The shadowy world of black hat hackers has never looked particularly good on screen.
David Fincher did a decent job with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but Hollywood history is filled with far more efforts like Hackers—virtual reality, neon plastic jackets, Rollerblades, techno—and 2001’s ensemble caper Swordfish, where the theatrical tagline might as well have been, “seriously, Halle Berry shows her tits in this movie.”
So USA Network’s breakout hit Mr. Robot was an interesting surprise, in that its dark tale of a morphine-addicted hacker’s work with an Anonymous-esque collective of digital revolutionaries didn’t immediately earn the derision of network security professionals.
Over the course of the first season, viewers watched as protagonist Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) and his not-so-merry band of black hats a used tool box of real-world techniques, including remotely controlling webcams, distributing infected software, and even emotionally manipulating targets to accomplish their exploits.
Composer Mac Quayle’s score, which calls to mind the stark electronic soundscapes Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross created for The Social Network, adds an icy-cool atmosphere which perfectly complements the show’s washed out color palate. But like the The Americans, Mr. Robot also uses popular music to great effect.
Here are some of our favorite tracks used in the first season, and don’t worry, there are no spoilers.
Len, “Steal My Sunshine”
Episode 3, “eps1.2_d3bug.mkv”
Toronto brother-and-sister duo Len’s timeless summer jam is unquestionably the most upbeat song used in the entire season. Other than the fact that Broken Social Scene founder Brendan Canning once backed them up, the most interesting story about this one-hit-wonder revolves around the video shoot for the “Steal My Sunshine.” After Len and their crew arrived in Miami for the shoot, they used the production budget to buy so much booze the hotel elevator literally broke trying to get it upstairs.
Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra, “Some Velvet Morning”
Episode 5, “eps1.4_3xpl0its.wmv”
This swirling, multi-tempo track from the frequent duet partners is a psychedelic snapshot of the swinging ’60s, and it’s off-kilter cadence makes it a perfect fit for the world of the show, where nothing can truly be trusted. With its cinematic atmosphere and orchestral swells, “Some Velvet Morning” sounds almost like it could have been used as a James Bond theme, if Her Majesty’s most famous secret agent had dropped out of MI6 to go live on a commune with Pussy Galore.
The Cure, “Pictures of You”
Episode 7, “eps1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v”
When Robert Smith and company released Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography in the early ’80s, they essentially created the sound which would dominate alternative rock’s gothic wing for the next two decades. And while the band would embrace pop with hits like “Just Like Heaven” and “Close to Me,” 1992’s gauzy, gloomy masterpiece Disintegration proved they’d far from lightened up, and “Pictures of You,” is one of its standout tracks.
Maxence Cyrin, “Where Is My Mind”
Episode 8, “eps1.8_m1rr0r1ng.qt”
At this point, it’s likely that many who’ve heard Maxence Cyrin’s haunting, instrumental version of the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind” might not even know it’s a cover. Previously, our biggest association with this stark, pretty song was on a particularly creepy episode of Criminal Minds, where a crazy person pulled out his captive’s joints and turned them into marionettes so he could recreate a childhood trauma. It was pure nightmare fuel. So we’re glad to have another memory associated with it.
The Jim Carroll Band, “People Who Died.”
Episode 10, “eps1.9_zer0-day.avi”
Jim Carroll was a visceral writer and poet who appealed to both gutter punks and Paris Review-subscribing literati in equal measure. That said, “People Who Died,” is quite honestly, the only listenable song on Catholic Boy, his band’s 1980 debut. But it’s one hell of a song, an unvarnished, breakneck-speed love letter to the scores of friends he lost during his years as a heroin junkie. This five-minute blast of ebullient punk rock manages to sound inspirational, even as it details the crippling cost of drug addiction.
The second season of Mr. Robot begins Wednesday, July 13th, on USA Network.