Sunday, October 09, 2016

Mr Robot - Breaking Badly in Season 2

    If you have followed season one of Sam Esmail's tour de force 'Mr.Robot' then you may as well just stop there and forget about series two. Perhaps wait until someone out there in internet land Mashes or hashes together a version which is watchable and satisfactory to the initial premise and story line strategy. The script tumbles into chaos. The actors look tired and bored and irritated, like they have been asking on set for three months 'where are we going with this? "

Season two begins well enough with the development of a new third main line in the story where we meet the shady would be amatuer psychological genius with his mini crime empire, Ray. More on that soon, but the series goes into strategy melt down mid way and becomes a confusing mess of presumably self indulgent scene-bites. All the way we live with the pretence that there is a bigger plot, a major new world order, when in fact all that is delivered is inconclusive chaos. It didn't help that I was watching it late at night, because I got the feeling I had nodded off and missed some vital narrative or conversation between the main super propents. I have my own conspiracy theory.

Firstly though, I would have to say that the first series was mind blowing in both script, character protrayal and cinematography. The acting was captivating and had elements of intense stage monlogue, and improvisation of tense inter character dialogue. Introducing Rami Malek , a fellow ethnic Egyptian to Esmail, the pair were able to weave both a jamais vu experience of the life  of a nerd with mild autism, and a sympathetic relation to him as the central character bound in moral dilemas through each episode and as a continual tension. Elliot is both a hero and anti hero, Hamlet and King Lear.  There really is no bad acting in the entirity of both seasons. The director has pulled performances which are worthy of the highest accolades of the feature film industry, let alone Net TV as a medium. With synchronised release for each episode on a global basis, the grip of the series unfolfing was maintained for at least series one, and internet millenials and old data dogs alike were captivated and engaged in a huge amount of discussion on line as the series rolled out.

Filmed much in the style of Kubriks ambient light, "f0.95' the perpectives and stage direction chosen are a wonderful celebration of that director's 1970 quantum leap into a new, bold camera angles, lighting, trolley work, zoom effects yet with a less intrusive, camera aware impression than say Orson Welles' experiments of two decades prior.  The darkness, a real modern film noire, does become a little tiresome because by the middle of S2, the majority of scenes are at night or in dimly lit rooms and under passes.

The first series totally blew the methylated socks off Breaking Bad for all the above reasons, plus that the premise was more of our time, on the pulse of post democratic times in a roughly immediately contemporary chronology. Capitalism has become condensed to E Corp in America and the mysterious Chinese quasi governmental corporate with their hidden alter ego, The Dark Army. However in a kind of familiar yet completely different way, the later series deteriotes into a self indulgent, pretentious pile of short intense or long slow scenes, which delivery a poor entertainment value despite trying to be oh-so-clever in commenting on society, capital and power in today's America. It has too, broken badly.

Why do this to us, the eager follower? A series which had a plot developing which could satisfy and enthrall a sixteen year old or a 55 year old IT boss. A joy on the eye without being just carbon copy of Kubrick, in fact just amazing to see the new film media being used with such gravity, also as if the bespectacled genius was reborn though Esmail's craft. All the characters were magnetic and at the same time, mostly dispicable. Weaving in magical realism with the hallucinations of Elliots deceased father, the sitcom episode,  and some of the way the the character Angela is developed as a kind of etheral metaphor for the dilema of metropolitan existence for young adults today. Yet it all gets thrown in the trash, script, character development, engagement with their dilemas and most of all plot.

The plot had so many ways to go. The characters had so much of their past to build and their present existential predicament to explore in comprehensible ways. Elliots father, we got about 80% of the way there with his 'motivation' from his former life. The Angela / Darlene connection. The real motivations of Dark Army and their leader. At the end it is just a mess which can only present to us that power is never absolute but always corrupts absolutely. The plot could have followed more on the Ray route as a foil and fortuitous cul de sac or scapegoat for F Society to get off the hook and live again, or gave gotten away with it all with impunity. The reverse of this, the real world violence of Ray's crew could have lead Elliot to engaging the FBI to catch both them and surrender F Society. Some more satisfactory total destruction of western and Chinese society? Some other, benevolent or ambivalent force from some secret national security or illuminati based policing which saves us all from anarchy.

I have a conspiracy theory about this though, the mess, the pretence. Or two. Firstly I propose that Esmail signed up for two series only and wanted to conclude the story line and create a short masterpiece in terms of the usual longevity of good TV series.  He maybe  just didnt get the time to close the plot to dear viewers relief and gratification. Or perhaps half way through, they demanded an option for a third series and Esmail had to come up with an inconclusion instead, toute suite. I think that is the most likely route chosen, and the cash came with it while the opportunities in Holllywood were yet to fall into his lap. What goes well as cult viewing by millions on Netflix, does not necessarily translate into popularity a the cinema box office. Although I would like a film version, 3 hours with a solid conclusive scene.

To some extent the final four episodes or so feel like they are from the 'cutting room floor' ,   a mash up of scenes. Here I play to the latter of my consipircy theories. The whole thing was played in with a 'closure event' in S2/E12, but the backers bayed for more and Esmail was presented with a short order to hack out the strands of story which could lead to a concrete conclusion or enough conjecture on the table so as to leave the cynics saying S3 would be ' so predictable'. Perhaps though Esmail wanted to be unpredictable, in avoiding either the big crashing end like fight club or the planet of the Apes, now a cliche or the more subtle ending where either the reality of imprisonment by the good guys, the FBI, closes the scenes or Elliot and gang disperse into anonymity after a final hack to cover their tracks.  Breaking bad ran a series or maybe even two too long, and ended with a ridiculous almost Tarrantinoen gun fire ending, disappointing many fans who expected something chemical.

To be frank, I haven't either bothered to google rumours of S3. I just found it all boring in the end, the vagueness, the constant allusion to power being all that matters, not reality, just perceptions around existence of characters who are to be dominated or rebelled against. The very last thread of evidence in my conspiracy theory on S3 being thrust upon Esmail, is that they lay a very heavy handed, dubbed dialogue only telephone call to the end ( not revealed if you have not yet seen) which leaves us with the supposed tantalus of a new series, S3, S4....... The trouble is I would like to see a remake of S2, not an excuse for re-editing in what ever was taken out. Too many story possibilities are closed or become worn out. If they do an S3 and god help us S4, then the only way I am watching it is Robotically.

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