'Mr. Robot' Producer Decodes That Heartbreaking Death Scene

Producer, writer and technology expert Kor Adana joins THR every week to discuss the latest episode of the USA thriller.
Peter Kramer/USA Network

[Warning: this story contains spoilers for season three, episode seven of USA Network's Mr. Robot, called "eps3.6_fredrick&tanya.chk."]

And then there were two. Three, technically, if you view Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) and Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) as separate entities.

In any event, the roster of original fsociety members has slimmed down significantly following the most recent episode of USA Network's Mr. Robot, which ended with the deaths of two characters first introduced in the series premiere: Sunil "Mobley" Markesh and Shama "Trenton" Biswas, the computer hackers played by Azhar Khan and Sunita Mani respectively. Now, only Elliot and Darlene (Carly Chaikin) remain from the show's original group of hackers, the darker personality lurking within Elliot notwithstanding.

Fearing for their lives due to the role they played in the Five/Nine Hack, Trenton and Mobley left New York City for Arizona midway through season two, where they tried to start over with brand new lives. The final scene of that season featured the unlikely pair debating whether or not they could undo the damage done in the hack, only for Dark Army agent Leon (Joey Badass) to arrive at the height of their conversation.

Listen to the latest episode of THR and Post Show Recaps' Mr. Robot podcast, in which hosts Josh Wigler and Antonio Mazzaro break down Trenton and Mobley's deaths.

The seventh episode of season three picks up shortly after season two collision, as Leon plays babysitter to Trenton and Mobley for purposes unknown. Throughout the hour, it appears the Dark Army has a role for the fsociety hackers, one that involves their continued safety — but in the final scene, it's made clear that Trenton and Mobley are being set up as the patsies for the Stage Two attack, killed by Dark Army agents, their deaths staged as suicides. Now, not only are two of the show's lighter characters dead, their demise also serves as a cover story for Whiterose (BD Wong) and her twisted mass murder plot, which was only enacted as a means of putting E Corp CEO Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) in his place.

It's a brutal ending for Trenton and Mobley, far from the biggest players in the Mr. Robot universe, but beloved figures all the same. For more on their deaths and what their tragic fate means for the show moving forward, THR turns once again to writer-producer Kor Adana, who discusses the deaths of Trenton and Mobley as well as the rest of the fallout from the Stage Two attack.

You monsters. Don't you know it's Thanksgiving?

So foul and fair a day I have not seen. 3

We are monsters. I knew this would upset you. Trust me. It upsets me, too. It took every ounce of self-control I had to stay silent last week when you said you'd be done with the show if anything happened to Mobley. Here we are. Are you going to keep watching? Also, since you brought it up, the reality/history of Thanksgiving is pretty sad and brutal, too.

Talk me through the decision to kill Trenton and Mobley. It's hard to imagine the writers approached these deaths lightly — they are two of the only original fsociety members still on the board, after all, or at least they were until this episode.

We had many heated debates dating back to the early days of season two about if, when, and how the other members of fsociety would meet their end. With Trenton and Mobley, we're essentially paying off the season two post-credits coda, that oner where Leon shows up at Fry's in Arizona to greet Trenton and Mobley. Another thing to consider is that 71 buildings just exploded. People died in the Cyber Bombings, but we (and our characters) don't really know any of them. Planting the loss of Trenton and Mobley on the same day of the bombings allowed us to steep our viewers into the collective misery that the rest of our Mr. Robot world is experiencing. We already know and love Trenton and Mobley, so from an emotional perspective, their deaths allow us to experience the anguish and loss that everyone else is dealing with.

Not only are Trenton and Mobley brutally murdered, they die with their names wrongly attached to the Stage Two terrorist attack. Referring to this as salt in the wound is like Whiterose referring to Stage Two as a slap on Phillip Price's wrist. How did the writers' room arrive at this idea? Was this planned as far back as season two's post-credits scene with Trenton and Mobley?

This particular decision was not planned at the end of season two. The idea to connect fsociety to Iran came up when we were breaking the overall direction of season three. Whiterose lays the foundation for this Iranian frame job early this season. Once we figured out that Whiterose is setting up Iran to take the fall for Five/Nine, it gave us a narrative milestone to build toward and we could start connecting other storylines to it. It felt organic to incorporate Mobley and Trenton into that frame job because we knew that there was already a Dark Army presence in Arizona with them (Leon). When we decided on moving forward with the Cyber Bombings, we had another act of terror that we could connect to the frame job. There's also a disappointing commentary here on how we choose to label terrorists in this country. In Frank Cody's (Erik Jensen) words, Iran sounds "brown enough" for the public to easily accept it. Similar to most of the heartbreaking decisions we make on this show, we were excited to explore how this news would affect our other characters.  

Earlier in the season, in a scene with Irving (Bobby Cannavale), Leon made a remark about how he "isn't a big fan of murder," that he "respects life and all." At the time, it felt like the show was offering fans of Trenton and Mobley a sigh of relief, since he was last seen hovering over them both. Was that by design — a remark made to give viewers a false sense of hope?

Here's a little bit of trivia for you. In an early draft, it was going to be Leon who forced Trenton and Mobley to kill themselves. After reading that, we decided that it would be impossible for our viewers to forgive Leon for such a vicious act, even if he was just following Whiterose's orders. From there, Leon's involvement evolved into the chaperone role that's in the episode now. He's just doing his job. He hopes it works out well for Trenton and Mobley because he actually likes them. Was our goal to give viewers a false sense of hope? Partly. We also threw in the "respect life" and "isn't a big fan of murder" lines to help our cause in keeping you on Leon's side, even after the dark events of this episode.

I also want to take a moment to recognize Adam Penn's brilliant script for this episode. No one can write dialogue for Leon like Adam. Actually, Adam is the one who introduced [creator Sam Esmail] to the music of Joey Badass back in season one, which eventually led to Joey being cast as Leon in season two. 

There's a lot of comedy involved with Trenton and Mobley during their scenes in the episode, what with the getaway attempt, the Juanita Rosenberg of it all, and Leon comparing them to George and Elaine from Seinfeld. How much was this an attempt to lull viewers into a false sense of security about these characters making it out of the episode alive, versus wanting to add some levity to two beloved characters knowing you were about to remove them from the equation?

I believe it's the latter. We wanted to enjoy Trenton and Mobley one last time with a moment of levity before things got too dark and depressing. I would argue that these light-hearted moments are precursors to major deaths in stories these days. I don't know if viewers even fall for that false sense of security anymore because it's been used on them so many times before. That was definitely a concern with this episode. Last season, in the episode where a Dark Army operative rides up on a crotch rocket and shoots up that restaurant, Cisco (Michael Drayer) and Darlene share a light-hearted moment of levity moments before. What that episode aired, I remember reading tweets about how "Cisco is gonna die" and "things are going too well for these two." It's hard to pull that kind of thing off when you have a really smart audience. The reason I think it worked here is because Mobley and Trenton are locked into an intense situation. Sure, they're talking about JDate, 23andMe and Seinfeld, but they're also handcuffed in the backseat of a car, watching Leon dig a grave. That ambiguity helped in creating the question: are they going to make it out of this alive or not?

Can you talk through the way their deaths play out — their final moments in the garage juxtaposed with the SWAT team's approach, only for our perception of time to be off? And what went into the decision to only show Mobley and Trenton's bodies, not the actual act of their deaths?

The SWAT team's approach and the moments leading up to Trenton and Mobley's deaths were originally scripted as separate scenes. John Petaja, the outstanding editor of this episode, tried something out by intercutting these two scenes. The thinking here was, if we saw that scene with the Dark Army agents and Trenton and Mobley first, we know that these characters are screwed. Showing the SWAT raid after that would've been an exercise of finding evidence. With the intercutting, it turned into a sequence that makes you think, "Will they get out of this?" These are major characters, so you hope that somehow the SWAT team will come in and save them at the last moment. There are hints that point to there being no hope for them, though. If you pay attention to the lighting in the windows, it's clear that these scenes took place at different times. The Dark Army would've heard the SWAT team break down the front door. (We're not trying to pull the wool over your eyes. You'll notice these things upon a rewatch.) But that's the power of the intercut. There's so much inertia to the ideas coming at you, you don't have time to think through the logic. There's too much happening here in order for you to question your hope that these beloved characters will get saved.

Before moving onto some other areas of the episode, do you have any final words on Trenton and Mobley, the twin-headed Hurley of the Mr. Robot universe?

I need to say that Azhar Khan and Sunita Mani are tremendous actors who brought so much heart to the roles of Mobley and Trenton. The soul-crushing reaction we're all having is a testament to their insane talent, work ethic, and ability to elevate what was on the page. I really hope I get to work with them again sometime soon.

Elsewhere in the episode, we see Elliot dealing with the ramifications of Stage Two. He goes to Krista's (Gloria Reuben) office and reverts to Robot mode. Two-pronged question: what was Elliot seeking by going to Krista, and can you speak to why Robot took over in that moment — was it out of Elliot's control?

Elliot is guilt-ridden. Who else can he talk to? Krista is probably the only person who knows about Mr. Robot and hasn't betrayed him in some way yet. Also, Elliot and Mr. Robot still can't communicate with each other. Krista has acted as a mediator between them before, so it makes sense that Elliot would come to Krista in an effort to find out how much Mr. Robot knows. Elliot and Mr. Robot can't really control the timing of the transitions, so in a way, Elliot delivers Mr. Robot to Krista in order to get more information.

Robot makes it clear that he's not thrilled with how the Dark Army co-opted his revolution. Is he more upset about the deaths of thousands of people, or the fact that his vision has been taken away from him? Certainly, he seems aware that there are larger forces in play — the exact types of people he wanted to take power from in the first place.

I think he's conflicted about both. He definitely has been battling Tyrell (Martin Wallström) this season for control over Stage Two, but he never wanted to enact this version of the plan. He wants to figure out how and why this happened. At this point, he's probably more upset about being kept in the dark while the Dark Army took control of his revolution and used it for their own gain. I'm sure he feels bad about what happened, but his anger outweighs his sadness in this episode.

Later, Robot tries to confront Irving, and he's knocked out by two Dark Army agents. When he wakes up, his hat and glasses are gone. We know that Mr. Robot and Elliot are the same person, which means the hat and glasses are not real. So... what gives? Just having some fun?

John and I spoke about this. He feels that Mr. Robot is being stripped away of some of the objects that make him who he is. He's disempowered and vulnerable. I thought that was an interesting take. I'll remind you of something else, though. Mr. Robot didn't wear his glasses in the pilot either. Something to think about…

Whiterose and Price engage in an extraordinarily tense war of words in the aftermath of Stage Two. Once upon a time, Price declared he was one of the two or three most powerful people in any given room on the planet. Do you feel this scene backs that claim, or does this scene reveal another truth — that he's not as powerful as he thinks?

The "not as powerful as he thinks" is a theme we're exploring with Price this season. In this episode, it's clear that Price is another pawn in Whiterose's game. In earlier seasons, Price seemed like an unstoppable force. His reaction to being put in his place is satisfying and creates some empathy. To an extent, I think the same can be said for Whiterose. One of the best things about this season is the time we get to spend behind the curtain, getting peaks of Whiterose and Price during their most vulnerable moments.

Whiterose mentions that Price was supposed to "manipulate [and] control" Angela (Portia Doubleday), and says: "You couldn't, so I had to." Given this remark, should we assume Whiterose doesn't much care about Angela one way or the other, except as far as her ability to interfere with the Washington Township project?

Well, I think that's partially true. Angela is also important to Whiterose because of Angela's connection to Elliot. Elliot cares about her. Angela has influence over him. As long as Elliot is useful to Whiterose, then Angela holds value. Whiterose doesn't care about Angela outside of her being an asset/puppet for her plan. It's sad because Angela really cares about Whiterose. She's given herself completely to Whiterose and consider her a savior. Hearing Whiterose talk about Angela in this way shines a light on the serious manipulation that's going on.

Angela and Darlene spend much of their time in the episode together, and for her part, Angela is utterly glued to the television, talking about how the thousands of victims are going to be okay, even rewinding footage over and over again as proof of life of sorts. What should we be thinking about Angela here? How out of sorts is she in this moment?

To quote John Petaja, "Angela is not taking it well." She's having a complete mental breakdown. I think we're witnessing the first steps on a journey to madness. Every step of the way, Angela has been naïve about Stage Two. It seems fitting for Angela to start disassociating from reality in the wake of the terror she caused.

The episode ends with Dom (Grace Gummer) placing Whiterose at the center of the whiteboard, and making a private confession: "You're actually going to get away with this." Did you want to end this one with the viewer feeling what Dom feels — that the dark powers that be are really going to get away clean?

Originally, John played with using different types of score and music for this scene. It all felt really good, but we felt the music was getting in the way of what Dom was feeling. Having it be cold and quiet worked so much better than having some musical guidance about how to interpret the moment. It makes you feel how overwhelmed and buried she is with that sense of loss and injustice. Another interesting thing going on here is that Dom has always suspected Whiterose, but no one ever listened to her. They shrugged off Whiterose as some dark web fairy tale. Dom putting Whiterose on the board is a big deal. In a way, she will no longer be ignored.

Anything else from this episode you want to touch on before we sign out?

We didn't talk about the horrific way that Tyrell learned about Joanna's death. Joanna was a primary motivation for almost everything Tyrell did in this series. To have Santiago destroy that hope in such an appalling way is pretty intense and heartbreaking. As crazy as he is, I feel for Tyrell in this moment.

Only three episodes left this season. Tease us up for what we're getting into next.

We couldn't soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night, so we did the next best thing. We annihilated the world…

What are your thoughts on Trenton and Mobley's deaths? Sound off in the comments section below and keep following THR.com/MrRobot for more coverage all season long.

 

 

 

 

 

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