Review: ‘Mr. Robot’ is crazy good

Tom Long
The Detroit News

Here’s the thing about “Mr. Robot:” It’s crazy.

No, seriously, the hero — if that’s even the word — of this show is stupendously mentally ill. Not depressed, not merely anxious, not somebody who can get by on light therapy.

He’s also a fabulously brilliant hacker, although at the beginning of the show’s second season he has sworn off life with computers in an attempt to gain some control of his mind. Based on the season-opening back-to-back episodes, this isn’t going so well.

The hacker in question is the perpetually hoodied Elliot (the wholly appropriately magnetically odd Rami Malek). Socially awkward to say the least, he started out as something of a computer superhero, using his skills to right wrongs and all that. But then things went in a whole other direction.

Goaded on by the ghost/delusion/hallucination of his long dead father (Christian Slater), who once owned a computer shop called Mr. Robot, Elliot pretty much brought down the world financial system in the show’s first season. He did this purposely, with the help of his hot hacker sister, Darlene (Carly Chaikin), and a small Scooby gang that may or may not still exist.

All sorts of questions were left after the first season — Who was at Elliot’s door in the final scene? What happened to crazy killer exec dude (Martin Wallstrom)? — and, thanks to Elliot’s fragile mental state, none of them are answered in the opening episodes. Elliot blacks things out, you see, so sometimes it takes Mr. Robot a while to catch up with “Mr. Robot.” Curioser and curioser.

This much is semi-clear: The world’s financial system has indeed crumbled and this has not been the godsend for the common man Elliot/Mr. Robot intended or assumed. ATMs and credit cards don’t work, the bank can’t tell if you’ve made your mortgage payment and so it assumes you haven’t. Masked thugs run through the streets celebrating chaos.

Darlene has taken charge of the digital revolution while Elliot broods. And Grace Gummer and Craig Robinson have been added to the cast to good effect. Gummer plays a saucy FBI agent investigating Elliot’s former boss (Michael Gill), thinking he caused the meltdown (the poor guy had nothing to do with it), while Robinson plays ... well, it’s a bit unclear. Someone who wants something from Elliot.

Elliot meanwhile is living at his mother’s house, keeping a daily journal, eating regularly, attending church meetings and watching a pick-up basketball game every day. It’s all very ordered. And it’s not working at all. Mr. Robot is everpresent.

Look, in its second season “Mr. Robot” — which has made Malek a star, revived Slater’s career and scored a Peabody award this year, among many other accolades — remains one of the most dizzying, intoxicating, challenging shows on television, a gripping look at mental illness and brilliance run amok, tied to an essentially sweet, if damaged, character. It’s a show that poses Big Questions and dares to leave them hanging.

But most crucially, though, it raises the worry: There’s nobody out there like this, is there?

Seriously, there isn’t, is there?

Because if there is ...

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.

‘Mr. Robot’


10 p.m. Wednesday