From the very first moments of Mr. Robot’s sophomore season I knew that the show was heading into a realm that has yet to be explored on television. What I am currently praising the most from this truly brilliant piece of television is the stellar and visionary directing of Sam Esmail.
For some, the second season of Mr. Robot may be a bit underwhelming. It isn’t as fast paced as season 1, which most viewers revered, and doesn’t encircle the world of hacking as heavily as the premiere season did either. Instead Esmail delivers a season which isn’t exactly slow, but tells a story in a format that isn’t conventional to the format of television. Episodes don’t pick off exactly where the preceding one did and sometimes the script may jump to events that completely took place in the past. Season 2 is extremely cerebral, and for a show about a main character who isn’t exactly conscious, it works.
Esmail directs virtually each and every frame of each episode with nuance. There is a sense of care behind the camera seen from how he blocks his characters, to how he places them either to the far left or far right of each frame. The world of Mr. Robot, and of Elliot for that matter, is surreal, strange and foreign and Esmail beautifully reciprocates the show’s truly awkward atmosphere through a directing style that is cinematic and extremely foreign to television.
Let’s look at the 10th episode of season 2, eps2.8_h1dden-pr0cess.axx., arguably one of the best directed episodes of television I have ever watched.
In the very last minutes of the episode Dom finally finds the whereabouts of Darlene and her boyfriend. She walks into the frame and from there the camera never cuts once for the remainder of the episode- which is a little under 2 minutes.
Dom then walks across the street to the restaurant where she is certain to have found her suspects. She crosses whilst the street light indicates not to- first visual hint that something will go wrong in the near future.
The frame is empty for a couple of seconds and we are essentially viewing it in three parts: from the far left to the restaurant, from the restaurant to the street, and from the street to the far right. Just as we are watching Dom enter the restaurant, the music softens and we hear a motorcycle that eventually comes into frame on the far right, the emptiest part of the frame. Now you don’t have to be a film student to know that this motorcycle isn’t coming in good spirit. The lowering of the music, bareness, and lack of movement in the frame already suggests that the motorcycle, the first moving object since Dom, will be impactful in some negative way.
And it is. It pulls up right in front of the camera. But unlike Dom who stood a little to the right of the frame, the motorcycle pulls up a little to the left- distinguishing that the two are on different “sides” of the fight. And just as the motorcycle comes into frame a countdown emerges from 17 on the streetlight.
One of the guys grabs his gun and approaches the restaurant as the streetlight continues to countdown. It is also incredible how each of the subjects are staged in the frame too. We do this unknowingly because it’s so fast, but our eyes move from the guy stationed on the motorcycle (closest subject to camera), to his partner, to the countdown, and all the way to the restaurant. 10…9…8…7….
3…2….1 and bang! The guy unloads his clip. It is a long take that distinguishes itself from all others on TV and film. Usually uncut scenes feature long sequences of characters moving and the camera following these characters as they do so. Instead, Esmail delivered an uncut scene that not only had a stagnant camera but used visuals instead of dialogue to tell a story.
And this type of directing is not foreign to Mr. Robot, especially this artist/indie like directed season 2. Esmail loves to break up his frames into 3s and used subjects to direct our eyes throughout the frame. It is all, in a way, extremely Kubrickesque and I love it.
But not everyone views television, or cinema for that matter, as an art piece. The majority of television viewers tune into shows for engaging, fast paced stories and wish to get “lost” in a fictional world for sometime, and I am okay with that. I know that not everyone likes the show for its direction. Some relate to Elliot’s isolation whilst others are interested in how computer/tech oriented the show is. Others may not like the show at all because its gotten to slow, or they don’t see a “point”, or they aren’t fans of this artistic season. Perhaps they are unaware at how beautifully directed the show is all together. Mr. Robot is a show the visually resonates with me and I wanted to share that with an audience.
Its a wonderful time to be a television watcher. There is a show out there that made for each and every person, just go out and find yours.
CONGRATS ON RAMI WINNING AN EMMY TOO!