'Mr. Robot': Cracking the Code on Darlene's Very Bad Day

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

[Warning: This story contains spoilers through season three, episode four of Mr. Robot, "eps3.3_metadata.par2."]

Everything means nothing to Darlene Alderson.

Carly Chakin's formerly fierce fsociety lieutenant was at the heart of Mr. Robot this week, her pain and suffering on powerful full display. What does her world look like now that Cisco (Michael Drayer) is dead? How is she supposed to move forward with Elliot (Rami Malek), knowing that her brother is still secretly harboring the Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) side of his personality and colluding with Angela (Portia Doubleday) on top of it? Darlene's so desperate for connection — any port in the storm — that she even tries to bond with Dom DiPierrio (Grace Gummer), the federal agent who holds Darlene's fate in the palm of her hand.

As we're doing all season long, The Hollywood Reporter once again checks in with writer-producer Kor Adana about everything that happened this week on the Sam Esmail drama, including Darlene's devastation, Elliot's disintegration, Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) making a break from his feelings for Elliot, the various musical cues throughout the episode and much more. Oh, and if you happen to encounter any run-on sentences? Might be worth filing away for a future occasion...

First of all, happy belated Halloween. Did you see any fun Robot Halloween shenanigans over the holiday? I assume you snuck in a viewing of The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoise?

Happy belated Halloween! It's not Halloween without a viewing of Careful Massacre. I don't get out much, so I can't really comment on what's going on in the real world, which is kind of sad. But...I did see many fsociety masks, hoodies and Darlene outfits on social media. That made me happy, even though it's still kinda sad. 

Turning toward this week's episode, let's start with some questions about the music in the opening and closing scenes. Is this the first Elliott Smith appearance on Mr. Robot? If so, how on Earth did it take so long? And why this song?

I don't believe we've ever had an Elliot Smith song show up in one of our episodes until now. We rarely use the same artist twice. John Petaja, the awesome editor who cut this episode, had been listening to this particular track since the early 2000s, and he was itching to use it in something since then.

He chose it for this episode because of how well it fit Darlene's emotional state. Like all Elliott Smith tracks, "Everything Means Nothing to Me" is melodic and sweet, but the chorus really echoes what Darlene is going through. This episode is about Darlene letting things go, dealing with the past and putting things away. She confesses a murder to a stranger on the subway and admits that everything in her life is fucked. She tries to make peace with her brother. She learns of that bombshell with Angela. All of her relationships are in flux. Her world is spinning out of control. She longs for some semblance of normalcy, which explains her looking up trips to Budapest — the same trip that she and Cisco were talking about before. There are feelings of reminiscing and missing the past. This is an opportunity for Darlene to take stock of all the terrible things that she's been through, much of which she brought upon herself.

Why does Darlene choose to offload so much of her guilt onto this stranger on the subway?

There's obviously a great deal of guilt that Darlene needs to reconcile. She feels responsible for the events that led to this girl having to steal a wallet in the first place. Darlene also sees some of herself in this girl — that jaded, tough, street-smart side of her personality. When the girl resists, Darlene needs to apply some force to scare her straight. This girl had no idea about the world she was stepping into when she stole Darlene's wallet. Darlene not only used that against her, but she also attempted make amends in some small way.

[Returning to the Elliot Smith music], as an editor, John Petaja has never been able to use the same song in the beginning and ending of an episode before. The music here is so dreamlike. Being able to play it as a full piece of music [at the beginning and at the end of the episode] was a rare opportunity. Doing it here really helped reinforce the symmetry that was written into the script by Kyle Bradstreet. We open with that beat on the subway, with Darlene wanting the Polaroid, and we close with her putting the Polaroid back on Elliot's shelf. It gives the episode this really cool palindromic effect.

Can we expect any ramifications from Darlene's subway car confession?

You should always expect ramifications from the actions you see on the show. With regard to Darlene in this specific scene, I think this passage adequately conveys her frame of mind:

Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you

From seasons such as these? 4

Can you talk through the music selection on the scene in which Elliot breaks into Darlene's apartment? There's an unnerving quality to the percussion, like war drums.

That's a track called "Miyake" by Kodo. John found it a few months ago and really wanted to use it in something. We wanted this sequence to be rhythm-focused and have a driving beat. Most music selections have a driving force, but then they reach a plateau and stay there. "Miyake" starts slow, but it keeps on building and it never stops. It's one long crescendo. We wanted this racing heartbeat feeling all the way up to the door. This particular track is a live recording, so you can actually hear the Japanese drummer voices yelling at each other. When Sam first heard it, he didn't like it. The fix was to reduce the other sounds in the scene and focus only on the song. After that change, it grew on Sam. The energy that the music brought totally felt like our show.

When Darlene enters her apartment, she spots Elliot sitting around the corner. He maintains eye contact in such a steady way that it's hard to know if this is Elliot or Mr. Robot — the anger doesn't help, either. Was this written to blur the line between the Elliots? Is that something you plan to play with even more in the episodes ahead: thinking you're dealing with one Elliot when really it's the other guy?

We definitely wanted to blur the line between Elliot and Mr. Robot more this season, which is why we're showing more facets of the transformation. We have Angela, Darlene and now Tyrell who all need to figure out who they're really talking to. Is it Elliot or Mr. Robot? Darlene is reluctant at first because of how violent and scary her last altercation with Mr. Robot was. She's also afraid of being busted, which adds to the tension and her hesitancy.

Angela meets with Irving [Bobby Cannavale] at Red Wheelbarrow. First of all, why are we judging Irving for eating ribs for breakfast? Isn't that just the way it is sometimes?

I know that when I pull all-night writing sessions, I have some weird breakfast cravings when the sun comes up. I have to assume that Irving made some serious progress with Beach Towel the night before. Seriously, though, Red Wheelbarrow understands…mop sauce.

During the conversation, Angela has questions for Irving about Stage Two. What are her concerns? Is she not as committed to the Dark Army's cause as she's appeared?

I think she's still committed, but the plan is coming together and things are about to get real. With Stage Two, she's concerned about the potential loss of human life. Even though she still has a great deal of faith in Whiterose and the overall plan, the feelings of worry and lingering doubt still weigh on her. There's also this responsibility of having to logistically pull off a mission like this. I'm sure she's asking herself if she can really do it.

When asked if he believes in what Whiterose showed him, Irving tells Angela: "I think anything is possible." Is that just a good line to tell Angela, or is that how he really feels?

I don't think Irving will ever reveal how he truly feels to anyone. To me, that's what's so compelling about his character. Anything is possible with him. He is always manipulating. He will constantly tell people whatever they need to hear in order to get them to do what he needs them to do. He will take whatever's in front of him, whether it's coffee mugs or Red Wheelbarrow ribs, and incorporate it into his persuasion.

Elliot asks Darlene to stay next door to spy on him. The last person who lived in this apartment didn't make it out of season one alive. Should we be worried for Darlene hanging out here — or if she's in for a difficult time, is that completely separate from the Shayla (Frankie Shaw) factor?

Is Shayla's apartment cursed, like the fsociety arcade? That's interesting. One thing I can say is that you should be worried about everyone on this show.

Speaking of Shayla, when her name is evoked in the writers' room, what kinds of conversations are you having? Do you still speak about Shayla in relation to how her life and her death impacted Elliot?

Yes. Shayla was so integral to Elliot's arc in season one. She's the first real emotional connection that Elliot had, and she was taken in such a heartbreaking way. In my mind, Shayla's death at the end of 106, also written by Kyle Bradstreet, is a benchmark for packing an emotional punch at the end of the episode. Frankie Shaw brought so much personality and empathy to the role of Shayla. Not only do we miss Shayla as a character, but we miss Frankie. Frankie actually has her own show that she created and stars in called SMILF. It airs on Showtime on November 5. I'd like to urge all of our fans to check it out.

Elliot goes to a work party. We never see it. Why would you deprive us of Elliot at a work party? Did he bail? What did we miss?

There was a work party in the original script, but we ended up cutting it due to timing and pacing issues. It was a great scene where some characters who never met before have a fascinating exchange. I have a feeling this idea will come back in a future storyline, but it will be set in a different environment.

Elliot and Darlene forge a vengeance pact. Is that even a thing?

Yes, it's totally a thing. Blue Oyster Cult made a reference to it with a song called "Vengeance (The Pact)" off their 1981 album, Fire of Unknown Origin. There's also a reference to a vengeance pact in The Stormlight Archive fantasy series. The Alethi Highprinces forge a pact with Galivar's heir, Elhokar, to carry out vengeance on the Parshendi. Did anyone in the writers' room know these things when we wrote this? No. Someone pitched the idea and we ended up working it into the script.

Wow, okay! But in seriousness, you can't put a vengeance pact on Mr. Robot without some plans to follow through, right? In the spirit of "Justice for Barb," is this the official birthplace of "Vengeance for Darlene"?

All right, since you had to ask me if a vengeance pact was a thing, I don't think you can talk about the rules of executing vengeance pacts and the intended/expected follow through.

 

Fair enough. Darlene stalks Mr. Robot through New York City in the dark. What can you say about what it's like to be on hand for these kinds of moments — wandering through one of the busiest places on the planet in the dead of night, weaving in and out of subway stations, crafting scenes brimming with paranoia?

We shot this season during a very hot and humid New York summer, so the first word that comes to mind is "sweaty." We are lucky to have a tremendous cast and crew who not only put up with a rigorous work schedule in some uncomfortable locations, but they flourished and produced some unbelievable work. It's always stressful when we're closing down streets, doing company moves to two or three locations in a day, or dealing with the heat…but everyone shows up and does good work. I have so much respect for our AD department, led by Justin Ritson and Travis Rehwald, who had to orchestrate this complicated schedule and work out the logistics of getting everyone and everything to the right place at the right time.

During her mission, Darlene sees Angela working with Mr. Robot. How disturbed is she by what she sees? How big of an impact is this going to have on her moving forward?

This is a major revelation in a Darlene-centric episode. She can't fully trust Elliot 100 percent of the time, and now she feels the betrayal of Angela working with Mr. Robot against her and Elliot. It further complicates things for her, because she's also keeping a major secret from Elliot: that she's working with the FBI.

Tyrell is furious about Elliot sabotaging Stage Two. We're a long way from the man who loved and worshipped Elliot Alderson, the man who said he would "always be loyal to Elliot," aren't we? Is Tyrell fully out on Elliot at this point?

He's pretty damn close. He's spent much of this season coming to terms with the fact that Elliot is not all wise and all powerful. Not only that, but Elliot is actually the reason behind many of the missteps that they've been experiencing regarding Stage Two. Tyrell learns that in order to make this work, he can't take a backseat to Elliot anymore. He needs to take control himself. It's a moment of growth and disappointment. He needed his faith in Elliot to get through the isolation of the farmhouse, but now it's time for him to take matters into his own hands, even if it means moving forward without Elliot.

Mr. Robot starts glitching out after getting physical with Tyrell. What are we seeing here — the disintegration of any true rules keeping Elliot and Mr. Robot away from each other? Are there any "rules" we should be tracking about what triggers the disintegration?

What we're seeing here is a transformation from Mr. Robot to Elliot. The disintegration rules are still in play. That means that Elliot can't see what Mr. Robot is doing, and Mr. Robot can't see what Elliot is doing. We're just leaning into the actual moment of transition from Mr. Robot to Elliot. Angela recognizes that Mr. Robot has changed back into Elliot, which is why she utilizes her "backup plan" that was established in the first episode of this season. John and his assistant, A.J. Calomay, did a great job of working in some interesting music and sound choices here, especially with that injection. They did a great job of building out tension, from a sound perspective.

Tyrell decides he can execute on Stage Two after all. It's going to require the full force of the Dark Army at his side. Exactly how horrified should we be of a Tyrell Wellick with the Dark Army fully on his side?

I'm not sure if "horrified" is the right word. Moving the paper [titles, deeds, loan documents] from all over the country to one location [the NYC recovery center] within a couple of days would require a huge staff and an ungodly amount of resources. This is why Tyrell tells Irving that the full force of the Dark Army would be required if he has any chance of pulling this off by Whiterose's deadline.

I also need to call out Mac Quayle's score here. It's unbelievable. There's this optimistic, motivational quality here as Irving attempts to get Tyrell excited about what's coming next. Sam initially wanted a music cue to inspire Tyrell. What we ended up with is a cue that stretches over three scenes. We go from Tyrell inspired, to a weird call with Angela, then to that Angela/Mr. Robot scene. The score that ties these three scenes together is incredible.

Safe to say we're not getting Tyrell Wellick on a plane to the Ukraine with Joanna and their son on Monday?

Yeah, that's unlikely.

Last week, you teased an epic line delivery in this episode. I assume it was a single but familiar word: "fsociety." Is there a story behind the delivery of this line? And will we see this character again?

His delivery of "fsociety" is truly epic. It actually gave us chills on the day of filming. I remember Tod Campbell, our outstanding DP, and Brian Jackson, our camera operator, saying how amazing that line delivery was. I hope we see him again. He was fantastic.

What's funny is…that wasn't the line I was referring to last week. It is an amazing line, but my absolute favorite line reading is when Tyrell yells at Mr. Robot in the warehouse. He's flipping out and screaming about how Elliot messed up the plan. At one point, he points to Mr. Robot and says, "This mother…fucker!" I kid you not, everyone in post still laughs when we see that, and we've watched it hundreds of times.

Darlene and Dom meet each other at a bar. DDP doesn't want to socialize. Darlene does. And so they do! Is there hope for an actual friendship — or any kind of romantic tie, even, given "the old pronoun game," as Darlene calls it — between these two at some point down the line, or is Mr. Robot not the show for such happy occasions?

I can say that there is potential for some kind of friendship for these two girls from Jersey. Like most things on Mr. Robot, I don't think it will play out the way you'd expect, but it will be interesting.  

In the final shot of the episode, Darlene enters Elliot's apartment, and the camera is focused on a spot on his shelf — right before Darlene puts a family photo on that exact spot. How much attention do we want to pay to that very particular image?

Well, this photograph carries a lot of weight. It's the same Polaroid from season one that Elliot originally saw as just him and his mom. Later in season one, when he remembers that Darlene is his sister and Edward/Mr. Robot is his father, the photograph changes to reveal Edward and Darlene. In season two, we make references to this photo being taken at Coney Island during the sitcom episode. This carries a great deal of emotional relevance for Darlene.

Darlene leaving the family photo behind signals that she might be making good on her talk about bailing out of town. What can you say about what's next for Darlene?

Darlene is in a tough place. Regardless of what she does, she will end up hurting or betraying someone important to her. To me, her leaving the photograph there is representative of a clear decision. You'll have to keep watching in order to see where that decision takes her.

Tease us up for episode five, which you co-wrote. What are we in store for next week?

Next week's episode is something that we've never done before. I can't wait for people to see it. I'm so proud of everyone who worked so hard to pull it off.

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