The Ever-Present Theme of Privacy in Mr. Robot
September 1, 2016 \ TV \ 0 Comments
The show Mr. Robot subtlety adjusts our mindset to think about privacy as we watch the show. In most cases when we’re introduced to an important character that furthers the plotline, we see an intensely personal moment for that character. Because Mr. Robot is about hacking, I believe that it wants to remind the audience that nothing is safe or private in Mr. Robot‘s world — that it is all at risk of being revealed.
In traditional storytelling, you don’t reveal something unless it will have importance later. Mr. Robot, however, plays with this concept in that it will show you something intensely personal about a character that provides insight, but its true purpose is to show you what is intimate and vulnerable about that character.
Here are five ways that Mr. Robot keeps privacy at the forefront of the audience’s minds:
1. The Opening Scene
The opening scene of Mr. Robot not only shows us Elliot’s (Rami Malek) hacking ability and penchant for exposing wrongdoers, but it is ostensibly about exposing a man’s illegal pornography. In the scene, Elliot confronts the coffee chain owner and admits that he hacked the chain’s network where he discovered the owner was using it for his illegal pornography. Elliot informs the owner that he has already called the police and exits the building as they arrive.
Right from the opening scene we are told: There is no such thing as secrecy or privacy on this show.
In the first episode, it is made clear to the audience that Elliot can (and will) hack anyone. It seems like he’s doing this to see who he can trust, but the bi-product of his searches tell the audience all the intimate details about the people he hacks.
For example, Elliot hacks his therapist, Krista (Gloria Reuben). We learn that she is recently divorced and has been “dating losers” on Match.com.
Later that episode, Elliot tells us he hacked Angela’s (Portia Doubleday) boyfriend. We see his Facebook interests and learn of his affair with a woman named Stella.
Beyond Elliot’s hacking, we join him as an unseen companion. When Elliot is on screen we hear his narration and he addresses us directly and often. He refers to us as his imaginary friend and we are privy to his innermost thoughts. We are his confidant and accomplice. This is the world that Elliot keeps private – his thoughts – and when he addresses us we not only hear his narration but also get a reminder of this private world.
In Season One we see a scene with Angela in a towel. We know Angela runs so she needs to shower afterwards, but the fact that she runs doesn’t especially give us any insight into her character. So why the towel? I believe it serves two purposes. The obvious reason is that in the next episode we learn that her boyfriend’s laptop has been hacked and the hackers threaten to release naked pictures of her as well as threaten her and her Father’s financial data. The other reason we see Angela in a towel is to remind us that even when these characters are safe at home, they can still be naked to the world.
We continue to see into Angela’s world in Season Two when we see her watching and rehearsing self-help videos. The camera slowly pans towards her as though we are sneaking into her private space. Outwardly, Angela seems more confident and sure of herself. But people who watch self-help videos are building their confidence and are not as self-assured as they appear. This allows us to see the side of Angela she is trying to hide from people.
Early in Season One, we see a lot of personal moments with Tyrell. First, we see a private moment where he is talking to himself in the mirror. He is rehearsing a speech he plans to give to his superiors about why he should be promoted to CTO. When he thinks he makes a mistake, he slaps himself in the face and rephrases.
Later that episode when his speech fails, we see Tyrell pay a homeless man so he can beat the homeless man up. Tyrell and his driver / security looks around to make sure no one is watching. But we see it.
We are also privy to Tyrell’s gay sexcapades. A little later in that episode, Tyrell tells his wife he has to go to an event for work, the proceeds to pursue a man and have sex with him. Why does Tyrell do this? Is he secretly gay? Or is he bisexual and simply unhappy at home? This is never made clear.
We see the sex scene between the two men, though. Look at the placement of the camera. The camera position doesn’t just hide some of their act, it’s positioned in a voyeuristic way. Like we are peeking at them from the other side of the doorway. This is an act that is meant to be private, but the location of the camera gives us a similar ability to Elliot in that we can peek into worlds we wouldn’t normally be allowed to see.
4. Joanna Wellick
On the outside, Tyrell’s wife Joanna (Stephanie Corneliussen) is composed, graceful, commanding, and appears flawless. However, in the bedroom we see she is into BDSM and likes to be dominated.
This dichotomy is important because her private practices could be very damaging to her outward appearance and these BDSM scenes remind the audience of those stakes.
5. Dominique DiPierro
Shortly after we meet Agent DiPierro (Grace Gummer) we get a scene of her in bed. It is 4:00 am. She is watching some reality television show on her phone. We get the impression she either hasn’t slept yet or has trouble sleeping. We get clips of her guzzling multiple cups of coffee as she gets ready for work.
Later that episode, we see her in bed masturbating. She appears to be using an IRC chat room to have cyber sex. During the act she stops, seemingly frustrated. She asks her Amazon Echo when the end of the world is.
Outside her apartment, Agent DiPierro is confident, capable, and a little sassy. Privately, this information would embarrass her, undermine her, and make her weak. She might even lose her job if the information was shown in the right presentation. And that is why we are shown. Since Agent DiPierro is the one hunting Elliot, his ability to find out this private information makes her vulnerable.
While there is a certain “sex sells” mentality behind a lot of these scenes in Mr. Robot, I believe there is a supplementary reason for showing the audience all these intimate secrets. A show about hackers plays on our real world fear for our own private information. By making the main characters’ privacy vulnerable and surrounding them with expert hackers, we can project our own fears onto them as well as empathize. These scenes are constant reminders of what is at stake in the world of Mr. Robot and our own.