9:29am PT by Josh Wigler
'Mr. Robot': Cracking the Code on Angela's Adventure Game and Elliot's New Skills
[Warning: This story contains spoilers through season two, episode eleven of Mr. Robot.]
It says a lot about the current state of Mr. Robot that long lost psychopath Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) is finally back in the mix, and that's not even the biggest twist of the moment.
Sure, the return of Tyrell sounds a few alarms and raises more questions than answers. But those questions will be addressed as soon as the upcoming season finale, at least to a certain extent. Less clear: Angela (Portia Doubleday) adventuring through the wonderland created by Whiterose (BD Wong), which manifests in the form of a series of confusing questions, eerie children, and leaking fish. Then there's Elliot (Rami Malek), who not only reunites with Tyrell by episode's end, but also exhibits newfound control over his split-personality existence.
For more clarity on both Angela and Elliot's storylines, as well as the bleak moment of loneliness for federal agent Dom DiPierro, The Hollywood Reporter turned to technology producer and writer Kor Adana to crack the code on some of season two's penultimate installment's more surreal moments.
Before we begin… red or purple?
On a serious note, Angela's story this week takes a turn for the Lost when she participates in Whiterose's… game? Test? Interrogation? How are we classifying this crucible?
I think Whiterose would classify it as a test of worthiness.
The scene is very specific, from the memorably intrusive questions ("Have you ever cried during sex?" certainly sets a tone) to the room's deliberate design: the leaking fish tank, the Commodore 64, what have you. How much should we be reading into every individual element of this scene, versus wallowing in the scene's sense of unease? Ultimately, is this a scene that should be analyzed in granular detail, or is it more about feeling the sensations of discomfort and dread?
I have a feeling that regardless of how I answer this question, every detail will be analyzed. There are a couple of things going on here. The questionnaire in the game is designed to gauge how malleable Angela is. I actually love how the game's questions and the content of the phone call are reminiscent of those old C64 adventure games. The little girl showing Angela her bruises could be perceived as a test of Angela's empathy. While the rest of the house has a contemporary décor, that room feels like it’s from a different time. This scene always makes me think of 2001: A Space Odyssey, where Dave Bowman finds himself in that neoclassical style bedroom where time is completely warped. The room is full of references to time or of how time is fleeting. This includes the old rotary phone, the Commodore 64, the leaking fish tank and the “hang in there” poster. There is also this notion of games here. The little girl loads a game from a disk, which has some other fun games stored on it. The reference to Lolita is not only connected to the location of the key, but many of the characters in Lolita consistently engage in games and puzzles.
When Angela first arrives at the house, we can hear the Mr. Softee theme song in the background on a loop. What's happening here? Are you trying to torture Larry David, or is there deeper significance?
I wasn’t with Sam when he chose to include this song, so I can only speculate… but I wouldn’t be surprised if he threw in another indirect Seinfeld reference. That’s a great Curb Your Enthusiasm episode.
In the room, Angela sees a "Hang in There" poster with a cute kitten. Is this poster hanging somewhere around the Robot production offices? It certainly wouldn't be the first time… looking at you, Cocktail.
Unfortunately, this one didn’t make its way into our production offices. I did ask to keep one of these, but I never ended up getting one. There was an audio Easter egg that we planted in our fifth episode this season that translated to this image. It’s also in line with the positive affirmations that Angela was focusing on earlier this season.
The computer featured in this scene is a Commodore 64. For those who weren't poking around the digital realm in the early '80s, can you set up what the Commodore 64 is, and how it's significant to Mr. Robot?
The Commodore 64 is an 8-bit computer that was released in the '80s. It had 64 kilobytes of RAM, hence the name. That amount of memory was actually really good for its time. It’s considered the best-selling machine in history, with over 30 million units sold. I think there are a couple of reasons Whiterose uses it here. It’s a reference to a specific moment in time with regard to technology. It’s also a physically isolated machine that isn’t connected to any network. It can only read/write data to that 5 1/4” floppy disk.
The Commodore contains some games, including Maniac Mansion, one of the very first point-and-click LucasArts adventure games. Is this anything more than an Easter egg, or do you see commonalities between Maniac Mansion and Mr. Robot — both of them featuring narratives entirely dependent on the protagonists' subjective actions?
There are actually some other fun references in the listing of that disk. The games motif is something I touched on earlier. I actually do see some commonalities between Mr. Robot and the old Lucasfilm adventure games… like Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle, Loom, The Secret of Monkey Island. Those are some of my favorite games, by the way. However, in those narratives, you probably had some more reliable narrators than Elliot.
Angela fields questions through a game called Land of Ecodelia. It doesn't seem to be an actual game. Is there an elaborate backstory and set of rules for Land of Ecodelia in the Mr. Robot writers room?
I’m not at liberty to speak about this. Let’s just forget you asked me.
Interesting! Okay, forgotten. The girl asking the questions looks like a young Angela. Coincidental, or deliberate?
I think it’s safe to say that most things we do on this show are deliberate. The notion of “doubles” is prevalent in both Mr. Robot and Lolita. In our show, we have Elliot and Mr. Robot, who are two sides of the same coin. I think it was part of Whiterose’s plan to have Angela confront a young girl who looked very much like her. Even in Lolita, you have the characters of Humbert and Quilty who function as doubles in throughout the story.
Whiterose allots 28 minutes for Angela, which really is a lot of time as far as she's concerned. Angela has been a core person of interest for Phillip Price. What does it say about her that Whiterose has taken such a keen interest in Angela as well?
I think Whiterose gets into this a little bit during her scene with Angela. She’s curious about why Angela has been so important to Price, which makes her important to Whiterose. So during this scene, Whiterose gives Angela a chance to see things from her perspective.
Turning away from Angela, and focusing on a different Jersey girl, we see a very lonely Dom DiPierro conversing with Alexa, her friend and Amazon app, as she tries to fall asleep. Curious to know more about how Dom's scenes with Alexa came to life throughout the season. Are Alexa's responses authentic to the app, or is the Alexa dialogue invented for the show?
I’ve been waiting for this scene all season. It’s probably my favorite Dom moment so far. All of those responses are authentic to the app. Sam came to the room with this idea one day and we all loved it. I’m pretty sure he tested out all of these questions/answers on his own Amazon Echo before writing the scene. It builds on our theme of loneliness and connection in a very fresh way. After everything she’s been through, there’s something sad, intriguing, and a bit cathartic about watching her relationship with Alexa come to this point.
What do you have to say about the "condiment conspiracy," which posits that some of the blood we saw in last week's shootout was actually ketchup? In slowing down the scene, there does appear to be an explosion of mustardy mist…
There was definitely some bloody ketchup. British slang or spoiler? You decide.
Turning toward Elliot's story, he uses a technique to initiate lucid dreaming — repeating the mantra "mind awake, body asleep" over and over — as taught to him by his middle school friend "Sam." Maybe this is a better question for Sam Esmail, but is this a real story of Sam's, do you know? Or purely invented for the show?
This is actually a story from my past. I used to be obsessed with lucid dreaming and I went through this phase where I did an ungodly amount of research on the subject. The “mind awake/body asleep” method came from that research. Sam wanted Elliot to go through some kind of internal mantra that allow for the silent observer ability. He and the rest of the room liked the lucid dreaming technique and thought it was a great fit for what we were trying to accomplish.
Using this technique for the first time ever, Elliot becomes the silent observer, with apparently undetected access to Robot's actions and thoughts. Can you talk through the development of this new ability? What were the conversations that led to Elliot finally being able to spy on his alter-ego's private actions?
Well, we know that Mr. Robot has always had this ability. Mr. Robot has always been able to observe what Elliot does/says while in control of their body. For the last couple of episodes, Elliot has become increasingly aware of how this puts him at a disadvantage. Why can’t he silently observe? Why does he lose time when Mr. Robot takes over? Is there a way to stay lucid during the takeover? He’s tried so many things to get rid of Mr. Robot, but he’s never actually accepted the takeover and tried to be the silent observer.
There's only one episode left before Mr. Robot wraps its twisting-and-turning second season, and there are still so many unanswered questions in the air. What's Stage Two? Where has Tyrell been? Who killed Romero? Are Mobley and Trenton dead as well? What about Darlene and Cisco? With only the finale remaining, how much closure will we receive by the season's end?
You will receive a fair amount of closure. I promise.
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