By Eliana Dockterman
August 20, 2015

Those left disappointed by the listless second season of True Detective might find a new obsession in USA Network’s Mr. Robot, airing its first season finale Aug. 26. The show, which has grown from around 1.75 million to 3 million weekly viewers thanks in part to online streaming, follows morphine-addicted techie Elliot (Rami Malek) as he joins vigilante hacker group F Society. Its leader, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), plots to take down a tech conglomerate he calls Evil Corp from a decrepit Coney Island arcade. Creator Sam Esmail originally conceived Mr. Robot as a film, and it would be at home on a premium cable channel like HBO. But USA offered Esmail free rein and recruited Niels Arden Oplev, the director of the Swedish The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, to imbue the pilot with a certain Scandinavian darkness.

Esmail pays homage to psychological thrillers Fight Club and American Psycho. Elliot speaks to the audience as if it were an imaginary friend, and he struggles with delusions. The men in suits on the subway could be commuters or spies. An accident that lands him in the hospital could be an attack or an attempted suicide. A jailbreak may be a hallucination or a dramatic turn. Despite its trippy diversions, Mr. Robot feels more grounded than True Detective and its brand of cynical drama. The hackers have the sort of gender and racial diversity seen often in life but rarely on TV. And while heroes in other dramas dole out justice in over-the-top climaxes–a shoot-out at an orgy, for instance–Mr. Robot’s hackers take on the system in a more realistic and terrifying way: uncovering dark secrets with just one keystroke. USA renewed the show for a second season before the pilot even aired.

Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com.

This appears in the August 31, 2015 issue of TIME.

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