BY ANTHONY D'ALLESANRO
SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details about tonight’s season 3 premiere of Mr. Robot on USA
When Mr. Robot‘s season 2 ended over a year ago, Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) was left in a pool of blood after being shot by his hacker-in-crime frenemy Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom).
The former E-Corp suit swore to uphold the Dark Army hacker gang plan aka “Phase 2” devised by Elliot’s alter ego, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater): Bomb the E-Corp building storing all of its files.
Well, Elliot survived the gunshot wound tonight, but now he’s having a Jekyll Hyde crisis of conscience: Despite his rage against E-Corp, is it really right to set off a bomb? He asks Angela (Portia Doubleday) to get him a job at E-Corp so he can potentially correct the wrongs he’s set into play. This despite the fact that his Mr. Robot side is insisting simultaneously that phase 2 must be kept intact. It doesn’t matter anyway because as Whiterose says at the top of the episode, he’ll have Elliot killed after the Dark Army gets what they need hacking-wise out of the emotional guy.
We caught up with Mr. Robot creator, writer, and director Sam Esmail to tease out moments this season, deconstruct tonight’s premiere and talk more about season 3’s biggest addition, Bobby Cannavale who plays the Dark Army’s U.S. fixer, Irving.
You began season 2 with a two-hour premiere but opted to go one hour tonight. Why? For those of us who’ve been able to watch ahead, there’s a big shocker next week.
The reason why we started with one hour versus two was more about the production schedule. We wanted to devote as many resources to what was happening on screen. If we tried to do a two-hour premiere it would have stretched things.
We got to see a lot of Bobby Cannavale’s Irving, this Michael Clayton-like character who the Dark Army employs. Tell us more about how he came to join the show.
In terms of his character, we knew that the Dark Army needed to bring in someone to manage Tyrell and Elliot given their rocky relationship. Given where we left off in season 2, we wanted a fixer, and we’ll deep dive more into Irving’s story later in the season. Bobby is so much more than a character actor, and we needed someone who could find the peculiarities, who could be precise in the details in their choices with this character, who exudes an unsettling feeling and might explode at any time. Bobby embodies all of that. He’s like a powder keg waiting to blow. At the same time, he’s funny and whimsical. I can’t imagine anyone in that role. We constructed the character together making all these choices about his hair, his mustache, his demeanor. It was all a collaboration between Bobby, me and our costume designer.
We already had the character written and I always go to my casting director who is amazing and we do an open casting call. It could have been any ethnicity for the part, we were also entertaining women and I always want to be surprised in who surfaces. I got Bobby’s name through someone else, a random email threw his name out to me. I immediately sparked to him for all the reasons I just said. I think he has a very exciting presence. I often thought he might have passed if I directly submitted to him, because it was too much of a character role and not as broad as his other roles. But he read the first and third episode and really liked it. He and Rami are friends and when we got on the phone we really hit it off.
When it comes to additional dream-casting on the show, Christian Slater and Rami Malek have suggested Michael Shannon as Elliot’s brother.
I’d be a lucky man to have Michael on the show.
Darlene (Carly Chaikin) is quite paranoid that the Dark Army is going to kill her. Point blank: Is her character going to die this season? Because that would really shake up Elliot.
At the start of this season, everyone has targets on their backs, Darlene especially because she’s caught being an FBI informant, being Elliot’s sister and having a close relationship with a Dark Army operative. She’s triangulated. A lot of unexpected things do happen on Mr. Robot. In regards to her in particular, given the act she committed against Susan Jacobs, at some point, there has to be justice for that. And how that plays out, I won’t spoil anything. If Darlene would ever die, it would definitely rock Elliot in a bigger way then when (his girlfriend) Shayla was murdered.
All of a sudden Elliot seems to have a crisis of conscience when it comes to taking down E-Corp and phase 2. That makes sense for someone with his mental condition but explain more.
That’s the evolution of Elliot and it’s the dynamic we introduced in the first episode that there are two halves to him and they are disintegrating, seeing one half that has this conscience and remorse for what he did, and wants to repent and repair and go backward in some way. It’s a theme we’ll see this season: Can you go back? Put a situation back together? Is that possible? As Elliot finds out, it’s not going to be easy.
How has Mr. Robot changed for you since you first conceptualized the series? Much of what you’ve written or hinted about hits close to home: Russians hacking the presidential election isn’t that far from Mr. Robot’s Dark Army Chinese hackers taking down E-Corp, one of the nation’s biggest blue chip companies. Has society become more of a muse for you in this Trump era?
I would agree with society becoming more of a muse. Writing the ‘F**k me’ speech in the first episode, it was something we all induced in the writers room. We were going down this path well before the election, and having Elliot going through his remorse and take responsibility for what he did and really owning the consequences of his actions, even though it was his best intentions; indirectly this is what he caused (the outcome of this hack) and he had to accept it. Couple of weeks later, the election happened and we were disheartened. None of us voted for him and we all felt responsible that we had some indirect participation in this. We were ignoring the signs and didn’t do as much to support our side and we felt a sense of ownership and guilt. It just so paralleled what we were talking about with Elliot. In a weird way, the show from the beginning has this weird overlap with what’s currently taking place, what’s in the headlines. It’s partly weird, accidental and coincidental for us that we decide to take what we feel. And what is going on in the world right now filter through the show. We don’t shy away from that. We employ as much honesty. In regards to what is going on today, I feel that the show is a period piece of today. In order to hit that razor’s edge, you have to take from society and use it as your muse. Even though it’s set in 2015, we always bump up against the emotional truth and overlap.
When events like the Sony Hack or the news of the Russian hack of our election; we’re not shocked by such events, but they are troubling. The 2016 election I’m sure wasn’t the first one to be hacked, it was just the first one that was made public. Hacking is brought up more in the public conversation. We’re all in the writers room nodding: Of course, the Russians hacked the election, why wouldn’t they? Even though we don’t have an election hacking storyline, the overlap about the power of hacking is what makes this show work.
Tonight we actually get to see characters acknowledging Elliot’s split personalities than we did in previous seasons. Angela specifically says she can tell the difference between Elliot and Mr. Robot because of the latter’s eyes, and how he never looks away.
It’s a new dynamic this season and it’s part of Elliot’s disintegration and it’s how we dramatize this. What if Mr. Robot has a relationship with other people who know it’s Elliot they’re talking to? Angela perfectly manipulates Elliot’s condition again by knowing which personality she is talking to. There’s a lot of layers there and it’s very interesting when it comes to that: Angela isn’t betraying Elliot to his face, but on a deeper level. What’s more disturbing is that it’s a condition he has. All these physical layers make for good dramatic storytelling, but we also get to organically fit them into Angela’s emotional journey and Elliot’s battle with Mr. Robot.
Will we ever get to see Rami Malek play out an imitation of Christian Slater’s Mr. Robot on screen?
Rami does the most amazing Christian Slater and I’d be a fool to not show that.