{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

While the idea of hacking has been something that has always fascinated me, its portrayal in film and television has been mostly rubbish – the “hacker” is either a really skinny, or grossly overweight guy who wears a pair of chunky glasses, brings in words like “bypass”, “security protocol”, “router” and “access” to conversation and is the one to crack a few jokes every time the rest of the group gets serious. All we know about the hacker is that he’s the guy who can solve any problem in minutes by furiously typing on his keyboard.

Mr.Robot is a series that revolves around hacking, and one that takes its technology very seriously. Unlike most film or television portrayals where it’s only the hacker’s keyboard that’s seen, here we’re shown his computer screen. There are no special visual effects to make the hacking seem cool – they’re probably the most genuine looking processes I’ve seen on screen. What makes the hacking exciting, are the characters, and their personal stories. The show follows the perspective of Elliot (Rami Malek), a computer programmer with anti-social disorder. We are audience to his everything that goes on in his head (there is one episode where we can even see his drug induced dreams). When he says that he has reprogrammed his mind to hear “Evil Corp” instead of “E Corp”, we only hear Evil Corp throughout.

mr.robot, rami malek

Elliot is a vigilante hacker by night, which means that he gets into the computers of people he has suspicions about, and tips the police if he finds anything incriminating. In the very first episode, he hacks into a coffee shop owner’s computer because the internet speeds at the coffee shop were unlike any other’s, and because “good doesn’t come without condition”. As it would turn out, the owner managed a child pornography website, and thanks to Elliot’s tip, gets arrested.

It isn’t long before Elliot is recruited into FSociety, a group of hackers led by “Mr. Robot” (Christian Slater). Mr. Robot, and FSociety, are on a mission to bring about a revolution by destroying big conglomerates and rendering them powerless, a mission, to which Elliot is key. While the idea of throwing a spanner in the works is enticing, it also comes with terrible consequences. The rest of the season follows Elliot, his choices, and the consequences which occur when you set in motion something you don’t have complete control on.

The reason I love Mr.Robot is that although there is a lot of technical computer terms that thrown around (in the very first episode, the show thrusts words like “DDOS Attacks” and “RUDY Attacks” at us), there is no secondary character explaining them in layman terms. The show trusts the audience to be smart enough to figure what is going on. Rami Malek is spectacular as Elliot, the wide eyed, socially neurotic hacker with a past, as is Christian Slater, who plays the bordering on insane, yet strangely likeable Mr. Robot.

What really hit home for me while watching the show was the massive amount of information that the Internet has about the rest of us, no, the massive amount of information that we have been feeding it. With every status update we post, every tweet, every Instagram post, with every thought that we type out loud, we give the Internet greater control on us. Given how active I am on social media, these aren’t things I really think about, but watching Elliot scroll through hacked inboxes, Twitter and Facebook profiles to determine a person’s nature, was terrifying.

The all pervasive theme of Mr Robot, is vulnerability. The vulnerability of systems, the vulnerability of networks, and the vulnerability of people. Mr Robot isn’t a show about hacking computers. It’s a show about hacking people.

(Mr Robot is presently running on Colors Infinity)

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