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Mr. Robot Postmortem: Has Elliot Finally Lost Control?

Did fsociety win? What's in store for Season 2

Adam Bryant

[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from the Season 1 finale of USA's Mr. Robot. Read at your own risk.]

After a zeitgeist-capturing first season full of twists and turns, Mr. Robot ended its first season on a more emotionally contemplative note.

Rather than showing the moment the entire season had been building to -- Elliot (Rami Malek) executing fsociety's hack against Evil Corp -- the show jumped three days past Elliot's meeting with Tyrell (Martin Wallstrom). When Elliot wakes up, the world is descending into chaos in the wake of the fsociety hack, and he has no recollection of the past three days or why Tyrell has seemingly disappeared. Believing Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) can solve these mysteries, Elliot goes to great lengths to draw out his alter ego.

But when he does, Elliot doesn't like what Mr. Robot has to say. As Elliot becomes worried that the hack was a mistake, an angry Mr. Robot proudly proclaims how they are saving the world from all its ills. The grandiose speech goes on until Elliot seemingly has a breakthrough and shuts out the voices in his head. But the quiet is only temporary, and Elliot ends the season back in his apartment following Mr. Robot's orders.

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Elsewhere, Darlene (Carly Chaikin) fights a similar ideological battle with the other members of fsociety, who seem less convinced that what they've done is a good thing. And Angela (Portia Doubleday) finds her first days on the job at Evil Corp fraught with drama, as the hack against the company causes one of its executives to commit suicide during a live news broadcast. (This scene was the cause for the show's delay in the wake of the live TV shooting in Virginia.)
But while many characters wrestled with their conflicted feelings about what's befallen Evil Corp and the rest of the world, a tantalizing post-credits scene between Dark Army hacker White Rose (B.D. Wong) and Evil Corp CEO Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) suggests that Evil Corp is still very much in control. So, what's in store for Season 2? Has Elliot finally lost control of his Mr. Robot personality? TVGuide.com chatted with creator Sam Esmail about the finale and what's to come.

You and USA rightly decided to delay the finale a week because of one graphic scene. Even with that week having gone by, did you think of toning that scene down at all?
Sam Esmail:
We wanted to respect the material. I think we've done the respectful thing and stayed away from airing it on the day, and being sensitive to what happened last week. But we also wanted to respect the material and air it the way it was originally intended.

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Looking at the season as a whole, it's clear by the way you handled the Mr. Robot reveal that you expected the audience to figure it out. Was that aspect of the show always misdirection to make the Darlene reveal land harder?
Esmail: I never look at twists as a way to trick the audience. Obviously, I think a good story has surprises and unexpected turns, and you always want to do that with an audience. But it has nothing to do with conning them or making them believe so strongly in one thing and then kind of going the other way. I actually think that will burn you a lot of times when you try and do thrillers like this. But specifically with the Mr. Robot reveal, I actually wanted the audience to be a little ahead of Elliot on that because in the moment that we reveal that he is Mr. Robot, I wanted the audience not to be distracted by the reveal, but focused on watching Elliot and what it means to him for him to realize this. The whole concept of this show and the series is about being with this guy who's really sort of discovering his own mental illness, his own psychotic break. ... We telegraphed it so much that I was actually a little shocked that [people] were still sort of holding onto that maybe Mr. Robot was real.

The Darlene reveal was a little surprising to me, because I actually thought maybe we were telegraphing that a little too much too. Especially in the beginning, with her going into his apartment and being so familiar with him. I just thought, "Oh, OK. Well, audiences are so savvy they're probably going to pick up on that as well." I was actually shocked that everyone was shocked by that reveal. That one was a little crazy. But the hard thing about doing all these kind of shows or telling these kinds of stories is you don't want to lie to the audience. You want to stay genuine and honest. You do want these unexpected turns. So, it's good that they happen, but we didn't really try and hide it as much as I think people thought we did.

After having all of these big reveals and turns in recent episodes, the finale operated a little differently, drilling down on Elliot's emotional state rather than the plot machinations. Why was that important to you?
Esmail: That is what the series is about. It is about us being with a character who is suddenly having a dissociative identity disorder... and being faced with the fact that he is losing time. Psychologically, he is not aware of certain things and actions and decisions that he is making, and he is kind of faced with his alter ego. What happens when you are having to go through that? The season finale was a way to start, in a very small step, setting that up for next season and actually seasons after that.

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So that's why you chose not to show Elliot executing fsociety's master plan?
The No. 1 priority was, and always will continue to be, Elliot's emotional journey, his internal conflict, and part of setting that up was losing that time. Sure, it would've been great to see his reaction [to the hack], but would Elliot have chosen to do what he did? In his state, I don't think he would have. But Mr. Robot would have and that's still the other side of him. So, the fact that he lost that time, for me, that's a better way to now delve into the emotional side of Elliot. And it's not as if we're not going to see what happened in those three days. We will see what happened.

How did you conceive of that Times Square sequence and Mr. Robot's speech? It was far less subtle than other interactions with Mr. Robot. Does it mean that part of Elliot is becoming stronger?
I think it absolutely means that Elliot is losing control or has lost control. And maybe he hasn't even been aware how much control he's lost. That sequence was really meant to say that Elliot is not going to just be able to -- by sheer will or just want or need -- will Mr. Robot away. That's going to take something deeper and stronger than that, because clearly this monster that's inside of him has sort of grown. And it's essentially not just within him, but externally. It's created the chaos that's around him and in the world. So, it's a much bigger problem than Elliot ever thought of, and that's what that sequence is for. We're setting the stage for the bigger conflict, which is he and Mr. Robot.

Switching gears to Angela, where is her head at? In the shoe store she seemed to be adopting a bit of that Evil Corp coldness, but by the end of the episode, she seemed once again horrified by Mr. Price.
Esmail: I think she's incredibly confused. She is a hard worker and she was dedicated to her job in the beginning, but she was getting no respect. As she goes through the season, she started to maybe cross some moral lines there, but she's gaining respect. She's gotten a job offer at the biggest conglomerate in the world and then gets invited up to the behind the scenes of the CEO's big press conference. But what's the price of that respect? So, she's in this incredibly conflicted gray area right now of how to proceed. And that's exactly where I wanted her to be, because that's the exciting path that she's going to be on in the next season.

Conversely, Darlene doesn't seem to understand the hesitation of her fsociety compatriots. Will that ultimately put her in conflict with them and Elliot?
Esmail: Absolutely. I think Darlene is at a place where she's the voice of those protesters and those people who are frustrated and are supporting fsociety -- supporting this looming anarchy that's about to occur. She's proud of their work and happy about what they did, but as we'll see in the second season, and as I think we've basically telegraphed, there are going to be consequences to her actions and she's going to have to face that next season.

Tyrell was maddeningly absent in the finale, but there was that great scene between his wife and Elliot. How much does she know that she isn't letting on?
Esmail: I appreciate the question and I would love to go into that, but there's a lot of spoiler-y stuff that I want to avoid by not answering that question. I will say that she's definitely going to play a bigger role in the next season.

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While I haven't been able to work it all out in my head, there have been times where I've questioned if Tyrell is real or another manifestation of Elliot's. Do you think at some point you have to establish ground rules about what the audience can believe in since Elliot is clearly an unreliable narrator?
Esmail: That's a good point, and I think the thing that I've always stayed true to-- I would say, the magic skeleton key to this whole thing -- is Elliot and his emotional truth and his emotional journey. So, when we discover along with him that Mr. Robot's not real, that is true. Ultimately, anything that we discover with Elliot, we can always bank on. We can always say, "This is the firm ground." And when Elliot's not on firm ground, we can comfortably say, "We're not on firm ground here," because he never lies to us. He's always honest as much as he can be with us, [even as] he admits he's our unreliable narrator. Honestly, if it wasn't for Rami and his great performance and holding onto that authentic truth about how he's feeling, we would've lost the audience already. But because we really buy that this guy really doesn't know what's going on, that this guy is blurring the lines of reality, we're with him, and that's the thing that's tethering us to this world.

Finally, you ended the season with that post-credits coda that suggested White Rose and Price/Evil Corp are in cahoots. What should the audience make of that as we look toward a second season?
Esmail: The ending of the season shows that fsociety's plan worked and Evil Corp seemingly has been brought down and the hack actually went through. What I wanted that coda to be is to be this other layer on top of that to say, "Hold on. You think fsociety is victorious, but there's this whole other thing happening above all of that, that is still going on. We're really not safe, and fsociety really isn't safe. Maybe the plan worked and maybe the plan went through, but maybe that's not the only piece of this puzzle. I just didn't want the audience to feel safe that fsociety's gotten the bad guys. I wanted that one last sort of turn at the end.

Will we see White Rose in a larger capacity next season?
B. D. Wong is one of my favorite actors. I'd be stupid not to use him again for sure.

What did you think of the Mr. Robot finale? If you missed the post-credits scene (or want to watch it again) check it out below. (Another spoiler warning, just in case!)