BY SEAN T. COLLINS
Stylish cyberthriller. Anticapitalist agitprop. Cassandra-esque prophecy of doom. Experimental canvas for the auteurist creator-writer-director Sam Esmail. Surprise-twist generator. Think of “Mr. Robot” as a gadget capable of running all these programs and more simultaneously, making it one of television’s most engrossing shows.
It can also be one of its most complex and confusing. Esmail and company weave conspiracies into conspiracies, shift points of view and bury them beneath elaborate hallucinations, and rely on tricky hacker plots for their action sequences. Season 2, which aired in summer 2016, spent more than half of its running time immersed in a reality that only existed in the head of its main character.
Worried you won’t be able to follow when Season 3 debuts Oct. 11 on USA? (You can watch the new season on the network’s app and digital on-demand platforms.) Here’s a quick refresher on the main players.
The Mystery Men: Elliot Alderson, Mr. Robot and Tyrell Wellick
Technically, Elliot Alderson is Mr. Robot. Played by Christian Slater, the title character exists only in Elliot’s head — a mental projection of the hacker’s dead father, embodying all the rage Elliot feels against the colossal conglomerate E Corp for its role in his dad’s untimely death from environmental toxins. As a separate personality existing within Elliot’s head, Mr. Robot can hijack their shared body to advance his militant agenda, leaving Elliot himself in the dark about the plans everyone else believes he, not his imaginary alter ego, devised.
Season 2 embroiled them both in two main mysteries. The first involved Elliot’s short stint in prison after copping to a minor charge following the 5/9 hack — which the show kept secret for seven full episodes, depicting a false reality Elliot constructed to protect himself from the truth.
The second mystery centered on “Stage 2,” the mysterious next step in the war against E Corp that Elliot’s Mr. Robot personality helped organize in collusion with the sinister cyberterrorism organization the Dark Army. He discovers the truth from an previously hidden co-conspirator: Tyrell Wellick, the disgraced and unstable E Corp executive who was blamed for the 5/9 hack, and who had been missing ever since. (Elliot assumed he’d murdered the man and disposed of his body during a three-day period of amnesia following the hack itself.)
Wellick informs Elliot that they plan to hack into the secret storehouse where E Corp’s paper backup records are kept, blowing it up and destroying the company once and for all — but also killing everyone in the building. When Elliot balks and tries to shut down the program, convinced Wellick is just a figment of his imagination, Wellick shoots him, following the by-any-means-necessary instructions that Elliot had issued himself while under Mr. Robot’s control.
The Money Movers: Angela Moss, Phillip Price and E Corp
Angela has been Elliot’s best friend since childhood; she lost her mother to the same E Corp malfeasance that cost Elliot his father. By the start of Season 2, however, she’s working for the enemy. Her lucrative position in E Corp’s public relations department brings her into close contact with its chief executive, Phillip Price — who despite outward appearances had advance knowledge of the 5/9 hack, which he’d helped engineer with the Dark Army leader, Whiterose. He secretly hoped to take advantage of the chaos by instituting E Corp’s proprietary digital currency to stem the economic collapse.
When Angela realizes that Price, who’d feigned admiration and cooperation, is still trying to cover up something about the nuclear plant where the leak took place — and that the F.B.I. is eyeing her for her tangential involvement in 5/9 — she agrees to help Darlene, Elliot’s sister and an fsociety ally, in hacking the F.B.I. Angela then works to steal E Corp files that would get to the bottom of the power plant’s secrets. When her many secrets threaten to catch up with her, she kisses Elliot goodbye and tries to turn herself in — only to be stopped by Dark Army operatives.
The Secret Warriors: Whiterose and the Dark Army
A transgender woman from China who’s obsessed with the concept of time, Whiterose is the leader of the elite hacker organization called the Dark Army, whose operatives constitute the most formidable — and violent — group of cybercriminals on Earth. Whiterose was a key to helping Elliot and fsociety pull off the 5/9 hack. She’s equally crucial to Price and E Corp’s comeback plan, securing trillions of dollars in bailout money by way of her male-presenting secret identity, Zhang, China’s state security minister.
After she orchestrates Angela’s kidnapping, a bizarre, ritualistic interrogation ensues. The hacker mastermind tells her that her mother and her friends’ father didn’t die in a mere accident, but were sacrificed for a greater good. This backs up the previous revelation that Whiterose and Price have been in cahoots for decades, and that the Washington Township plant is a crucial component of their master plan. Whatever that plan is, it appears persuasive enough to get Angela to sign off on Tyrell’s shooting of Elliot.
The Failed Revolutionaries: Darlene and fsociety
When Elliot goes off the grid and into prison following 5/9, Darlene assumes his place as fsociety’s leader. It’s a position for which she’s ill suited, particularly as the group swells with hangers-on and resorts to mere protest theater.
Moreover, she and her closest associates, the fsociety founders Trenton and Mobley, grow increasingly paranoid after the shooting deaths of their senior colleague Romero, who was killed by a random stray bullet, and of Gideon Goddard, Angela and Elliot’s old boss at a compromised cybersecurity firm, who was killed by a lone-nut conspiracist. Despite the circumstances of those deaths, the group fears that the Dark Army will pick them off one by one, even as the F.B.I. continues its pursuit. An assist from Darlene’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Cisco, and their unlikely ally Angela helps them temporarily get the Bureau off their back by exposing “Project Berenstain,” an illegal mass-surveillance program that sparks a scandal.
The Dark Army, however, is harder to placate, particularly after Darlene impulsively murders the high-powered E Corp lawyer Susan Jacobs for her involvement in covering up the death of her and Elliot’s father. The group’s assassins gun down Cisco and nearly kill Darlene as well. Trenton and Mobley have already fled to the West Coast by that point, but the season ends as Leon, a “Seinfeld”-obsessed Dark Army enforcer who protected Elliot in prison, approaches them ominously.
The Law: F.B.I. Agent Dom DiPierro
Introduced last season as the dogged investigator leading the hunt for 5/9 hackers, Dominique DiPierro becomes convinced that Tyrell Wellick was a fall guy and strives to uncover the real culprits. Although she lives a life of quiet, internet-enabled desperation during her off hours, Dom proves to be a crackerjack investigator despite dead ends, F.B.I. infighting and having survived two separate machine-gun attacks by Dark Army goons.
After the second such attack ends with Darlene in Dom’s custody, Dom shows the stunned hacker leader the nerve center of her investigation: a wall covered in photographs connecting virtually everyone involved in the 5/9 hack, fsociety, and the Dark Army, up to and including Elliot. With the exception of Whiterose’s true identity, the entire case is nearly cracked — if anyone else at the Bureau believes her.
The Wild Card: Joanna Wellick
After the 5/9 hack makes him the world’s most wanted man, Tyrell Wellick goes into hiding, communicating with Elliot and his wife, Joanna, using only cryptic messages. Joanna, who’s raising their infant alone, is desperate to find out where he is and what happened to him — in part so she can access the vast fortune she would inherit if he were dead, which is held up in legal red tape. His increasingly creepy communiqués drive her to the brink and challenge her relationship with Derek, a bartender she’s been dating since the disappearance.
But even after we learn Tyrell is alive, Joanna is still in the dark. Unlike Elliot’s messages from Wellick, which were legit, Joanna’s were part of an elaborate ruse by the E Corp executive Scott Knowles, whose pregnant wife Tyrell murdered before his disappearance. Knowles attacks Joanna after this revelation, nearly beating her to death, but he doesn’t finish the job. Joanna survives, determined to frame Knowles for his own wife’s murder.