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Is Mr. Robot About Time Travel, or What?

Let's explore one of the wackiest theories about the show

Tim Surette

The internet has devoted much of its collected time to three items: saying the stupidest things possible in YouTube's comments section, cat videos and theories about Mr. Robot. With Season 3 of USA's drama about corporate oppression underway and a renewed interest in the series after a superb Season 3 premiere, it's time to revisit one of the most outlandish -- or accurate? -- theories about Sam Esmail's show.

The most popular of the crackpot theories to be refined for Season 3 supposes that Mr. Robot, which has firmly been rooted in depressing oligarchic reality, is delving into the world of time travel. It wouldn't be that surprising given Esmail's documented love of science fiction films, but introducing such a strong sci-fi element this far into the series' run would be dangerous, if not outright insane. But you know what? If someone can do it, it's Esmail, and I just so happen to love dangerous and insane television.

To be honest, I've always loved this theory and have been championing it -- admittedly with lots of doubt -- since Season 1. The biggest clue about time travel came from Whiterose (BD Wong), who famously told Elliot (Rami Malek) back in Season 1 that she doesn't hack people, she "hacks time." What the heck does that mean? Unless she's talking about this, she has to be talking about manipulating time in some way, right?


Bolstering the idea of time travel and bringing it back to our minds, the Season 3 premiere featured Whiterose in the infamous Washington Township power plant observing a machine that looked like a massive particle collider or accelerator, real-world science that is -- at least theoretically -- our closest shot at making time travel a reality until we figure out how to not get ripped apart by a wormhole. (This interpretation obviously assumes that the machine was a particle accelerator, but until we find out what it really is, I don't have any better ideas and I'm bending my reality to fit this theory.)

That's good and all, but for me, the possibility of time travel in Mr. Robot becomes most plausible based on one of the show's central tenets: greed. Think about it, what would a super rich jerkface who has amassed all the wealth and power want? The ability to never let it go. E Corp CEO Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) has conquered pretty much everything, so the only thing left for him to do is the impossible. Time travel doesn't just mean being able to go back to last Wednesday with the push of a button, it could, in a sense, mean immortality. Or at least the ability to hold on to power. If you could relive your best days over and over again, wouldn't you?

That idea of the elite pursuing infinite power in Mr. Robot was broached in an interview with USA Today in 2015, when the interviewer told Esmail, "I'm excited to see where you go with this, this idea that the true nature of power is being able to beat time." To which Esmail responded, "You're coming dangerously close to some stuff so I'm going to have to plead the fifth right now." What are you hiding, Sam? Answer the question!

I continually go back to the Season 1 post-credits scene where Whiterose and Price were lounging around at a club for the one percent of the one percent, and how no one gave a hoot about the fact that the world was burning down and that their hold on power was being challenged. It's almost as if they not only didn't mind, but they expected it and were just waiting it out. Why? Maybe it's because they knew it would happen, and as Elliot said in the Season 3 premiere, his efforts only made it easier for E Corp to put its boot on the throats of the people. Elliot may think he's bringing change, but by his own admission, his actions are only helping out the bad guys. (Then again, Elliot is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, so we can't believe anything he says.)

Mr. Robot's Carly Chaikin Breaks Down That Eerily Relevant Premiere

The biggest hit against the theory? Esmail has almost flat-out denied time travel is involved. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly after the Season 3 premiere, Esmail said of time travel, "The problem with time travel -- I've always said in the writers' room that whenever you introduce time travel, it's game over. Then all of the rules go out the window. Throwing out time travel in the middle of a series run is a little late."

However, there's a loophole in his quote, aside from the fact that he never actually says that there's no time travel in the show. Sure, time travel may not be in the Mr. Robot timeline as he says, but it may be the goal of these ultra-rich. As in, time travel hasn't been invented yet but these super rich and powerful are on the brink of discovering it, hence Whiterose's metal monster and whatever it does.

Or maybe time travel is only partially right. Time travel doesn't have to mean someone walks into a portal/phone booth/DeLorean and pops out in another decade. It could be something simpler. If Mr. Robot is also about the ability to access information that doesn't belong to you (i.e. hacking), what if the time travel element is more about being able to access information from another time? What if Whiterose, and/or E Corp, is hacking time in the sense that she has found a way to acquire information from the future to use in present day?

Where have we seen that before? Back to the Future II, of course.

Esmail has thrown in several Back to the Future II references in the show -- it's one of Elliot's favorite movies and he and his father were Marty and Doc for Halloween, among others -- but why? Back to the Future II theories have been examined by the internet already, and there are more insane Back to the Future II theories out there (Mr. Robot is Elliot from the future, Tyrell is Elliot's real dad). But I'm going with a simpler version. If you recall the movie (and shame if you don't), Biff stole an almanac from the future and used it in the past to build up a fortune and establish his own -- wait for it -- corporate empire. White Rose or E Corp simply have their own "almanac" from the future, and are using it to their advantage just like Biff.

This is a totally wrong theory, but I'm sticking with it until proven otherwise. Maybe we'll tackle the multiverse theory next.

Mr. Robot airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on USA.