BY PERRI NEMIROFF
Thanks to a stellar first season, USA’s Mr. Robot wound up being one of the hottest panels held at the Hammerstein Ballroom at New York Comic-Con 2015. Creator and executive producer Sam Esmail took the stage with stars Rami Malek,Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin and Martin Wallström to discuss what went down over the course of the show’s first 10 episodes. That being said, if you are not caught up on Mr. Robot, stop reading immediately because this panel recap is packed with plot spoilers.
Now that that’s out of the way, who’s ready for their thoughts on the big twist? Did they see it coming? Did they purposely telegraph it? How will they explore it further in the second season? Sadly Esmail was especially cagey when it came to teasing what’s to come in the new episodes, but he and the cast still offered up some fun stories, memorable moments and personal insight from making the first season.
Esmail thought Chaikin and Doubleday spoiled the big twist on Instagram. Before the season wrapped up, there was a bit of a misunderstanding and Esmail got the impression that Chaikin and Doubleday revealed that Darlene is Elliot’s sister on social media. Chaikin recalled, “Portia and I were in our room waiting and making videos, and talking about how, you know, people will come up to me and be like, ‘Act,’ and how it’s like, ‘Dance monkey!’ ‘Like, what do you want me to do?’ So I decided to do a soap opera.” She continued, “So I was like, ‘Fernando, you slept with my sister! My sister,’ like being in a soap opera and all Sam heard was, ‘My sister!’” Doubleday chimed in to add, “Within probably 20 seconds of it being posted while [Sam] was filming … he called me and I just knew with this stone cold voice like, ‘That that down.’ I was like, ‘OK!’”
Esmail actually wanted the audience to figure out the nature of Slater’s character before the reveal. He explained, “In that moment when Elliot’s sort of going through that realization, I didn’t want it to feel like a gotcha moment. I didn’t want the audience to be caught up in that. I wanted them to be caught up with Elliot and his emotional awakening in that moment.”
Slater was in on the reveal from the beginning. He recalled, “I did just have some sort of inkling and feeling that there was something up and I remember saying to my agent, ‘You know, would it be possible for this guy to actually not be there?’ My agent was like, ‘Aw, come on. That’s crazy! This is TV. They’d never do that!’ So when I sat down with Sam, I asked him. He said, ‘Do you really wanna know?’ I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ He told me and I got very excited because it was so out of the box.”
Slater will be back for Season 2. During the panel, Slater insisted that he didn’t know anything about his future on the show, but then Esmail interrupted and assured the crowd, “He’s coming back.”
Chaikin also knew that Darlene was Elliot’s sister all along, so it was difficult for her when viewers didn’t understand her character at the start of the show. She began, “Before the big reveal happened everyone was like, ‘Who the hell is this girl? She’s so annoying! What is she doing?’ And I was like so sad. [Laughs] I was like, ‘Everyone hates me!’” She continued, “After that came out everyone was like, ‘Oh, it makes so much sense. Now I understand why she was doing what she was doing,’ and a lot of people are saying, ‘I want to go back and re-watch it.’ So the whole time I knew that I was with my brother and there are little things like in episode 2, I remember when we were doing this scene on the subway and he asked how I know where he lives and Sam was like, ‘Give him a look. Why wouldn’t I know where you lived?’ Things like that, in hindsight, I love that people didn’t understand her, and then that happened where all of a sudden, everyone got it.”
Esmail was shocked that people didn’t figure out that Darlene was Elliot’s sister sooner. He recalled, “When we did the table for that episode, for episode 8, everybody when that moment happened just like flipped out. And I was genuinely shocked because I thought people were gonna put two and two together.”
Doubleday also addressed Angela’s major transformation throughout the season. “There were some points where I felt like I was just making a different movie.” She continued, “It was just fun playing a character that is corrupted so slowly, I guess, and in the beginning being this naive, innocent go-getting and then she ends up being this person that demands Prada shoes. I wouldn’t have predicated that. And even when Sam told me about it in the beginning, because I did know that that’s where it was heading, I just didn’t visually comprehend it. But yeah, it was a really exciting process that I think is still in the making for that character.”
Wallström himself is having a tough time figuring out what could be going through Tyrell’s mind. “It was so interesting. When we meet him in the beginning, it’s so easy to see he’s a guy in control of everything – of himself, his surroundings – and just seeing him losing that and going into all these different states of mind. It’s hard to tell where he’s at right now [laughs], but I think he has, or had, a plan, I’d say, yeah. It’s hard to tell where he’s at, I mean, in his mind.”
We’re not the only ones in the dark regarding Season 2. Esmail won’t even tell the cast what’s coming. Apparently they were pestering him for details on the way to the panel. Esmail laughed and explained, “When I tell them I don’t want to talk about Season 2, they interpret that as, ‘Let me just ask you three questions.’”
Mr. Robot isn’t a show about hacking. It’s a show about people. Malek began,“I was pleasantly surprised because as much as this could be a show that’s solely about hacking, it’s not. It’s about human beings and their struggles.” He continued by addressing the scene in Times Square; “[Elliot’s] major struggle is that he’s alone in life and he just wants to connect with human beings, so I thought, what better place than to have him alone in Times Square?” Malek also added, “This is my favorite thing to play with Elliot, is just how lonely he is and trying to find a way out of that, trying to find some type of home. I mean, it’s apropos that it exists, he just doesn’t even know it’s there.”
Apparently Malek can be a big fat liar. Chaikin professed,“I don’t believe anything he says anymore.” And she has good reason not to. Not only did he convince her that he wasn’t coming to Comic-Con, but she also shared a story when Malek made the cast think something crazy was going down. “One time we were in the makeup trailer towards the finale and he shows us all this picture of so many people in line and he’s like, ‘You guys, this is people waiting in line for an ATM machine. Something’s going on!’ And we’re all like, ‘What?!’ And then finally he was like, ‘No, they’re in line for a play or something.’” Malek himself even admitted, “I’m a pain in the ass.”
However, Malek can also be quite the sweetheart, too. The day they shot the scene when it’s revealed that Darlene is Elliot’s sister, he wanted Chaikin to be as comfortable as possible so he filled her trailer with candy. Malek began, “It was a heavy scene and I wanted her to be comfortable and us to have a lightness before so I said, ‘What do you think Darlene’s favorite candy [would be]?’ She said, ‘Gummy bears, duh.’ And there’s this really great candy shop in Coney Island, and so I went in and they have every gummy bear imaginable so I bought the store’s worth of gummy bears, huge ones, small ones, I filled up her whole trailer.” He concluded, “It was epic. It was so much fun and this is right before a huge scene.”
Doubleday thinks Angela and Elliot are far more linear than they may seem. “I view them as having this childhood bond with each other and I think that she knows that he goes through these psychotic spells and I think that they actually connect with each other because they’re both really lonely. They both want to change society, they just go about it in two completely different ways.” She continued, “They’re just corrupted in different ways in that she’s just kind of a perfectionist that believes that she can work the ladder and become a part of society and then she’ll change it from within, and I think that his character battles with whether or not he should protect it or destroy it in order to make it better. They’re really comparable characters.”
The Hammerstein Ballroom was packed with fans who are dying to know what happens next, but that’s not the only thing that matters to Esmail. “One of the things that I love about storytelling in general and the whole thing is you want to know what happens next. If you can get people to want to know what happens next, you’ve done your job. For me in doing this show, what’s cool is I don’t want you to just want to know what happens next. I want you to want to know what happened before and what’s going to happen if they make that choice. There’s a 360 view of storytelling. I don’t know, there’s just this weird thing where I think the mythology is not so bird’s eye view. It’s very personal, just as personal as the immediate future of these characters.”
So why exactly did Mr. Robot push Elliot off the boardwalk in the second episode? Here’s Slater’s thoughts; “That was definitely something I was nervous about. We did the pilot and this was the next episode. I was like, ‘This is how it ends? Aw, man.’ I called Sam actually and expressed concern about it and he gave me the overall big picture and reminded me that the truth of the matter is, I’m not really there. He does that to himself. He’s definitely dealing with a huge struggle, feeling phenomenal guilt about something that happened to him when he was a young boy, and the choice that he made with his father and really putting himself through all that stuff.” He continued, “Look, there’s the possibility that he was looking to, I think, deal with the anger and the rage and all the feelings that were bubbling up inside of him. And look, it was coming out in all kinds of different ways. He was talking to me, you know? He’s really just a pretty lost guy at that particular moment and faced with that feeling of looking to hurt himself in order to get over those feelings of pain and guilt and shame.”
While shooting, the voice in Malek’s head is actually that of a PA named Sarah. When one fan asked about the narration in the show, Malek explained, “As an actor, I think you’re trying to play the subtext so often and for me there’s an element of just having it in my ear, you know? In a hearing aide basically that spouts it all out, so it’s nice because you have your subtext playing in your head.” Clearly we hear Malek’s voice in the final cuts of each episode, but on set, he hears Sarah. However, it looks like they’re going to have to find someone else to do that job for Season 2 because Sarah was actually just hired to join the writer’s room.
The cast revealed what they’d like to see most in Season 2. Chaikin went first. “When Portia and I had the scene where she says, ‘You guys were never really that close,’ regarding Darlene and Elliot, that’s something that Sam said we’d get into in Season 2, but that’s what I’m curious about, their past relationship and also her relationship with Mr. Robot because he’s her father.” Slater jumped in next. “I want to know what happens to Tyrell.” Then Malek added his pick. “I’d like to eat something in the show and change my clothes. I definitely want a Shayla flashback or two.” When he asked Esmail if he’d get another love interest, Esmail wouldn’t confirm and just said, “Interesting question.” Lastly, Wallström threw in, “I would love Tyrell to kiss Elliot.”
Before wrapping up, Esmail did toss in one concrete tease for the second season. “This is the one word I kept repeating to you guys in the car, I mean, yeah, it gets really fucking dark. I mean, really dark.”