8:04pm PT by Josh Wigler
'Mr. Robot' Writer Breaks Down Bloody Cliffhanger, Elliot's "Big Discovery" and Easter Eggs
[Warning: This story contains spoilers through season two, episode nine of Mr. Robot.]
The walls of Elliot Alderson's perfect little maze aren't just crumbling. They're full-on collapsing, caving in on themselves, trapping the people he cares the most about in the rubble.
Consider the list of casualties in the ninth episode of the USA Network drama's second season, written by Kor Adana and Randolph Leon. There's Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday), Elliot's childhood friend sucked into the vortex known as fsociety, left stranded on a subway car with fresh memories of a kiss long in the making, and two imposing strangers with unknown purposes. There's Darlene (Carly Chaikin), Elliot's sister who already killed once in the name of the fsociety cause, who almost does it again and instead ends the episode as a possible murder victim herself. Also in the crosshairs: Cisco (Michael Drayer), Darlene's Dark Army boyfriend with a one-way ticket to prison, if his shadowy colleagues haven't bumped him off already. And sure, dogged federal agent Dom DiPierro (Grace Gummer) is still standing at the episode's conclusion, but she's standing while covered in blood, closer to the deadly roots of the 5/9 Hack than ever before.
Then there's Elliot (Rami Malek) himself, fresh from prison, and once again lost in a sea of mysteries. After coming to grips with the reality that he killed Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom), Elliot is now left wondering if the absent ex-E Corp exec is alive after all — and if so, why did Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) lie about it? Better yet, why is Mr. Robot hiding now, unwilling to address Elliot's doubts?
For more on these lingering threads, THR spoke with episode co-writer and series technology producer Kor Adana about Elliot's current concerns, the kiss he shared with Angela, the state of Darlene and Cisco, and more.
The episode titles on Mr. Robot often speak to the themes of the episode. In that regard, how does "Hidden Process" play into the stories and ideas presented this week?
The notion of a "hidden process" is working on a couple of levels here. Obviously, we don't know where Tyrell is and Joanna is motivated to find him. Joanna enlisting Elliot's help in order to accomplish this is an attempt at revealing the existence of a hidden process. You have the relationship between Elliot, Mr. Robot, and us, the viewer. As Elliot's imaginary friend, we are always a hidden process. More importantly though, you have Mr. Robot, who disappears halfway through this episode. He's always been aware of what Elliot experiences, but it doesn't work both ways, so I'd say that Mr. Robot is usually a hidden process. This episode sets up how one-sided that relationship really is.
Terry Colby makes his season two debut this week, just in time for Phillip Price to reveal his overarching motivation: He wants to be the most powerful person in the room, in every room in the world, minus maybe two exceptions. How is Price viewed in the writer's room? Is he as powerful as he says, or is he viewed differently?
In the writers' room, we view Price as one of the most powerful people in the world. It was important to us to flesh out his character more this season. In season one, he was just a very strong force of antagonism. This season, we got a window into his vulnerabilities, ambitions and weaknesses a bit more. This makes him much more compelling and relatable in my opinion, even when he's trading countries like playing cards.
Have we met the two people more powerful than Price? Whiterose is a strong bet for one of them... is Elliot the other?
Keep watching. You will eventually find out.
Shifting to Elliot's story, he focuses his attention on Tyrell once again this week, thanks to Joanna's urging. We've questioned along the way how much Joanna knows about Elliot. As of this episode, it seems she knows enough to link him to fsociety, but not much more. What can you say about Joanna's journey this season? For someone so measured and composed throughout the first season, what have you learned about Joanna by cracking into her cold exterior?
The story that Joanna tells Elliot about her first date with Tyrell is crazy, but it establishes the dysfunctional, power-obsessive nature of their relationship. When Tyrell was around in season one, he was the one who couldn't keep his composure while Joanna stayed calm and cool. In the wake of the 5/9 hack and the disappearance of Tyrell, we had an opportunity to really push Joanna to her limits. What would make her break? How would she react if she were vilified by the public, getting mysterious gifts and calls from Tyrell, all while trying to raise a newborn? I think, in her own twisted way, Joanna truly loves Tyrell. I think that's what's so interesting about her journey. She's sure that Tyrell is alive and that he has a plan... and she seems to be supportive of that.
As Elliot further explores the Tyrell mystery, Mr. Robot disappears. Elliot, like so many viewers, is now wondering whether or not he should maintain his trust with Robot, or if Robot is violating the truce now that he's out from behind bars. Was it important to get Elliot feeling suspicious toward Robot again, to keep him on the same page as us, his "friend" — not certain in an answer, but certainly suspicious of Elliot's titular alter-ego?
It was important for us to establish that Elliot tried every single method he could think of to deal with Mr. Robot while he was in prison. None of that worked for Elliot. This is why the truce was such a big step for the two of them. They finally reached an agreement. Last week, we saw that there was something definitely off between them. So it's possible that what happens in this week's episode is the natural progression of that "glitch." Of course, the other possibility is that Mr. Robot is up to something. Mr. Robot's disappearance makes us question everything that he and Elliot agreed upon earlier... most importantly, the death of Tyrell. That's why it's so interesting that Mr. Robot disappears when he does, when Elliot is in the middle of trying to track down the origin of these mysterious phone calls for Joanna.
At one point, Elliot invites us, his "friend," to help him solve the mystery by studying his apartment. The camera slowly pans across the room, lingering for a long time. How does this scene speak to the dynamic between the show, Elliot, and his "friend," us? The show's audience often searches for clues to explore conspiracy theories, and some even predicted the prison twist as early as the premiere. What does this scene indicate about the show and the audience's relationship in solving the greater Robot riddle, as Elliot directly asks us for help?
Honestly, I've been waiting for this moment for months. I'm so glad this ended up in an episode I got to write. This level of interaction is very much in the spirit of our digital Easter Eggs that are hidden throughout the series. Elliot asking for our help elevates the relationship we have with him. It gives us an opportunity to get ahead of him and solve a mystery, which is something our audience is very good at. We want our audience to be able to "hack" the show... and that can come from a technical, psychological, or narrative place. Inviting the audience to help in this way makes this show a real, interactive experience. It goes way beyond entertainment that's being passively consumed. It makes you a part of the story.
With that in mind, how much should we study this scene? Care to point at any particular corners of the room we should pay close attention to?
I'll do my Best tO be helpful here. There is definiTely a hinT in this scene. I dOn't know if I should tell you what Main corner to look in, oR if the hInt is even in the corner of the frame, but Go aHead and study that scene to see whaT you can find.
Tyrell's true circumstances remain a mystery on the show, both for the audience and many of the players. In crafting the season, was it ever a concern for Sam Esmail and the writers about how long you can play out the Tyrell mystery without frustrating the audience?
This was definitely a discussion we had in the room. However, I don't think there ever was a disagreement about how long we would keep Tyrell's whereabouts a mystery though. This question was always intended to be a driving force of this season. We did have many arguments regarding how the Tyrell mystery would be resolved this season. You'll have to keep watching to see where we landed with that.
Elliot and Angela share their first kiss in this week's episode. It's Elliot who makes the move both to hug Angela, and then kiss her. He's not exactly known for loving physical contact, so in its own way, this is one of the more extreme actions we've seen from Elliot. Can you talk through his head space during this moment, and why now was the right time for a romantic moment between Elliot and Angela?
We know that Elliot has trouble with physical contact and that he feels awkward in social situations. I believe Angela has always been a slight exception to that for him. Even in our pilot, he avoids going to her party, but by the end of the episode, he lets her hug him and he reciprocates a little. With this scene on the train, I think the realization of how much pain he's caused Angela really hits him. There are so many unintended negative consequences to Elliot's actions and this is an example of him trying to reconcile that. I think Elliot truly believes this might be the last time he'll see Angela for a long while, and he doesn't want the moment to end. Even with everything going on, if he could just hang on to that moment for a bit longer, it's worth it. It's the realization that this kind of human connection can be comforting for him, which is a big discovery for Elliot. For someone who spends so much time in his own head, it's important for him to get a taste of what he's been missing. Deep down inside Elliot, there is a longing for a deeper connection to Angela, but he can't have that now... especially after making her complicit in one of fsociety's hacks.
What does the kiss mean for Angela, who just openly confronted Elliot about fsociety for the first time, as if that wasn't a big enough breakthrough on its own?
Much like Elliot, Angela is in a very vulnerable place. She took a big swing at E Corp and came to the sad realization that she can't really change things from within. They will always win. On top of that, she knows how suspicious the FBI is of her. She's at the point where she wants to cut her losses and confess, but she still cares about Elliot. When she asks him why he started fsociety, I feel like she needs some kind of justification for why the risk was worth it, or if it was even worth it. I think a part of her also knew that she wouldn't see Elliot for a while, especially since she plans on turning herself in.
The episode ends with another Dark Army operative opening fire on Dom DiPierro, then killing himself in order to "erase his history" and evade capture. First up, how many traumatic firefights can you throw at Dom before you destroy her enthusiasm for the simple things in life, like popsicles?
Let's get one thing straight... Dom likes lollipops, not popsicles. Deadly shootouts are never going to change that.
Apologies. Next, if we're looking to point fingers at who alerted the Dark Army to Cisco's whereabouts, Dom's FBI boss isn't a bad pick, is it?
Is it? The FBI decided to release a BOLO (be on the lookout) and published Cisco's sketch, which put his life in danger with the Dark Army. Dom was the one who learned that Cisco couldn't have gone far from the hospital.
Will we see the other side of this scene next week — whatever conversation took place between Dom, Darlene and Cisco before the gunfire began?
You will have to watch next week's episode.
Dom emerges from the restaurant covered in blood. Darlene and Cisco are the two biggest and likeliest candidates to have been on the receiving end of the shooting. Can we expect a major casualty by next week?
You should always expect a major casualty.
Well before the shooting, Darlene and Cisco have a few heated and open conversations about how Darlene's handling her role as the leader of fsociety (or not handling it, as Cisco suggests), and some surprising details about Darlene's past. Before that, Darlene nearly makes the choice to execute one of her own foot soldiers, until Cisco stops her. Who is the real Darlene: the person willing to kill an ally in order to protect herself and further the cause, the person who's in way too over her head, or someone in between?
I feel like she's someone in between. Darlene is in over her head and she's already shown that she's capable of justified murder. This episode is special for Darlene because I think it's the first time she realizes just how unfit she is for that leadership role.
How about the real Cisco? The noose around his neck is as tight as it gets, whether it's through the FBI or because he's just been killed. And yet, in this episode, we learned something more about the guy: Despite being a Dark Army foot soldier, he's the one who tells Darlene that there's no justifying killing someone on her own team. He's the one who pushes to go to the hospital. For a series filled with characters willing to cross all kinds of moral lines in pursuit of higher plans, should we maybe appreciate Cisco a little bit more as one of the show's gentler souls — especially as it looks like we're about to lose him?
Cisco definitely serves as the voice of reason for Darlene. He stuck by her throughout the Susan Jacobs ordeal, but we witness just how far his loyalties go in this episode. The combative nature of Cisco and Darlene's relationship often makes it challenging for one of them to make a real breakthrough with the other, but it happens here. Cisco gets through to Darlene and her perspective shifts, which creates a great vulnerable moment later in the hospital where Darlene opens up to him about her past. Beneath it all, she loves Elliot and recognizes that it was his leadership that got fsociety to this point, not hers.
Finally, tell us more about how Elliot's trick with the Pringles can works. The world needs to know.
This is an old-school hacker trick that gets you access to a far away WiFi network. The Pringles cantenna is a concentrated signal that amplifies your WiFi capabilities. You take a USB WiFi dongle and mount it inside of an empty Pringles can, strategically aim it, and you'll be able to access distant SSIDs and increase your signal anywhere from 5-22db. Think of it as a shotgun microphone, but for WiFi connectivity. Elliot has been incarcerated for 86 days, so odds are he doesn't have a working internet connection at his apartment. He uses the cantenna to connect to a nearby, unsecured WiFi network.
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