BY MATTHEW GILES
USA Network isn’t known for innovative programming — sure, Suits,White Collar, and Burn Notice have their admirers, but the network isn’t a haven for the sort of storytelling that has come to define prestige television. But Mr. Robot, a hacker-tech drama, broke not only USA’s mold but also the rubric of what a show ostensibly dealing with computers could be. Creator Sam Esmail originally intended for the show to be a feature film, and so the first season is cinematic not only in its scope — the initial ten episodes represent the opening 30 minutes of his “film” — but also in its cinematography, score, and quality of acting. Rami Malek, who plays Elliot, is a kaleidoscope of face and eye movements, tics, and long stares. He’s riveting as a potentially schizophrenic, morphine-addict hacker who hopes to destroy the world’s largest conglomerate.
Last week’s episode, wh1ter0se.m4v, was the season’s best, featuring several plot twists that not only advanced the story but created wormholes full of questions still unanswered. There are so many layers to this show, and Esmail manipulates reality so that its boundaries are unclear. To get you up to speed ahead of tonight’s penultimate episode, here’s our breakdown of everything you should know about Mr. Robot.
Who is our protagonist, Elliot?
From the onset, we learn that Elliot sees a therapist, avoids physical contact, and is an introvert. As a hobby, he enjoys hacking his friends to find out their secrets, obsessions, and other pecadilloes. For example, when he learns his therapist, Krista, is dating a married man, Elliot interferes and makes the man stop stringing her along. When he has finished hacking a person, he stores all the information on CDs kept in a booklet and titles them with popular dad-rock album names.
When he isn’t digging through the dark corners of the internet, Elliot works at a cybersecurity firm called Allsafe. His closest co-worker is also his longtime best friend, Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday), who is an account manager for Allsafe’s lone client, E Corp, a worldwide conglomerate that Elliot refers to as Evil Corp. Angela dates Ollie, a fellow Allsafe employee whom Elliot hacked to discover that Ollie regularly cheats on Angela.
Mr. Robot is told from Elliot’s point of view — he frequently breaks the fourth wall to chat with audience members, whom he refers to as his “imaginary friend,” so the reliability of events is sometimes very unclear. He also is suffering from some form of mental illness — at one point he’s in the hospital, and his chart indicates depression, anxiety, and mania — but the specific disorder he's diagnosed with hasn't been clearly defined.
We mentioned Elliot is an addict — specifically to morphine — and he scores from his neighbor/friend-with-benefits, Shayla. He has a rule: He never takes morphine without having a prescription of suboxone, which he uses to self-treat his cravings.
What does E Corp do? And does it compare to a real modern company?
Imagine a corporation with the seemingly omnipotent power of Google that also possesses the lax moral standards of Enron. E Corp is an unavoidable behemoth, controlling all aspects of life from credit cards to technology and the internet.
And also, why does everyone on the show call E Corp Evil Corp?
Because we are watching from Elliot’s point of view, and that’s how he hears people say it in his head.
What sets the show in motion?
Evil Corp is hacked, and Elliot is intrigued by what he thinks is a RUDY attack (R U Dead Yet?, a denial-of-service tool that slowly incapacitates a server through constant attacks). His boss, Gideon Goddard — who acts as a sort of father-figure to Elliot — is not, and he enlists Elliot to stem the data leak. They fly together in a private jet to the main data server to shut it down. Elliot finds the tech assailant, a rootkit, which is essentially a Pandora’s box of software that allows the user to access a network. While creating a patch to update and fix the security vulnerability, Elliot stumbles on a server named CS30, which contains the invading rootkit and a cryptic message: "Don’t delete me."
After a moment of indecision, he doesn’t delete the rootkit and flies back to New York City.
This sounds like a complicated hack. Did Evil Corp want a full report of the data theft?
You bet they did. Before Evil Corp’s review, Mr. Robot provides Elliot with forged evidence, ostensibly from the data breach, that implicates Terry Colby, Evil Corp’s chief technology officer, as the head of a hacking collective we’ll get to in a minute.
Elliot doesn’t have much sympathy for Colby, who is a CTO lacking the most up-to-date technology smarts. (“Even though he's the head technology guy at one of the biggest companies in the world, he owns a Blackberry,” Elliot says during a meeting with Colby.) But he could have held onto the doctored evidence. When Colby fires Angela from the account, though, claiming she wasn’t sufficiently prepared to discuss the Evil Corp hack, Elliot becomes upset and hands over the forged data.
Colby is arrested, and Tyrell Wellick, an Evil Corp official who started as a hacker before going corporate, is named interim CTO.
Who’s this Mr. Robot guy?
Elliot spots a man following him who is dressed shabbily and always wearing a baseball cap. After several sightings, the man, named Mr. Robot, sits across from Elliot on an empty subway. He tells Elliot to follow him … but only if he didn’t delete the rootkit (he didn’t).
They ride the F line all the way to Coney Island, where, hidden in the remnants of an amusement park, is a hideaway for a hacking collective called FSociety. There are five members: Romero, Mobley, Trenton, and Darlene, who wrote the rootkit and seems to be the most unstable member of the group.
Following the ethos of the Occupy and Anonymous movements, FSociety released their hack’s findings: a trove of Evil Corp documents.
Is Mr. Robot the leader of the group, then?
Possibly. We’ll cover this further down.
Okay, so now that Evil Corp has been hacked, is there another hack FSociety has in mind?
Mr. Robot wants the group to transition from cyberterrorism to terrorism-terrorism and blow up Steel Mountain, which stores all of Evil Corp’s backup data on tapes. Without that archived material, all of the world’s debt — mortgages, loans, liens — will disappear. It’ll be a massive wealth redistribution, one that starts an economic do-over worldwide.
That sounds dangerous and slightly ambitious.
It is, which is why Elliot strongly disagrees with this idea (while he is all for financial equality, he is anti–killing people). He devises a new strategy: FSociety will place a raspberry pi, which essentially is a mini computer, behind a temperature-control panel at Steel Mountain. The group will then be able to manipulate Steel Mountain’s temperature, and since the tapes are temperamental and will melt at a certain degree, FSociety can elegantly, and sneakily, destroy all the records.
This is an ingenious plan. Is there anyone at Evil Corp or Allsafe, though, who suspects Elliot’s machinations?
Elliot lost his father when he was 8. His father worked for Evil Corp and was diagnosed with cancer as a result of his exposure to certain chemicals at the job site. (Since his father also worked with computers, it means he was likely exposed at the office. Angela’s mother was also an Evil Corp employee and died of cancer, which is how she and Elliot became such close friends.)
Gideon, Elliot’s boss, tries to fill that fatherly void, encouraging and exhorting Elliot on multiple occasions, but when he deep-dives into the security files following the Evil Corp hack, hoping to find out which vulnerabilities were exposed, Gideon stumbles upon CS30 and becomes suspicious. He believes that whoever hacked Evil Corp still has access to the server and could again use CS30 as a front door.
Similarly, Tyrell believes Elliot to be brilliant but seems wary of him. Elliot is also nervous about Tyrell — he attempts to hack Tyrell, and upon learning that he barely has an online presence, freaks out. He believes Tyrell is attempting to entrap him, and in a moment of panic, destroys his own motherboard, which includes his computer’s microprocessors, by throwing the chips into his microwave.
Seems like Elliot isn’t in the right mind-frame to go through with the Steel Mountain plan.
He is dealing with a few hiccups. He and Shayla are friends with benefits, which is tricky because she is still his dealer, and another man has his eye on her: her supplier, Vera, who potentially rapes Shayla while she is unconscious. Elliot, looking to protect Shayla, hacks Vera, whose drug-dealing network extends throughout the Lower East Side (where Elliot lives). He then anonymously reports Vera (with corroborating evidence) to the NYPD.
Elliot and Shayla begin to date, and Elliot envisions a life where he isn’t carrying the emotional weight of his father’s death and has buried his hacking past.
That sounds nice. Does the relationship last?
Well, it does for a while. He introduces Shayla to Angela, Darlene, and Gideon, and Shayla makes him feel more normal … but now that Vera is imprisoned and awaiting trial, Elliot can’t regulate himself with suboxone (Vera was his only connect). Elliot begins to spiral, a descent that’s spurred on by the news that FSociety’s data hack revealed that Terry Colby, Evil Corp’s former CTO, was aware of the company’s role in the ecological disaster that led to Elliot’s father and Angela’s mother's cancer diagnoses.
Wow, this is getting very complicated.
Unfortunately for FSociety, Elliot hits rock bottom at the same moment they need to plant the raspberry pi. You see, Evil Corp plans to replicate all of its data and back up the Steel Mountain archive at five other locations, all spread throughout the country. Elliot is a junkie, and time isn’t a luxury.
Adding to their deadline is the impatience of their hacking partner, the Dark Army, which is based in China and is the world’s most dangerous hacking collective.
How did this premier hacker group get connected with FSociety?
One of the Dark Army’s members, Cisco, used to date Darlene, and even proposed to her (she declined). However, Cisco still loves Darlene, and helps her connect to the collective. Once FSociety melts the data tapes, the Dark Army will simultaneously destroy the records kept in China (these are also Evil Corp records, and are the digital copies), thus ensuring worldwide financial fairness.
Because this hack has revolutionary potential, the Dark Army wants to keep tabs on Allsafe — Evil Corp’s security force can’t know they are going to be hit again — and instructs Cisco to pose as a rapper hawking his mixtape outside of Allsafe’s office. Cisco gives Ollie, Angela’s boyfriend, the CD, which promptly infects his laptop, opening both Ollie and Angela up to a blackmail attempt by the Dark Army. There nude photos of Angela on Ollie’s computer, and she's also used it to check her bank account.
That’s awful for Angela.
It gets worse: Unless Ollie installs the infected CD at Allsafe, Cisco threatens to reveal the nudes and the bank records. Ollie is compelled to admit his affair to Angela. She says that she still loves him and wants to be with him, but first she needs to figure out how to keep those records and pics private. She uses Ollie’s Allsafe ID card and inserts the Dark Army’s CD at his Allsafe desk.
She then goes back to their shared apartment and breaks up with Ollie. Not only is his heart broken (or so he says), but when the Dark Army ultimately hacks Allsafe, records will show that the attack began from Ollie’s computer. But Angela doesn’t care; she moves back home to New Jersey to live with her father.
That is a boss move, Angela. So, now the hack is in place from the Dark Army’s perspective. What about FSociety?
They need Elliot to sober up. He travels with Romero, Mr. Robot, and Mobley to Steel Mountain’s upstate facility, but the plan is stalled while he dries out in a hotel room.
After he is clean, using a shake concocted by Romero based off a family recipe, Mobley creates a Wikipedia page alleging that Elliot is the next Mark Zuckerberg, which fools entry-level tour guide Bill Harper into showing Elliot the first level of the facility.
However, for the raspberry pi to be effective, he needs to access level two. To get there, Elliot verbally eviscerates Bill to get rid of him, and Mobley sends a phony emergency text to his supervisor. Now Elliot has free rein at Steel Mountain.
But then he runs into Tyrell.
What is he doing there?
Remember, since Terry Colby was arrested, Tyrell has been named Evil Corp’s interim CTO.
Will it be a permanent position?
He hopes so, but Evil Corp’s board has other plans. They have already interviewed someone named Scott Knowles, which Tyrell finds out after sleeping with the CEO’s secretary and then hacking his Android. Tyrell has steadily made his way over and around other Evil Corp executives, and he assumes Scott will merely be one further notch.
Okay, well, back up. Why was Tyrell at Steel Mountain?
Oh yeah — he tells Elliot he wanted to work off-site. While the other members of FSociety freak out, Elliot gets lunch with Tyrell, convincing him to eat at level two’s executive dining room. Since Elliot is still recovering from morphine withdrawal, he is considerably on edge and runs to the bathroom.
He spots a temperature-control panel, and, knowing it may be his lone chance, installs the raspberry pi, connecting the wires before and after Tyrell joins him into the bathroom. Tyrell tells Elliot that he knows he is responsible for the Evil Corp hack, though he has no proof other than the revenge angle: He knows Elliot’s father worked at Evil Corp, as his death was a matter of public record. What is more basic, and boring (at least to Tyrell), than to avenge the death of one’s parent?
Will he turn Elliot in?
Because he considers Elliot brilliant, he won’t. (Also, that whole lacking-evidence thing.) He leaves Elliot alone in the bathroom and FSociety returns to NYC, ready to celebrate bringing Evil Corp down, only to be told by Darlene and Trenton, who stayed behind to tie up the plan’s loose ends, that the Dark Army has backed out.
Did they give a reason?
No, but Cisco, Darlene’s contact, tells her that the Dark Army, which is led by a mysterious person named White Rose, had left the table long before the raspberry pi was planted.
Can FSociety proceed?
They can, but without the army’s simultaneous attack in China, a hack would merely be an annoyance (and would also alert Evil Corp to the massive vulnerability). It’s over.
Since Elliot wanted to be normal and have a life beyond hacking, this is a good thing, right?
Change “is” to “should be,” and you are correct.
What’s going on with Vera, by the way?
Once Vera went to prison, Shayla quit dealing, and she's now a waitress at a southern-themed restaurant. She is generally happy with her life.
But Vera figures out that Elliot was the anonymous snitch and instructs his brother to kidnap Shayla. The ransom is steep — Elliot has to break Vera out of prison. When he does, Shayla will be set free.
Is hacking a prison even possible?
It is, but it takes weeks of planning and coordination. Elliot only has 24 hours. After having breakfast with Shayla and confirming she is still alive, Elliot enlists Darlene to organize the hack. Their efforts are slow at first — Elliot is essentially being held captive by Vera’s brother and another henchman, and he realizes that the only way to control the prison is to physically be on-site.
He visits Vera, using his phone to probe vulnerabilities until he finds one that allows him to unlock not only Vera’s cell door but all of the prison’s cell doors (which would deflect suspicion). Problem is, Vera’s brother doesn’t want Vera to escape.
Isaac, his brother, wants to control the trade himself. He devised a code that the gang used to track murders, drug deals, and other crimes, which, while making for an easy case for prosecutors to crack (once they, of course, had the code, supplied by Elliot), also made their operation more efficient.
Their DIY dealing reached an all-time-high profit, and he thinks he can do better without Vera, who is borderline psychotic. Isaac takes Elliot to an abandoned field where he intends to execute the hacker, but Elliot convinces Isaac that if Vera stays in prison, he might make allies on both the inside and outside. Since Isaac’s efficient methods helped ease Vera’s prosecution and led to his arrest, that’s not a positive for baby bro.
Does this end with Shayla and Elliot (Shaylliot?) leaving NYC for a quiet life somewhere else?
It sadly does not. Vera is freed, as are dozens of other prisoners, and when Elliot asks for Shayla’s return, Vera, in a scene reminiscent of Se7en’s “What’s in the box?” moment, tells him that Shayla has been with him all along. Her throat was slit, her body crumpled into the trunk of a car. Elliot emotionally implodes.
That is terrible.
Elliot is a wreck, and he can’t depend on friends like Angela, who is busy attempting to find an Evil Corp whistle-blower to avenge her mother’s death. She makes a deal with Terry Colby: If he testifies as her whistle-blower, she’ll claim she broke chain of custody. What does this mean? Basically, when a digital chain of custody is broken, it means the electronically stored data on a hard drive has been compromised during and after the retrieval process — the hard drive is damaged or tampered with, or there is a link missing connecting the digital dots.
Angela essentially admits she made mistakes during her documentation of the FSociety hack following the attack. This admission taints whatever case prosecutors hoped to bring against Colby, and his case will likely be dropped.
What about the raspberry pi and FSociety? Is the plan still on?
Mr. Robot tries to rally the other members, but the Dark Army setback was too much — they’ve all moved on. Even Darlene, whose rootkit started it all, has nearly given up. She had been impersonating Cisco on the Dark Army IRC, attempting to set a meetup with White Rose, with little luck.
Well, that is certainly good news for Evil Corp. Tyrell must be happy.
Tyrell is fighting for his corporate life. He organizes a dinner with his wife, Joanna, who is an even more conniving and manipulative version of her husband, and Scott and Sharon Knowles. The plan is to find the Knowles’s weakness, and Tyrell thinks he has found one — he follows Sharon inside the bathroom. She signals her interest in him (ahem, opens her legs) and Tyrell walks out, leaving her sitting alone on the toilet. However, she later tells Scott of Tyrell’s actions, and Scott confronts the potential usurper with a warning: Give it up because you’ll never be CTO.
Tough. That has to sting for such a corporate climber.
It doesn’t last long. At a dinner to publicly welcome and celebrate Scott’s promotion to CTO, Tyrell flirts more heavily with Sharon, inviting her to meet him on the roof. They begin making out, but Tyrell loses it and starts to choke Sharon, ultimately killing her.
Wait, what? Does no one notice?
Not for at least 24 hours. The police come to Tyrell’s house to informally question him, and even Joanna is shocked. She thought Tyrell would merely sleep with Sharon and take incriminating photos. But she won’t let her husband be arrested. Joanna, who is very pregnant, takes a pickle fork and stabs herself, inducing labor, which gives the two of them time to plan an exit strategy.
Okay, so where did we leave the Dark Army and FSociety?
Well, White Rose finally responded and wants to meet. On FSociety’s end, the pi is still installed — Romero and Mobley ensure the alarms are disabled and temperatures will be controlled at all five storage centers. Since the temperature controls for all five centers are connected, Elliot simply needed to override the existing structure to have absolute control of the system.
Does White Rose meet with the entire group?
No, just Elliot, and at a random computer store in Manhattan. White Rose explains the reason the Dark Army pulled out: Gideon had installed a honeypot to trap the hackers if they attempted to exploit the CS30 server again. Elliot promises to disable the honeypot, at which point White Rose agrees: In 50 hours and 23 minutes, the largest hack ever will commence.
Does Elliot remove the honeypot?
Yes. He tells Darlene to distract Allsafe with an FSociety video aimed at the company, and while everyone is watching, he breaks into Gideon’s account to do so. Just as he’s finishing, Gideon notices that Elliot is the only one not watching the video with the rest of the company, and becomes increasingly suspicious of him.
This is all crazy.
It gets weirder. The plan is in motion and appears to be flawless. Elliot meets with Darlene, and they start to celebrate. Darlene tells Elliot she loves him and he leans in for a kiss, which she recoils violently from. She asks if he knows who she is, and did he forget again? He uncomfortably answers that she is Darlene, of course he knows her. But she’s also his sister.
I told you there were several totally unseen plot twists. He had completely forgotten about his sister, and when Darlene mentions it, his memories start to flood in. He attempts to hack himself, wondering how he couldn’t remember his sister, and discovers that, like Tyrell, he doesn’t exist online. He has no presence, even in the most exhaustive databases. He flips through his CD hack booklet and locates an unlabeled disc that contains hundreds of photos of Mr. Robot and a younger Elliot. He then finds a photo of his family, which includes Mr. Robot on the beach with Elliot, his mother, and Darlene.
I thought Elliot’s father died. Is he really alive?
Well, we don’t know. Him faking his own death and fooling everyone for 20 years seems too fantastical for a show as deliberate as Mr. Robot. But he could be Elliot’s dad, sure, OR, since Elliot is an unreliable narrator, maybe Elliot is projecting his dad onto another person (who has yet to be revealed). OR maybe Elliot is still imagining his father and he doesn’t exist. Though Mr. Robot did meet with Tyrell in Coney Island, so unless Tyrell isn’t real, that theory now has less merit. But there is also the possibility that when we see Mr. Robot, we are watching him operate as Elliot’s daemon, which has been explored throughout season one.
Go back to this meeting between Mr. Robot and Tyrell. That seems significant. Is it?
The meeting, which takes place in the back of Tyrell’s corporate car, opens up several different story lines. To summarize: Tyrell wants to know the details of FSociety’s hack, and Mr. Robot politely tells him, "No way." Tyrell then threatens Mr. Robot, saying he knows information that would be damaging to Mr. Robot should it become public, but Mr. Robot is able to convince Tyrell that revealing those details wouldn’t benefit either of them.
We now know Tyrell isn’t a company man, and he may have an ulterior motive guiding his (attempted) corporate-ladder ascent. Does he want to destroy the company from within? Also, since Tyrell is an ex-hacker, and if Mr. Robot is real, perhaps the two have history in the early days of the internet.
What is confusing, though, is what information Tyrell holds over Mr. Robot’s head. Mr. Robot has said Tyrell is all ego and no substance, so perhaps his nonchalant rebuttal to Tyrell’s threats was bluster — he really doesn’t want that information to see the light. The other theory, and one that is worth mentioning for how out-there it is, is that while Mr. Robot might be Elliot’s father, or stepfather, Tyrell is Mr. Robot’s son from another marriage.
That is so trippy. Did anyone see these twists happening? What happens next?
Who knows, but we have to hope Mr. Robot’s identity is clarified.