BY COREY NACHREINER
Hello, friend. Do you remember me? Because it’s been a long time.
That’s what I imagine “Mr. Robot’s” Elliot saying to us when the show returns for its third season on Wednesday. It really has been too long. If you haven’t seen it yet, “Mr. Robot” is an amazing, Emmy-award-winning cyber thriller on USA Network, and one of my favorite shows. I recommend it for its cinematography, music, acting, and story alone, but as a cyber security expert, I especially like the show because it gets hacking right (a rarity in pop culture).
In fact, the show portrays hacking so well that you can learn from it, which is why I started the Mr. Robot Rewind series. Each week, I analyze the hacking accuracy — or “hackuracy” — of each new episode to see what the show runners get right and wrong, and to explore how you might defend yourself against, or learn from the hacks we see on the show.
Besides hacks, “Mr. Robot” is full of mystery, intrigue, hidden motives and plot twists. Sam Esmail, the show’s author (and full-time director this season), purposely doesn’t reveal all the plot points or character motives at once. Rather, he builds his puzzle-like story piece by piece, doling out details sparingly, though sometimes dropping huge plot twists that give us a whole new perspective on what we thought we saw before. If you have a “hacker” mentality, half the fun of watching the show is trying to unravel Esmail’s specially crafted mystery on your own.
That said, “Mr. Robot’s” rich and detailed story can fade away between seasons. With an unusually lengthy break following season two, you might find yourself struggling to remember the show’s many plot lines and character threads. So, this article will provide a refresher on what happened last year, and offer a few predictions about what to expect in season three.
Season two refresher
Let’s catch up on season two’s major plot highlights before getting into what to expect from season three.
- Fsociety’s “Stage 1” attack left the US economy in ruins. By the end of season one, Elliot, fsociety, and the Dark Army had successfully wiped out the digital copies of E Corp’s financial records (loan and credit information) and their backups. During season two, you see the results of this “5/9” hack. With the lack of credit information, few can use credits cards or ATMs. Cash is king, though E Corp’s experimental new crypto-currency, E Coin, is doing well too. This economic collapse leads to many other systems breaking down. Trash covers the streets, protests are everywhere, and the country seems close to martial law.
- Elliot was in jail most of the season. Early in season two, Elliot appears to be living with his mother, meeting interesting and unusual new friends in her neighborhood, and hiding, off the grid, from authorities. By the ninth episode, Elliot (and Esmail) finally reveal that he’s actually in jail (something many observant viewers guessed early in the season). The knock on the door that ended season one was indeed the authorities, arresting Elliot for stealing his psychologist’s ex-boyfriend’s dog, Flipper (not for his involvement in the 5/9 hack). This was something I anticipated in my season two prediction article. While in jail, Elliot found that Ray — either a prison guard or the prison warden — ran an underground Silk Road-like black-market website on Tor. While pretending to help Ray maintain the site, Elliot was really outing this corrupt prison employee to the FBI.
- Dom, an FBI agent, captured Darlene and knows Elliot’s involvement with fsociety. During season two, we met Dom, an FBI agent who slowly starts to track down the players in fsociety. She discovers Romero’s body and his involvement with fsociety, tracks down their arcade hideout, and finds a shell casing there (did Elliot shoot Tyrell?). Later, Dom suspects Darlene’s involvement with the group, and turns up at a café where Darlene and Cisco were meeting. As Dom arrives, Dark Army agents show up to gun Darlene and Cisco down. Luckily Darlene survives. However, season two ends with Darlene in Dom’s custody. Darlene learns Dom knows almost everything about fsociety—perhaps even more than she does. Not only does she know that Elliot is the leader, but she knows Tyrell’s involvement too. Will Darlene escape the FBI’s clutches, become a turncoat, or work with Dom in some other way?
- Whiterose protects the Washington Township Plant, and recruits Angela. We know whiterose (purposely in lowercase) as both the female leader of the Dark Army, and as China’s Defense Minister Zhang, who “poses” as a male (hiding her true identify from her homeland). You probably remember that Elliot’s father and Angela’s mother both died due to some “toxic” leak in the Washington Township Plant (WTP). During season two, we learn whiterose has an extremely strong interest in the WTP. Later in the season, whiterose also kidnaps Angela. After forcing her to take a mysterious psych evaluation, whiterose sacrifices a significant amount of time (which she considers precious) to somehow convince Angela that her mother’s death served some greater purpose. We don’t know what whiterose tells Angela in this time, but she appears to have convinced Angela to work with the Dark Army.
- Tyrell revealed Elliot’s (Mr. Robot’s) “Stage 2” plan. During season two, we learn that Elliot’s alter, Mr. Robot, planned a “Stage 2” attack against E Corp. Remember, Stage 1, or the 5/9 attack, destroyed all of E Corp’s digital records. In the season two finale, Tyrell reveals, or helps Elliot remember Stage 2. In short, E Corp has been shipping all paper financial records to one of their buildings in New York. Using these physical backups, the corporation plans to rebuild their financial data. However, Elliot (Mr. Robot) hopes to destroy that building, and its paper records, by hacking the building’s networked battery backup systems (read about the hack in this article). After learning this, Elliot tries to reverse the plan to avoid killing innocents. Before he can, Tyrell shoots him (proving Tyrells is a real person, and not another Elliot alter). Though we know Elliot is alive, we never see whether Stage 2 succeeds.
- Tyrell, Angela, and the Dark Army are in cahoots. During these Stage 2 scenes, we learn Tyrell has been working with the Dark Army for quite some time (which means Mr. Robot has as well). However, after he shoots Elliot, we see an emotionally distraught Tyrell call Angela! Angela has been working with Tyrell too, showing us that whiterose’s talk seems to have been convincing.
- It may be possible to reverse the 5/9 hack. In the last episode’s post-credit sequence, we learn that Trenton and Mobley seem to have escaped the authorities, and are on the lam, working as technicians at an electronics store. During this scene, Trenton divulges that she may know a way to reverse the 5/9 hack, which could assuage some of the damage it caused. Before they finish this discussion, Leon—the Dark Army assassin—asks them for the time. Will Trenton and Mobley have a chance to redeem themselves, or has Leon come to erase them?
Hopefully that quick refresher reminds you of the show’s primary storylines, but if you want a visual reminder, check out this video recap from USA Networks:
Season three predictions
Now that we’ve covered the main plot points, you probably remember some of the show’s unresolved mysteries. Does the Stage 2 attack succeed? Is Mr. Robot working against Elliot, or does he somehow have his best interest in mind. What does whiterose have hidden at the Washington Township Plant, and what does she hope to gain from the 5/9 hack (Price seems to want to control economies through E Coin)? Who is Angela working for now — her own self-interests, fsociety, E Corp, or the Dark Army? How might Mobley and Trenton reverse the 5/9 attack, or will Leon kill them first? Will Dom catch Elliot and others, and will Darlene help? Does Elliot just have a mental illness (DID), or is there another reason that his own alters seem to work against him?
While I have personal theories for all these questions, I’m not sure I want to spoil the fun by sharing them all. That said, let me share some of my predictions for season three.
- Prediction 1: The answers to these mysteries will be based in reality, not fiction. “Mr. Robot” is full of fun references, hidden clues, and likely even some red herrings. If you watch closely, you’ll find references to “Back to the Future” and other movies, old conspiracy theories, hypothetical science, and much more. You’ve also learned that every detail Esmail crafts into his story — from set dressing, to costumes, to dialog choices — has a purpose. Nothing is accidental. Between some of the fantastical references, and Esmail’s deliberately hidden details, I think many fans overanalyze every little clue and reference in the show (I’m certainly guilty). As we try to unravel Esmail’s puzzle on our own, we stretch to draw connections between these elements, which results in some quite creative theories. If you follow fan sites, you might have seen theories involving things like time travel, alternate universes, and more. While exploring these ideas can be fun, I personally believe whatever twists Esmail reveals will have a strong basis in reality, not fiction. He has planted the Mr. Robot universe solidly in the real world, down to real-life hacking techniques. I don’t think he’ll “jump the shark” with any overly science fiction twists.
- Prediction 2: E Corp’s ENCRYPTED data will get recovered. If you’ve followed my Mr. Robot Rewind series from the beginning, you’ll remember I was kind of confused as to why fsociety encrypted all of E Corp’s data, rather than outright destroying it. It’s clear Elliot knows how to use secure delete programs, since we’ve actually seen him use those tools. So, why would you encrypt something that you never plan to recover… why not just delete it? At the end of season two, Trenton mentioned there could be a way to reverse 5/9. Perhaps they can decrypt E Corp’s data.
- Prediction 3: Dom and Darlene will work together. Things aren’t looking good for Darlene at the end of season two. She’s a known 5/9 participant and murderer, in Dom’s custody. She should be arrested and put in jail, but it’s clear Dom is not your typical FBI agent. She seems driven to solve this 5/9 case for reasons beyond just “the law.” In fact, Dom and Darlene are somehow similar — two sides of the same coin. I think we’ll see Dom let Darlene go, but then work with her to figure out what Elliot and the Dark Army are up to.
- Prediction 4: The Stage 2 attack will not work as expected. I’m mixed on this prediction. On one hand, I feel like E Corp’s paper records will be destroyed as a story element. However, if you read my analysis of the Stage 2 hack, you’ll know I don’t think it’s realistic for the battery backup hack to cause enough damaged to destroy a building. I don’t think we’ll see the E Corp building blow up or collapse in season three, rather something else will have to happen within the facility to destroy the paper records.
- Prediction 5: The Washington Township Plant will involve something nuclear. This prediction sounds so pedestrian that it seems unlikely. In a show where the writer likes surprises, you don’t expect answers to be so obvious. Nonetheless, I can’t help but continue thinking that whiterose has nuclear interests. Besides the fact that something at the WTP made Elliot and Angela’s parents sick, Price and whiterose have both mentioned things (like the Congo) that are likely tied to nuclear materials. Furthermore, whiterose is also the defense minister of a nation state with nuclear and defense interests. Perhaps the WTP stockpiles nuclear waste that will be exploited as a significant weapon?
- Prediction 6: Elliot’s alters are implanted—his mind’s been hacked. OK. This might be my craziest sounding prediction. It almost contradicts the first prediction I mentioned (things will be reality-based). Nonetheless, could someone have implanted Mr. Robot, and Elliot’s other possible alternate personalities, in his head to do their bidding? This crazy theory might be more reality-based than it sounds. We know government intelligence agencies have allegedly experimented with drugs and hypnotic suggestion in the past. And fiction about government brainwashing, like “The Manchurian Candidate”, has at least some basis in reality. Could someone have “programmed” Elliot using hypnosis or something similar? Why else would Mr. Robot seem to aggressively work against the “good” Elliot that most of us love and prefer? On top of that, lucid dreaming and Krista’s psychological techniques seem to help Elliot remember some of the things his alter wants to hide. Can you fight hypnosis with hypnosis? I think there might be something more intentional behind Elliot’s alternate personalities than we’ve seen so far.
Whether my predictions are on point or way off, I think Esmail will provide very clear answers to all these mysteries by the end (unlike other shows … I’m looking at you “Lost’!). It might take until the very last episode, so you just have to hang in there no matter how puzzling the show becomes.
My final prediction is that season three will be fast-paced and plot-focused, addressing many more mysteries than seasons past. Tune in Wednesday to see what happens, and join me on GeekWire over the next few months to explore the hackuracy of “Mr. Robot” season three.