'Mr. Robot' Producer: Season 3 Finale Will Return to "Where it All Started"

Producer, writer and technology expert Kor Adana joins THR every week to discuss the latest episode of the USA thriller.
Courtesy of USA Network
'Mr. Robot'

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for season three, episode nine of USA Network's Mr. Robot, "eps3.8_stage3.torrent."]

The penultimate episode of the first season of Mr. Robot culminated in a startling reveal: There is no Mr. Robot, at least not as we knew him. The man wearing Christian Slater's face was in fact another side of Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) himself, a key duality that has since become the cornerstone of the award-winning thriller.

Season three's penultimate episode included a similar twist, albeit on a smaller scale, and one that was concocted and revealed within the span of the single installment: "Stage Three," a proposed third plan to further the Dark Army's dark agenda, does not exist. It's another Elliot Alderson fabrication, though this one was weaponized by Elliot himself as a means of hacking the Dark Army and gaining a measure of control over the people responsible for killing thousands of men and women in the Cyber Bombings, not to mention his late comrades Trenton and Mobley, murdered and blamed for the attacks.

Now, heading into next week's season finale, Elliot boasts ownership over the most dangerous entity on the planet — but he lacks complete control, as the Dark Army is well-positioned and incentivized to kill both Elliot and his sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin), currently in federal custody after a romantic evening with Dom DiPierro (Grace Gummer) gone wrong. What's more, Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday) is in as much mental duress as we have ever seen her, and is on her way toward what's shaping up to be yet another clandestine meeting with a power player. Through it all, Elliot's alter ego Mr. Robot has some plans of his own, hatched alongside Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström). 

Where is it all leading? For his part, writer-producer Kor Adana offers this solemn tease of the coming season-three finale: "In more ways than one, we're going back to the place where it all started."

Listen to the latest episode of The Hollywood Reporter's Mr. Robot podcast with Post Show Recaps, in which hosts Josh Wigler and Antonio Mazzaro take a look at what's on the table heading into the season finale:

Before turning full attention to 2017's final episode of Mr. Robot, Adana and The Hollywood Reporter take stock of all the revelations and decisions made in "eps3.8_stage3.torrent." Read on for Adana's take on Elliot's power play and much more.

There's only one episode left in season three after this week's installment. With that in mind, how much work needed to be accomplished in this episode in order to set up where we're going with the final hour of the season? Putting it another way, if the execution of "Stage Two" was spread across two (and arguably three) episodes, should we be looking at "Stage Three" almost as the first part of the season finale?

Yeah, I kind of look at it that way. If you analyze this season as a whole, you'll find a clear structure with multiple episodes making up an act or a unit of story. In that way, our season feels like a 10-hour film. Historically on our show, the penultimate episodes usually lay the groundwork for our finales. It's also why this episode ends with some strong cliffhangers and hooks, which will be further explored in our finale next week.

Let's dig into specifics, beginning with Elliot's big move at the end of the episode: owning the Dark Army. That's exciting! Can you talk through how he accomplished this feat, for the laypeople in the back, as well as what this means for Elliot and Mr. Robot at large as we head into the season-three finale?

Alright, so Elliot sets up a meeting with the Dark Army through Irving (Bobby Cannavale). He knows how paranoid they are about recording devices. (We've seen evidence of this in prior episodes.) He thinks that they will most likely confiscate his phone and/or his laptop when he shows up to the meeting, especially if he says his Stage 3 plans are on the machine that he brings with him. They take his laptop and install their own monitoring software … think of it as a virus that gives them access to every file on his laptop. Later in the episode, a Dark Army operative reviews the contents of Elliot's machine and opens the Stage 3 file that Elliot left on there. That file infects the Dark Army operative, which gives Elliot access to the Dark Army's command and control center. Elliot set up the Dark Army because he knew they would open that file. We'll learn more about what that means for Elliot and Mr. Robot in the finale, but Elliot now has access to every computer that the Dark Army has ever hacked. 

Elliot manages to reach this position at least in part because he fabricates the existence of a "Stage Three." How does he know the Dark Army will be interested in hearing about a next stage to his plan? Is it purely a gamble? Does he only need a short amount of time to be in the Dark Army's vicinity?

Courtney Looney and Kyle Bradstreet are the phenomenal writers who penned this episode. I talked to them about this. Their take on it is, yes, of course this is a gamble, but given the stakes, it's one that Elliot is willing to bet on. Stage 1 and Stage 2 were arranged by Mr. Robot, not Elliot. Since the first two were successful, Elliot believes the Dark Army would be interested in a third stage if he brought it to their attention. Elliot is aware that he's somehow important to Whiterose (BD Wong), so if he's bringing them a new plan, he's pretty confident that Whiterose will want to hear about it.

The plan to restore order to the world involves accessing Sentinel, what Darlene describes as "the Fort Knox of closed networks." Once again for the technologically impaired, what does Elliot plan to achieve through accessing Sentinel?

First of all, I can't tell you how paranoid I was about ending up on some government watch list for researching how to hack Sentinel. Even with the precautions we take, I'm sure that my tech consultants (Ryan Kazanciyan, Andre McGregor, James Plouffe) and I are probably already on some list. Sentinel is a confidential network/system where the FBI keeps their evidence. It's only accessible with special FBI hardware and it's near-impossible to get in without an FBI agent's PKI card. Since the NYPD collected all of Romero's (Ron Cephas Jones) computer hardware from his home after they found him dead, they also took those keystroke loggers that we learned about last week. The NYPD handed over Romero's evidence to the FBI, so that keystroke logger data is now sitting in Sentinel. But the FBI can't open those keystroke logger files because Romero password protected them. If Elliot can get into Sentinel, he might be able to access that keystroke logger data, which might help him unlock all of the debt records that were encrypted on the night of the Five/Nine hack.

Due to her relationship with Dom, Darlene takes it on herself to get access to Sentinel, first with some light social engineering and a hopeful scan of her credentials, and then with more aggressive tactics: flirting with Dom and spending the night with her. Where did this idea come from? On our Mr. Robot podcast, we've been tracking the possibility of a Dom-Darlene hook-up for quite a while, as far back as Dom's season two scene with Whiterose in China. Has this character combination been on the mind of the writers room for that long, too?

We've been talking about this in the writers room for a long time, but Courtney Looney and Kyle Bradstreet did a fantastic job of executing the Dom-Darlene hookup when they wrote this episode. The evolution of Darlene and Dom's relationship — though born out of necessity for Darlene in the moment — was one we felt developed organically from the natural chemistry that sparked between them the first time they met. There's a mutual trust and respect and faith between them, which is all the more fucked and relatable given that they're on opposing sides. Darlene may have trouble admitting to their similarities because Darlene usually sees the surface, girl-scout side of Dom, but she is good enough at understanding people to see there is much more to Dom and she connects with that. In an alternate reality, Dom and Darlene would be best friends. (Watch, our subreddit and discord is gonna blow up because I said "alternate reality.") So, yes, we have been thinking about these two characters sharing an intimate moment of some kind — be it vocal, spiritual or physical. What we see in this episode is sort of a mix of all three. 

Looking past the immediate danger Dom and Darlene are likely in given the traitorous Santiago's physical proximity to both women in a moment when the Dark Army has every reason to order their deaths, is there reason to think these characters could have a successful relationship at some point down the line? Or is their current relationship too complicated for any mutual happiness?

I actually asked Kyle and Courtney this question. Their response was, "What is happiness?" We all shrugged. Tears formed in our eyes. None of us said a word after that. Okay, that last part didn't happen. Darlene broke Dom's trust in a major way. For someone like Dom (who holds people to such high standards), that's a difficult thing to recover from. Beyond being devious and deceitful, Darlene really hurt Dom by taking advantage of her during such a vulnerable moment. We hope that there's a world where Dom and Darlene can find happiness together. I'm not sure if it's going to come to fruition anytime soon, though.   

Returning to Elliot, and specifically to the other half of his personality, we spend some time with Mr. Robot in this episode, over at Tyrell's home. In the process, the episode's action hops back and forth between Elliot and Robot's stories, across at least a night in time. What went into this choice?  

We wanted this episode to be well-balanced with a Mr. Robot story and an Elliot story. We fleshed out this idea of a non-linear structure with two, intercutting timelines. It was intriguing for us to play with the concept of time in this way. In this episode, Elliot tries to piece together all of this information in order to understand Mr. Robot's warning, but without having all the essential details he needs. The slow burn reveal of how Mr. Robot gets the tip about Santiago (Omar Metwally) being a mole from Tyrell brings us full circle, back to the beginning of the episode, and makes us wonder if he would've done things differently had he known the truth from the start. Our incredible editor Rosanne Tan and her assistant Zachary Dehm ended up using sound design and a little desaturated color timing on those scenes to help with the temporal shift. She also ended up shifting some scenes around in the cutting room to help ease us in and out of those transitions.

During their first argument since the Cyber Bombings, Mr. Robot calls Tyrell a puppet, and Tyrell shoots back with a very familiar retort: "No puppet! No puppet! You're the puppet!" How much debate was there in the writers room about including this overt "Trumpism," and what made it feel organic and true to include in the end?

I don't think there was ever any debate about it. It was one of Randolph Leon's favorite things to say in the room whenever we discussed the infantile and stupid things that came out of our embarrassment's mouth. (By the way, I have no problem saying Donald Trump's name. I just think "our embarrassment" is the most fitting label to use when referencing him.) We knew we wanted to incorporate the puppet quote in one of our scripts at some point. It felt organic for Mr. Robot and Tyrell in this moment because Tyrell truly is a puppet with the Dark Army pulling the strings. He's in such a delicate emotional state that we buy him replying to Mr. Robot's accusation in this way. Another puppet-related Easter egg for you: In episode 303 (which Rosanne Tan also cut), we used a song called "I'm Your Puppet" by James and Bobby Purify. You can hear it after Irving lies and convinces Tyrell that he'll get to see his wife and son again.  

After all this time, Tyrell goes from hunted to hero, and becomes the new CTO of E Corp — exactly what he always wanted, but with a catch: He's only as a figurehead, according to Price, and he had to lose several months of his life and his entire family to ascertain the title. What went into the decision to give Tyrell this position he's coveted since the start of the series, albeit under awful circumstances?

It's exactly what you pointed out. We wanted to give Tyrell everything he ever wanted, but only at the moment when he had lost everything that truly mattered to him. It's a heartbreaking position to put him in. Hopefully it creates an interesting emotional journey for the viewer to feel sympathy for this complicated antagonist.

Phillip Price (Michael Christofer) and Elliot Alderson are in the same room for the first time ever in this episode, at least as far as we know — but it's the Mr. Robot version of the character, which means Rami Malek is nowhere to be found. It's a historic meeting of two of the show's most important individuals. What was the most important goal to accomplish in having Price meet "Elliot," two of the most powerful people to ever walk into the same room — if not in the world, then certainly in Mr. Robot lore?

In this scene, Kyle and Courtney wanted the audience to embrace what Elliot believes: that the top 1% of the top 1% control every decision, every policy, etc. Here, Mr. Robot confirms what Elliot posited in the pilot episode … that there is a group at the top in charge of the world — those who play God without permission — and that's unfair to the general masses. Irving tried telling Mr. Robot this, but coming face-to-face with it is a different kind of experience. 

A few more notes on Price: The episode begins with a flashback to the hiring of Allsafe. It's always great to see Gideon Goddard (Michel Gill) and Terry Colby (Bruce Altman), even though one of them is dead. When it comes to bringing deceased characters back into the realm of Mr. Robot, where do those conversations begin? 

It usually stems from an emotional need or a theme that our characters dealing with in the present day. We had a Shayla flashback when Elliot mourned her death in season one. We have Edward Alderson flashbacks when they're thematically relevant to the present day storyline. In this case, we thought it would be great to explore one of the first mistakes that led to the Five/Nine hack … the hiring of Allsafe. It was also an opportunity to lean into Price's character motivation of why Allsafe was hired in the first place, because it is kind of odd for the world's largest conglomerate to depend on a company the size of Allsafe for their security operations center. We knew that if we were going to show the early days of Allsafe, we would need to bring Gideon back.

Price ends up hiring Allsafe because of his interest in Angela. Will we learn the scope of his interest in Angela by the end of this season, or is that a question that will play out deeper into the show's run? 

I can say that we will learn more about the scope of his interest this season.

Speaking of Angela, she's not doing well. She's physically wrecked, her apartment looks like a war zone, and she's still deeply committed to the Whiterose plan. Is it safe to say Angela is completely unhinged at this point, or should the viewer still feel there's validity to her side of the story?

You're going to hate my answer to this. … Can't both be true?

How much time would you advise viewers to spend pausing the screen in the scenes set in Angela's apartment?

1 minute, 2 seconds, 1 decisecond, 18 centiseconds.

So specific! Okay, so Elliot asks Angela to open up about why she believes in Whiterose's plan, and Angela won't give up the gold. In the spirit of full disclosure, this has been a point of frustration for me this season — that we're almost a full season on from the moment Whiterose converted Angela, and we still don't have a clear picture of what Whiterose demonstrated to so thoroughly change Angela's entire worldview in the span of 20-ish minutes. Was it ever a concern in the writers room, the extent to which the show could get away with keeping Angela's beliefs at arm's length, before the mystery loses its allure and starts to become a source of teeth-gnashing? What's the cost-benefit analysis on that? 

We definitely spent a lot of time discussing this in the room. I guess I'd answer your question with one of my own … is the mystery actually losing its allure? Or do our references to it build your anticipation even more? If it's still building intrigue and anticipation, especially since we're developing and arcing characters in the midst of the mystery, then I believe we're still in "benefit" territory. I'd actually argue that if this is a source of teeth-gnashing for you, the mystery hasn't lost its allure at all. Also, the reveal itself isn't what's most important to us. It's really about emotionally tracking our main characters on this journey.

How poor are they that have not patience!
What wound did ever heal but by degrees?
Thou know'st we work by wit and not by witchcraft;
And wit depends on dilatory time.
Does't not go well? 3

Speaking of Whiterose, the episode closes with Elliot's aforementioned owning of the Dark Army, followed by the Dark Army's leader granting Grant permission to "do what [he thinks] is right" — which we can surmise means killing Elliot, and potentially Darlene as well. Is it safe to say that our favorite characters' physical safety will be front-of-mind in the season finale next week?

Yes. 

As a quick aside, what's the story behind the water-glass music we're hearing in Whiterose's apartment?

Do you remember that scene in Boogie Nights with Alfred Molina playing "Jessie's Girl" and "Sister Christian" during that drug deal gone wrong? There was a character lighting fireworks throughout that entire scene, which added a great deal of explosive tension. That was definitely an inspiration for us. With the water-glass music, we wanted a more subdued energy than what you got in Boogie Nights, but still enough to throw you off a bit. To create that, Rosanne Tan tried many versions of pitch changes and multiple layers of the glasses to get them sounding as weird and shrill as possible.

We are not used to seeing an infuriated Whiterose, who is livid that her timeline for transferring the Washington Township project over to the Congo is not going as planned. How important was it to show Whiterose in such a frustrated state? What does that buy you? And through Grant's candid confession to Whiterose that "this is [her] fault," is it important for the viewer to know that Whiterose is a fallible figure, appearances to the contrary?

Time is everything to Whiterose. That's something we've seen onscreen since her first appearance in 108. So the fact that her shipment timeline is not going as planned deserved a proper reaction and a glimpse into her insecurities. She wants the problem fixed ASAP (or faster). Grant's confession that the delay is Whiterose's fault is a moment of raw honesty, something that Whiterose doesn't experience much, if ever, in her world. It's important to know that even our most powerful characters are fallible. We've seen a lot of that with Price and Whiterose, especially this season. It adds another dimension to them and makes them more relatable.

Anything else from this episode that we didn't touch on? 

The ending of the episode wasn't scripted as an intercut. The way we originally broke this story, we had the scene with Whiterose and Grant first, then Robot/Elliot in the bathroom, and then we ended on Elliot hacking the Dark Army. In an effort to increase the tension, Rosanne ended up intercutting all of those scenes together in the cutting room. There's more of a cliffhanger feel to the ending now.

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