BY MILES SURREY
Mr. Robot is a show that rewards viewers' painstaking attention to detail, just ask the fans that solved its incredibly opaque online scavenger hunt for season three's first teaser. The cryptic narrative of the USA series—told primarily through its unreliable narrator and protagonist, Elliot Alderson—isn't lost on the actors, either.
Carly Chaikin, who plays the hacktivist coder Darlene, tells me one of the biggest challenges is that few of them have any idea what creator Sam Esmail's endgame for the series is. Actors are given the broad strokes of their character's journeys each season, but no inclination to where it's all headed. Perhaps that's where the eagle-eyed viewers come in.
I recently spoke with Chaikin about season three (which premieres Wednesday on USA), Mr. Robot's attentive fans, Donald Trump and what's next for Darlene. Our discussion below has been edited for length and clarity. This interview contains spoilers for seasons one and two of Mr. Robot.
MOTHERBOARD: Darlene's in a perilous position heading into season three, having just realized that the FBI has been onto her and fsociety the whole time. What's her mindset going into this season?
Carly Chaikin: I think the mindset is like, if anybody can imagine her being left with like the love of her life getting shot and dying in front of her, her brother being M.I.A. in their relationship, and the FBI has caught her and basically been like, "We know everything you're doing" and has seen it all. Needless to say, she's left at a pretty low point, I'd say.
And just like, what the fuck am I supposed to do now? Where do we go from here?
Mr. Robot would never be mistaken for a light-hearted show—even when it's doing a parody of a sitcom—but Darlene's arc in season two was especially dark. She killed someone, and one of the only people she's close with, Cisco, is murdered by the Dark Army. For you, what was the most challenging scene of last season to film and conceptualize?
The hardest thing to film was more because of the way that we were shooting, in block shooting. We block shot these three scenes that were in the kitchen in the Smart Home at once. Part of it was me telling them that I had just killed [E-Corp attorney Susan]. And then going from that, to the scenes before when we were trying to figure out what to do.
Being in that position of—I didn't realize how dark me telling them about that was going to get and feel, and then having to go back to the frantic, "What should we do?" That whole day of jumping between those two [scenes] was probably the hardest.
But the scene, obviously, where I kill Susan was definitely one of my favorite scenes that I've ever done.
And was that a scene where Esmail talked to you a lot about it beforehand on how to get into a certain mindset, or did you let you kind of free reign with it?
I just kind of did my thing. It's so interesting, I was talking about this with someone the other day, where, especially with us—with how heavy it is and how much stuff we're dealing with—we don't have time for rehearsal. You know, with movies where you have rehearsal days before you start and you can talk about everything. We have such limited time.
So all those scenes like that, it's funny cause we really have to do the work on our own and we come in and we walk it out and then just shoot. That was something that I had really looked at and worked on, and [Sam] was like, "I don't want to hear anything, I just want to see what you do."
We did it the first time and he loved it and we just made a few little adjustments. But other than that, I think he likes to see with what we come to the table with.
It seems like season two really established that women are leading the some of the biggest storylines of this show—especially you, Angela and FBI agent Dom. We even had an episode completely removed from Elliot and Mr. Robot. How does the show's treatment of female characters compare to what you've experienced with other projects?
I think there is no comparison to any other project that I personally have done. Not only do we have these three women that are each in such specific and different categories and represent different parts of the world—like the tech space, the corporate space, the FBI space—and just everyone wanting different things, but also just being really strong, powerful, independent women that aren't navigating the world behind a guy. Or being an accessory to a man.
It's great to be able to play a character that's not an offspring of a male character, if that makes sense. It's not the girlfriend, and you know, I'm his sister, but not just the sister to the main male character. We each have our own stories and purposes and things that we're doing. That allows us to stand strong on our own.
Mr. Robot really rewards attention to detail from fans. The show's Reddit is extremely active during the season, some called the Elliot-Prison theory from the season two premiere. Reading the scripts for the series, do you approach it in a similar way with what Sam's getting at?
Well, one: Our fans are so beyond incredible and geniuses, and so many of the things I learn from them. I'll see tweets about be like, "What!" I'm so blown away by how smart all these people are. Even the teaser that they released with that whole Morse code.
Yeah, it was crazy.
How did somebody even look at that picture and be like, "Oh, that's Morse code on the tie." I wouldn't have even looked at the tie. It's so amazing to me. They're the ones that really push us and Sam to keep the quality that high and keep things interesting and exciting because they do figure all this stuff out.
It was crazy, I was like "Nobody's ever going to guess this," and then in episode one they know Elliot's in jail. Luckily, we get told—I knew about that reveal before we got the script. But there were definitely things in general that none of us know, like where all of this is going in the end.
There are things that I'll see in the script that I say or somebody says where I'm like, "I know this has more meaning to it than just on the page." But at this point I just stop asking cause I know he won't tell us.
What's the biggest question you have for Sam that he just can't answer?
I don't want to say what my biggest question is. I don't want to bring it to everybody else's attention.
Fair enough. Do you ever check out what fans are saying about Mr. Robot on places like Reddit and with their theories?
I don't really understand Reddit. I tried to go on it and I get so lost on it, but I do like hearing some of people's theories and some of them are so bizarre I don't even know how they thought of it. And some are very like, "Huh! Maybe they're right."
It is very interesting just to see what they picked up and what they don't.
So what's the craziest theory you've heard or read?
I remember in season one, there was something about Elliot being Tyrell's baby or something. *laughs* Tyrell and Joanna's kid is Elliot, some weird—I can't even tell you, but it was about him being someone's baby.
And watch that be true. I have no idea what actually happens. But that one, I was like, "Oh, that's very weird."
OK, that's a crazy one. I remember seeing one where it's like everyone, including yourself, is just a figment of Elliot's imagination.
Yeah, I've heard that too. And I just—what if that was true, and I'm like, "What a dumb thing!"
But I feel like that would be too easy, to be like, Elliot wakes up and none of this happens. But that also could be true and then I just shit on the show.
Mr. Robot also really taps into paranoia in the digital age. Season two was one of the first times I can remember a show referencing Donald Trump's presidential run, which in retrospect was really foreboding and ominous. Will season three add any commentary about the Trump era?
Well, it's interesting because in the show we are in 2015. And so, in season one we were current with the present time, and now for the rest of the series we'll always be in the past. So we're in a pre-Trump world.
Of course, I don't think the show would be the show if we didn't have some nod to what's going on, but it's fun to think that we're always gonna be in a pre-Trump world. And also it's so crazy how we are staying in the past, but still so current, if not still ahead of everything.
What can you tell us about the new season, and what we should expect with Darlene this year?
I could not be more excited for season three to come out. I think last year the show was much more character-driven and I think a little slower as we got to get into everybody's minds and understanding everybody much better.
In season three, we come back and go to that more fast-paced, exciting, quicker feeling that we had in season one, but now coming off of season two where everybody has a better understanding of all of us. It adds that much more to what we have. But this season is super exciting, scary, very fun and we just continue the story and see what happens next.
With Darlene, we see her continuing on this journey of being, once again, stuck between a rock and a hard place. Where she goes—from getting caught and being completely put on blast—is a fun, fun ride.