Bingeing While Black: Mr. Robot and the Art of Uncomfortable Silence

Another week, another show. (I wish I could say I had the wherewithal to keep up that kind of momentum, but I gotta work, kids.)

After a year, I was finally able to cross Mr. Robot off my to-watch list, having heard so many wonderful things about it, but never knowing what it actually was. I knew the main story revolved around an expert hacker dude played by professional cutie Rami Malek. I knew that Dahlia from Suburgatory was wandering around somewhere and that casting Christian Slater was a coup akin to scoring Kevin Bacon for The Following. Knowing the typical USA fare, I put all these facts together to guess that it’d be a quirky show about a crime-solving hacker and his dumb-blonde partner who would teach each other about life while trying to keep their activities secret from boss Christian Slater.

Girl, was I wrong.

The show started dark, giving Rami Malek’s Elliot Alderson several different personality disorders from his opening monologue, and not the fun, Monk kind. He breaks the fourth wall to address us, the viewer, as a conscious figment of his own imagination. Within minutes, we learn that he’s paranoid and as one of the best hackers in TV history (aside from Felicity Smoak, obvi), he has every right to be. There’s a conspiracy starting at the tippy top and at any moment, it’s going to come crashing down on his head.

By the revelation of episode eight, I was pleasantly confused, throwing an empty Ben and Jerry’s carton at my roommate wondering why he hasn’t finished this show yet.

I’m not going to spoil the twist because I, fortunately, was not spoiled despite the show being a year old. Instead, I’m going to answer another question.

A friend and my personal TV mentor asked me what I liked most about the show, if I did, in fact, like it. I did and I told him what intrigued me most were Rami Malek’s long pauses, and the quiet, absolute silence of some of the scenes. One could believe that, outside of his internal monologue, Elliot has the fewest lines of anyone in the cast.

I’m fascinated by the concept of silence, how many people, especially in Los Angeles, can’t stand sitting quietly when there’s someone else around. From riding in Ubers to standing in line at Starbucks, people fear not talking, preferring to fill the silence with conversation, not all of it vital.

I once had a neighbor tell me that she’d prefer I stopped using her recycling bin (my own apt. building didn’t have one) and rather than arguing with her, I simply blinked at her, listening to her scramble to fill the silence with a reasonable excuse as to why she didn’t want me to recycle. She eventually relented.

Mr. Robot excels at silence, using the power silence has to invoke the kind of creepy tension that keeps the show’s tone hair-raisingly fascinating, leaving the audience waiting with bated breath for the next moment.

Take for instance any scene between Eliot and his psychiatrist. Without voiceover, the scene exists as two people in a room staring at each other. The balance of power is a source of dramatic irony here. Eliot’s psychiatrist, Krista Gordon, played by the multi-talented Gloria Reuben, thinks that she’s in control by reasoning of the fact that she is, for lack of a better term, saner than he is (with sanity being the bellwether of societal typicality). The audience knows, however, not only what’s going on in Elliot’s head, that he has the power to demolish anyone he so chooses, but the audience also knows that Elliot has more information on Krista than anyone she’s ever known. And knowledge is power, after all.

In fact, unbeknownst to many characters, Eliot holds all the power in nearly every interaction. Even when you worry that brute force and violence may triumph, like it does when we encounter the drug dealer Fernando Vera or his less unhinged but equally dangerous brother, Isaac, ultimately Elliot knowledgeably finds the upper hand.  Because it is what goes unsaid that truly makes knowledge scary.

Why is that? Fear of silence, of pauses, of the unknown. Nothing is as scary as what your own mind can make up.

Some would argue that fear of silence is linked to a general fear of death. Other studies say that unease with silence is a learned behavior brought about by the abundant and constant onslaught of modern technology (which is an ironic statement given Elliot’s day and nighttime activities).

Whatever it may be, Mr. Robot drew me in and strung me along for all ten episodes, using silence to play with me as my own mind scrambled to fill and explain every moment on screen.

I look forward to season_2.0 and hope the silence is more than I can bear.

 

Until the next binge,

Sir Windley.

 

P.S.:

Elliot is initially surrounded by no less than four women, all brilliantly complex with different motives, and it is fantastic.

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