Watching Not Watching: Mr. Robot

Watching Not Watching:
Mr. Robot


HBO has long been the gold standard of television, and arguably still wears that crown. But there are now so many adrenaline-packed and addictively authentic shows touching down from Netflix, Amazon, FX and AMC, and WNW Members are finding plenty of creative inspiration from all of these curators. Often overlooked, USA is now front and center with the aforementioned powerhouses on the heels of Mr. Robot's Emmy and Golden Globe wins. But Mr. Robot has had a cult status right from the start. Below, WNW Member and New York-based Designer Julia Korbut tells us how the show hooked her, and why there are no signs of it releasing its grip: "When I first heard of it, Mr. Robot seemed like a cool show about hacker culture. It was the only time I’ve seen hacking portrayed as something other than a bizarre 3D fever dream. A bit into the pilot episode, additional undertones were added in - social justice, mental illness. It quickly became a show that’s not only about hacking the planet." 

Julia also contributes some brooding pixel art that drips with as much paranoia and darkness as the show itself.

FYI: This is a Spoiler Free Zone.


Who is Julia Korbut and how did she get here?

I'm a self-taught designer and illustrator. Currently a Product Designer at Venmo. I've been working in agencies, games and startups for the past ten years. Sometimes I do pixel art on my off hours.


What was it about Mr. Robot that hooked you?

When I first heard of it, Mr. Robot seemed like a cool show about hacker culture. It was the only time I’ve seen hacking portrayed as something other than a bizarre 3D fever dream. A bit into the pilot episode, additional undertones were added in - social justice, mental illness. It quickly became a show that’s not only about hacking the planet.

Elliot, the protagonist, is a regular security firm employee by day, and vigilante hacker by night. He suffers from some sort of delusional dissociative disorder, and self medicates with drugs and hacking people for social contact. We don’t get the full picture of what’s happening due to his illness. We quickly learn we can’t accept the story as-is since the entire show is narrated from his perspective. It’s a complex show that makes you look twice before you read it at face value.

The show is set in current day Manhattan, with every detail kept true to reality. It makes the Mr. Robot world seem like it could exist, a scary thought at times. It draws a lot from the anger younger generations face growing up into a sense of debt and insecurity. They want to reclaim the world, make it better. It has that “Occupy Wall St” vibe, which is an interesting ingredient for a tech thriller. The protagonist, Elliot, is worried about where the world is headed. He has suffered personal losses due to corporate greed. He wants to save the world and spare others. It doesn’t necessarily go well from there.

Who’s your favorite character and why?

Mr. Robot. has a lot of great, powerful female characters. We even meet a trans character later on. My favorite character though is definitely Angela. She’s Elliot’s childhood friend, and in the beginning of the series we often see her overlooked, disrespected and pushed aside. She decides to seek power. She takes control of her fate and evolves a lot in the second season.

Moral ambiguity is a common theme in this show. There’s this duality of right and wrong. Angela definitely gets some of that. We don’t know the full extent of her agenda, but she pursues it relentlessly. She keeps moving towards her goal even in very hostile situations. She has this air of revenge, of “I’ll show you”, hand in hand with building herself up and having the drive to keep going. Seeing powerful, non-stereotypical female characters is definitely refreshing.


Without giving away any spoilers, which season did you like more?

Every season has a central theme of sorts. From crime to punishment and so on. I’d say both seasons are pretty adrenaline-packed, but the second one really goes places. You think you know what’s going on in the first season, that you have a pretty good understanding of things. In the second season, you realize a lot of things were a misconception.

The amount of blackmail on Mr. Robot is pretty impressive. Does the show ever make you want to wipe your online identity clean and move to the mountains?

There’s definitely more to this show than that. But as scary as it is, every ‘hack stunt’ on the show is entirely possible. Real life security consultants, some ex-FBI, were hired to help write the show that way. What makes it interesting is that those attacks stem from something apart from malice. And we get to see the consequences.


Is Mr. Robot, and television in general, a source of creative inspiration or escape for you?

I love watching movies, TV, music videos for the colors. The fashion. The cinematography. But anything is a possible source of inspiration for me. It’s like a muscle - you can train your eyes to see interesting composition and color in anything. I see ideas in the most random things.

On-screen media is particularly inspiring for fashion. If only my Wacom could print out sweet outfits.


Complete this sentence: If you like ________, you’ll love Mr. Robot.

The internet.

What other shows, new or old, do you recommend to fellow WNW Members?

So both of those recommendations are going to be from the UK. I don’t know how come they portray dystopia so well, but that’s just how it is.

Black Mirror is an obvious recommendation. Every episode is like a movie, a separate story line. It explores technology and where it could possibly take us as society. Some episodes, especially the last one from season two, are really extreme.

Utopia is another brilliant one. This one is super underrated. I can’t really describe it without giving plot details away, but just watch this. Some keywords: Comic book conspiracy theories, beautiful cinematography, the color yellow, sick beats.


What are you working on these days?

On my off hours I jump between a few different things. I have a bunch of ideas I work on. Currently my focus is on a short animation project. It’s loosely inspired by museums and simulation theory.


Anything else you’d like to add?


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