'Mr. Robot' Creator Talks Season 2 Finale, 'Star Wars' Inspiration and a "New Elliot" in Season 3

"I do love suspense [but] I'm never about withholding things arbitrarily," Sam Esmail tells THR about answering Elliot's fate before the finale's conclusion.
Michael Parmelee/USA Network

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Wednesday's season two finale of USA Network's Mr. Robot.]

"I love him." And now we know.

If Mr. Robot season two was the Empire Strikes Back of the USA Network drama, it certainly ended on some similar notes. In addition to Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) confessing his unanswered love for Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), Elliot sustained a major wound -- though no hands were severed in the filming of this finale -- and Elliot finally unmasked the villain: his father figure, if not his actual father, Mr. Robot, who has indeed been driving toward a destructive plan without Elliot's knowledge.

Robot, Tyrell and the Dark Army have joined forces to destroy the Evil Empire of sorts — E Corp, or "Evil Corp," as Elliot always sees it — and they're aiming to destroy the Death Star. But those fireworks will have to wait for season three. The Dark Army is in position to demolish the E Corp facility as soon as the company has consolidated all of its paper records in one location, the final nail in the corporation's coffin. A good thing it didn't happen in the finale, too, as both Darlene (Carly Chaikin) and Dom DiPierro (Grace Gummer) spent the episode on the E Corp building's floor devoted to the FBI team investigating the hack.

The pieces are in place for E Corp's final fall... but not if two rogue fsociety agents have anything to say about it. As was the case in season one, the second season ends with a post-credits scene, this time featuring on-the-run hackers Mobley (Azhar Khan) and Trenton (Sunita Mani) musing over the possibility of repairing the damage done from the 5/9 Hack. It's a pie-in-the-sky possibility, but a possibility nonetheless — assuming Dark Army operative Leon (Joey Bada$$) doesn't cut their time short, first.

For more intel on the finale, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with creator-writer-director Sam Esmail about the current state of Elliot, why he didn't opt for a cliffhanger regarding Elliot's continued survival, Tyrell's season two arc, the ramifications of the post-credits scene, and how the show will continue to be inspired by the arc of Star Wars moving into season three.

The climax of the finale comes before the final scene: Tyrell shooting Elliot. It effectively ends the argument about whether Tyrell is still real or imagined by Elliot. How important was it to you to definitively answer that question by the end of season two?

That was, to me, the season's arc. After Elliot's head-trip, that he goes inside himself and inside this illusion that he uses to cope with the fact that he's been in prison and inside all of this battle and all of the battles he's had with Mr. Robot, it's like the game is over. Elliot has to snap back to reality and literally, it happens with a gunshot, with a bang, by Tyrell.

It brings the season full circle, too, with Mr. Robot repeatedly shooting Elliot in the head in season one, and of course the gun in the popcorn at Coney Island. Chekov rules dictate that this gun had to go off at some point.

Exactly. And it was imperative that this was the defining real — and I kind of want to underline that (laughs) — moment for Elliot, because he's actually been shot twice in the show now. He was shot in episode four of the first season in that fever dream hallucination, and was obviously continually shot in the beginning of this season. This one, we wanted to make it feel very different.

Mr. Robot tells Elliot that he's willing to go "all the way." Apparently, that means allowing himself to be shot. Throughout the series, Mr. Robot has always read as an entity very much interested in self-preservation. What does it say about Mr. Robot and his commitment to the cause that he's willing to make a sacrifice play?

It redefines the stakes. Mr. Robot was all about self-preservation. Up until this point, that kind of included Elliot, because obviously self-preservation includes Elliot's body, if you look at it that way. Now? All bets are off. In fact, everything to him is about the plan, and he's willing to die for this cause. That's how extreme his passion is for this whole project, for this whole revolution. It kind of realigns the stakes for us. Now Elliot cannot even trust his life with Mr. Robot, which happens to also be Mr. Robot's life. It also raises the stakes in terms of the extremes Mr. Robot is willing to go through in order to pull off this plan. It's two different levels that have been kick-started and raised a lot higher for next season.

Elliot survives the gunshot, at least for now, based on the phone call between Tyrell and Angela. Can you explain the choice to at least somewhat resolve Elliot's fate and not leave it as a cliffhanger?

For me, it was never about... as weird as this may come, coming from me, because I do love suspense, I'm never about withholding things arbitrarily. If we're not going to pay it off with something new that could be impactful, or if the way we're going to pay it off isn't going to be impactful, it doesn't service me to withhold it just for the sake of surprising people. At the end of the day, I don't think anyone would have been surprised that Elliot is going to return in season three. Honestly, the bigger cliffhanger for me, if you want to call it a cliffhanger, is Angela's involvement, and her complicity in all of this. That's the bigger question mark I wanted to leave for the audience.

Let's follow that down the Robot hole a little bit further. Angela has been a mystifying character. She's been in the belly of the E Corp beast and really committed to that role. Now after her test with Whiterose in the first part of the finale, she seems pretty committed to the Dark Army. How would you describe Angela's journey this season, and where she's heading from here?

Angela, to me, is one of the more fascinating characters. What's great about her character is that there's an elasticity to her motivations. You think she's going one way, and then you realize she's actually going another. Portia pulls it off brilliantly. Just in terms of life, I cannot read Portia Doubleday. That's how good she is. I just thought it's such an interesting way to play the character. You can't quite read what side she's on, and it always keeps me on my toes in an interesting way. This just doubles it down for us. Now she's part of this group we never would have expected. She's shifted once again. But is this an alliance with Elliot, or is it against Elliot, one of her oldest childhood friends? That's something we're going to play with in an interesting way next season. One of my favorite Tarantino films is Jackie Brown, and Jackie Brown does it so well, where I'm watching the back half of that movie, and I don't know which side Jackie Brown is playing. I think it's really ingenious for Tarantino to keep us in the dark on that. It gives us suspense and activates us and engages us, because it makes us want to figure it out, as opposed to giving us the information ahead of time. With Angela, we're going to continue to do that, walk that line: What are her true alliances, and what are her true motivations?

The episode begins with the continuation of Elliot and Tyrell's meeting at Coney Island from season one, with Rami Malek in full Robot mode. Tyrell talks about the Red Wheelbarrow poem, and how it's the only English his father knew, and how he never wants to end up like his father. What is it about Tyrell's vulnerability here that Elliot decides can be useful moving forward?

Now, remember, this is technically the Mr. Robot side of Elliot. But I think what happens in that moment is he connects with this person. What Tyrell says about his father is something he deeply connects with. And we're talking about the Mr. Robot side of Elliot, and you have to remember, this personality really doesn't even resemble Elliot's real father, who was obviously a bit more mild-mannered and was not a revolutionary in any way...

In many ways, Elliot Prime is more like Edward Alderson.

Yeah, exactly. There's this sort of rebellion against the dad for being weaker, for not standing up against Evil Corp, for essentially dying at the hands of Evil Corp and never fighting back. That's kind of where this dissociation started with Elliot. Seeing Tyrell's similar anguish about his father, I think there was a bond formed there that probably led to what happened on the night of 5/9 and how they became a team.

When we spoke last week, Martin Wallström reemphasized his view that there's a love story between Tyrell and Elliot. In the finale, Tyrell outright says it to Angela: "I love him." What does it mean to you, to have that information explicitly out there on the show now?

The interesting thing to me about Elliot and Tyrell's relationship is that you can clear-cut have a good guy versus a bad guy. That's the way we sort of set it up at the beginning of the whole show. What's incredibly fascinating to me is, what if these two people actually have a connection? What if literally the guy we're supposed to hate actually loves our hero? And there isn't this sort of conventional antagonistic relationship that they have — that it's out of love, as opposed to hate, that there's this friction, that there's this battle? I always thought that was interesting, that usually the hero and the villain of any story are deeply flawed characters. Well, what if these two have the same flaws and are two sides of the same coin, and they both see that and feel that and connect on that? I think there's something a lot more complicated there. We can go into a lot of deeper levels into what that relationship and that conflict will look like going forward.

Do we know yet how far back Elliot and Tyrell go? Has that been established by now, or is there some more shared back story between them that we haven't yet seen?

No, we have met Elliot and Tyrell... and I guess this is about to be a big spoiler, but I don't mind saying it! (Laughs.) We have seen when Elliot and Tyrell first met, which was in the pilot.

It was a big decision to keep Tyrell away from the action for most of the season. Now that we know with certainty that he's alive and working with the Dark Army, why was it so important to you and the show to have Tyrell's whereabouts remain a mystery for so long?

Ultimately, this show is a mystery. It's about people who are in the dark trying to find out what the answers are. Every time they shine a light, there are more questions and more darkness. The big question mark from the first season was Tyrell. What is that? Where is he? What happened? Ultimately, I think it all fed into Elliot and Mr. Robot's conflict. That was very important to me. When Elliot makes that big realization [that he is Mr. Robot] at the end of the first season, he needed to reconcile that in this season before he could do anything else. There was a temptation to do away with that within the first episode, and have him return to the plot. I always thought that would be disingenuous. To go inside the mind of a person who is realizing this about himself, this is a pretty dramatic thing that's occurring. He's going to struggle with that. He's not going to be able to engage with life as is. I felt that anything to avoid that would be really disingenuous to his emotional journey. The fact that Tyrell went missing only fed further into the struggle between Elliot and Mr. Robot because Elliot started feeling this tremendous guilt about what he could have possibly done, and his imagination and feelings around that were run amok. That caused a lot of the friction and conflict between Elliot and Mr. Robot. That was the real key ingredient for why we kept him out of the season. We felt we needed to hunker down on the Elliot and Robot dynamic before we really re-engaged Tyrell in the plot.

Safe to say we'll see more of Tyrell next year?

We'll definitely see more of him in season three.

There's another post-credits scene this season. In season one, you focused on the illuminati of sorts, Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) and Whiterose (BD Wong). This season, it's the foot soldiers: Mobley, Trenton and Leon. Why was this the right note to end the season on?

We're doing two things. Obviously, we're answering the mystery about where Mobley and Trenton went off to. We're also setting up another dynamic in this whole web we've created, which is, there may be a solution all of this. There may be a solution to reverting the hack. Whether or not that's even relevant to anyone anymore, and whether or not anyone even wants that at this point, is up for debate. But to add that into the mix — what if you can fix the thing that we started — is something we felt would be an interesting dynamic for season three. The other side of this is that this whole show has been about these guys who really wanted to change society, to revolution society, and of course they didn't think everything through. They acted more on impulse and were a little bit naive in that decision-making. We saw in the second season that this isn't exactly what they were expecting, that we were in the hangover of this. Now we have those same two revolutionaries saying, "Let's put this all back together." It brings up this very interesting question: Once you break something, is there a way to go back? Or have you done something too drastic that it's irrevocably changed? That there is no turning back? That's a question we were interested in exploring moving forward.

Speaking about the original fsociety members, we learn in this episode how Romero died: He was struck by a stray bullet in his backyard. Should we take that at face value?

I think it's safe to say yes. There's a little nugget of information in the first season where Romero complains about the kids in his neighborhood. He doesn't live in the best neighborhood.

How much pushback if any did you receive on the Burn Notice joke?

(Laughs.) I was surprised! USA was totally game for it. They loved it. They had no notes on it at all.

Looking ahead at season three, given where we leave Elliot — with a gunshot wound, with the realization that Tyrell is alive, and now knowing that he himself has put all of this into motion — what can you say about Elliot's journey moving forward from here?

I've said this from the beginning: This is really about Elliot's journey. The first season being the realization and awareness of who Mr. Robot is and how he pertains to Elliot. The second season was the battle: "Can I get rid of him? Can I solve this by essentially destroying him?" By the end, we find out that it's not possible. The third season is really that next stage. The word I would use is "disintegration." What does it look like now that these two are completely not on the same page, that they are completely split and truly split apart? What does that look like? That's the next chapter of Elliot's journey.

How about in terms of tone? You and the Mr. Robot team made it clear that season two was going to be darker than season one. How would you describe season three's tone?

I'm going to keep going with this Star Wars thing. Maybe it's subconscious; I don't know. I've looked back on the second season and I've seen a lot of similarities with The Empire Strikes Back, in terms of Luke/Elliot going away and isolating themselves, while their sister is out there and battling the evil empire. I think this is the return of Elliot. Season three, and the way I've been thinking about it, is sort of the return to Elliot — but not the naive Elliot we saw at the beginning of the season. It's the Elliot we've seen go through this horrific experience from the first and second seasons, and with all of that in mind, that's going to make this new Elliot come into fruition in the next season.

Follow THR's Mr. Robot coverage all season long for interviews, news and theories.

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