BY JOSEPH MCCABE
If someone had said one year ago that one of the best genre shows of this century would soon premiere on USA and win a Golden Globe for Best Drama, and that star Christian Slater would win for Best Supporting Actor (for playing a hacker anarchist in the tradition of his Pump Up the Volume character), I’d have said they were crazy. Yet that’s exactly what happened, thanks to creator/executive producer Sam Esmail, whose Mr. Robot was arguably the biggest success story in original scripted dramas last year. Esmail, who intends to direct all ten of the thriller’s second season episodes, spoke about the show’s future alongside his cast — including Slater, Rami Malek, Carly Chaikin, and Portia Doubleday — at last month’s Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena.
After the game-changing events of last season’s climax — which saw hacktivist leader Mr. Robot revealed as a creation of our hero Elliot’s imagination (ala Fight Club), many fans are wondering how the show will move forward when it returns this year.
“I think the whole show has been about Elliot’s emotional journey,” says Esmail, “and I really wanted to focus on that and make it less about the plot. So, for me, the headline for Season 2 is, ‘How do these two guys reconcile? How does Elliot reconcile the fact that he’s just been [made] aware that he’s seeing this fantasy?’ That’s the struggle that is going to kind of take over in Season 2.”
It isn’t easy to top a twist like that offered in season 1, but Esmail says there will be opportunities for more surprises, provided they occur organically.
“I want to stay true… I’m not interested in gotcha moments or trying to shock the audience — even though it happens. But I think it really happens because, first of all, Rami brilliantly plays Elliot in a way that draws you into his psyche, so you’re learning it with him. As long as that’s organic, as long as that feels real, then I think the twists will come from there. But it’s not my agenda to keep shocking you. It really isn’t.”
Slater, who’s amazed no one spoiled season 1’s twist before it occurred, says it hasn’t been all that difficult playing a character who’s not all there.
“I mean, there were certain challenges,” says the actor. “But no. I played him as realistically as Elliot felt he was… I absolutely felt like I was there and a participant in the whole thing, and so I was as real as Elliot imagined me to be…. As much as this show is about technical things and computers and hacking, I think, at its core, it’s more about the human interaction with the people.”
Regarding his winning a Golden Globe award, Slater remarks, “The highlight of the night for me was I went to a party, and I saw Harrison Ford. I had mentioned him [earlier]. I said, ‘I’m sorry, Harrison, for the shout-out.’ And he proceeded to pretty much just smooch the heck out of my face. He tried to walk off with the thing at one point… I was, like, ‘Do you know what? The night is not going to get any better than that. So I’m ready to go home now.'”
Based on the events of the season finale, fans may be wondering if Eliiot’s longtime friend Angela (played by Portia Doubleday) could prove to be an antagonist in season 2.
“That’s going to be a big question in the second season,” says Esmail. “What I think is interesting, in just hearing [Angela and Elliot’s sister Darlene] talk, we are really talking about Occupy Wall Street. You know, a person of the Occupy Wall Street mentality versus the Wall Street mentality, and seeing it through the eyes of two young women, which I don’t think I’ve seen before. I find that dynamic really interesting. In terms of just specifically Angela, that struggle is going to be what kind of overrides her character arc in the second season.”
“It was interesting, people’s responses at the end,” says Doubleday, “because a lot of people were saying, ‘Oh, Angela has joined the dark side.’ I think what makes it really interesting is that I don’t think that she’s crossed over. I think that she’s more corrupted than she was in the beginning. But like Sam said, “Is she going to use that to aid her while being in the lions’ den? I think she might be in a little bit over her head, but it will be interesting if she can keep herself above water. ”
Esmail adds that season 2 will ultimately be about Elliot “really negotiating with himself.”
“I mean, look, it’s about a guy who becomes aware of his delusion he’s been having. That’s a tough pill to swallow. We are really going to go into the mind of a person who just has become aware of that and what is the next step to that. How do you reconcile that? Will twists organically derive of it? I don’t know. If I were a betting man, I would say yes…. In Season 2, a lot more backstory will be shown… The timeline is going to get a little clearer, not a hundred percent clearer because what’s the fun in that? But a little clearer, yeah.”
Malek, for his part, says that season 2 is forcing him to reinvent his approach to playing his character…
“Going into this next season,” says Malek, “I’ve been thinking, ‘How am I going to prepare for this?’ I mean, I can’t just walk into the next season and say, ‘I’m just going to take off right where we left off.’ That’s just not the way I work. So there’s a lot of preparation for me in wrapping my head around someone, trying to figure out what’s going on in his brain and dealing with that.”
“That’s a lot of work that I am going to be spending time on,” laughs Malek, “and it’s already giving me anxiety.”