (with bonus Legion)

October 27, 2020

I’ve finally watched Mr. Robot season 4, which wraps up the show. Streaming on-demand TV means never being on time with my commentary.

I started watching Mr. Robot and Legion around the same time, and was struck by how both of them subvert the genres in which they’re located. Legion, a superhero show, takes the “superheroes are mentally unstable” trope and goes literal with it, with a main character struggling with a diagnosed mental illness, how that intersects with his powers, and how that changes how people interact with him. The series is about that illness and how it doesn’t excuse the terrible things David does.

So it turns out Mr. Robot is kind of the same? One of the things I love about the show is how it subverts the cyberpunk/hacker genre, repurposing it into a form that isn’t actually science fiction at all. I’ve had a few people tell me it isn’t cyberpunk—there’s no robots or jacking in or bio-cybernetics. But it leans so hard on just about every other cyberpunk trope:  punk hackers, ubiquitous mega-corps, mysterious Asian antagonist, and global consequences. (From the start, White Rose struck me as a character straight out of a William Gibson story.) As the show progresses, we learn more and more about Elliot and how much he’s affected by his profound mental illnesses.

Spoilers below.

In the fourth season there’s a bombshell, then another one, and the show goes full scifi – that is, if what White Rose is proposing is actually possible. Parallel worlds, in which the things that have gone wrong in this one haven’t.  (There’s a Season 2 episode of Legion that does this exact thing, showing us all the parallel realities in which David’s life went differently, sometimes much better, sometimes much worse.) But in Mr. Robot, I think that’s. . .not what actually happens. I think White Rose’s plan to hack reality is delusional. I think the show is, ultimately, about Elliot’s mental health and how to repair it, much like Legion is about David’s.

I’m still just absolutely fascinated that both shows tackle their respective genres by, essentially, making those genres metaphors for mental health and healing.

I’m not sure Mr. Robot season 4 was totally successful. Aesthetically, atmospherically, it’s brilliant. I give it points for ambition and I love how Darlene comes out of this as the driving force and center of stability for the story. But I’m not totally sure it gave us the story it was promising us earlier in show, and the systematic way it eliminated characters in order to wrap things up was a bit contrived. The hacker scenes all are nearly perfect examples of the genre, but I started losing patience with the interpersonal drama. And watching a character with debilitating insomnia (Dominique) just makes me tired.

I will say—Mr. Robot gave us a reasonably satisfying end to the story, and I always appreciate that. And any show that gets me thinking on this level is my cup of tea.

One Response to “Mr. Robot (with bonus Legion)”

  1. I loved Mr. Robot. It is like the movie Fight Club and the movie American Psycho. The writers of the show actually said they liked both movies. I really miss that show. I wish they hadn’t ended it.

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