Control might be an illusion, but Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) is doing everything in his power to hang onto the facade.
In the season two premiere of Mr. Robot, Elliot operates under very different circumstances from the last time he graced the screen. He lives a quiet existence at his mother’s house, grabbing meals with his Seinfeld-obsessed friend Leon (Joey Badass), doing chores, watching local basketball games, time-stamping his activities in a journal, and doing everything he can to stay away from the world wide web… much to the chagrin of Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), the other side of Elliot, the Hyde to his Jekyll.
It’s been one month since fsociety’s massive hack attack against E Corp, and Mr. Robot wants Elliot to reclaim their shared rightful place as the leader of the movement. To that end, Mr. Robot routinely shoots Elliot in the head — a startling and violent visual, if not an actual act of physical violence — in an effort to get through to his human host. “It’s only a matter of time before my bullets penetrate that thick skull of yours,” Mr. Robot tells Elliot, but Elliot refuses to listen — at least not until Mr. Robot reveals what happened to Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) on the night of the fsociety hack.
But Elliot’s carefully crafted loop shows signs of vulnerability after he meets Ray (Craig Robinson), a local man and dog owner in need of Elliot’s unique services. Unbeknownst to Elliot, he’s already taken a meeting with Ray, which means Mr. Robot can still steer the wheel during Elliot’s sleeping hours, time he can’t account for in his journal. When Mr. Robot tries to use this information as an intimidation tactic, Elliot literally cracks up in his face, howling with hysterical laughter at the notion.
Later, Elliot blacks out, and when he wakes up, he’s holding a telephone in his hand. A familiar voice smiles on the other side of the call: “Bon soir, Elliot.” An olive branch from Mr. Robot, or another round of head games? Only creator Sam Esmail knows for sure.
Even as Elliot comes closer to learning about Tyrell’s whereabouts, a different journey ends: Gideon Goddard (Michel Gill), Elliot’s former employer and occasional father figure, is gunned down in cold blood. Gideon, linked to the so-called “5/9 Hack,” despite having nothing to do with fsociety outside of unknowingly employing the movement’s founder, begs Elliot to help him out of the situation, but Elliot refuses, too afraid to return to his old life. By the end of the episode, Gideon is dead, shot in the neck by a random stranger, all due to his perceived role in the hack. In death, Gideon becomes a bleeding monument to the new world order established by Elliot and fsociety, whether or not it’s the world Elliot wanted to create in the first place.
For more on the premiere, THR spoke with Rami Malek about Elliot’s new methods for controlling Mr. Robot, those fits of hysterical laughter, Elliot’s culpability in Gideon’s death, and what the return of Tyrell means moving forward.
When we first check in on Elliot, at least in a modern context, he has been repeating the same routine every single day for the past month. What’s his ultimate goal here? Does he think that with steady discipline, he can get rid of Mr. Robot for good?
I think he feels if he can take control of his psyche, if he can create a routine for himself where he knows where he’s going from Point A to Point B to Point Z every single day, that he can keep track of his thoughts and put all of the pieces together. He’s not missing anything. By doing that, by creating this regiment and routine, he can stave off Robot from entering. I think he feels that happens when he puts himself in a vulnerable place where he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next. When he has a mission to accomplish, be it as mundane as what he’s doing when we find him, it’s at least a place where he understands how to navigate from moment to moment. He’s not surrendering any of that to Mr. Robot.
The relationship between Elliot and Mr. Robot has been a violent one from the beginning, going back to the end of episode two, when Elliot falls over the rail. This season, when the characters have their first scene together, Mr. Robot shoots Elliot in the head. What does it say about Elliot’s state that at least the visual interpretation of this conflict has escalated in such a bloody way?
Oh, man. I don’t know. I always looked at that stuff and I’d just say, “Wow.” The Elliot of the first season who didn’t quite understand the mental issues he was having… he was seeing a psychiatrist, he knew he had hallucinations every once in a while, but there wasn’t an acknowledgment that he was sharing himself with an entirely different person. Once you have that discovery, it really begins to take over, because it preys upon that vulnerability. It opens the playing field for anything. Elliot didn’t want to listen before; in the first season, he could walk away from certain situations. Right now, he can’t. His mind has been compromised, and he knows it. When it becomes this compromised, there are no limits to where Mr. Robot will take it. There’s a part of him that has ownership over Elliot’s mind.
Late in the episode, Elliot returns to his home after learning he had a meeting with Ray the night before. Mr. Robot tells Elliot: “I’m going to show you that when people see you, they see me.” Elliot starts breaking out into hysterics. What do your remember about shooting the laughing sequence?
There was a moment in that scene where Sam and I talked, and it was this acknowledgement that in saying what Mr. Robot was saying, there was what felt like… it felt like the bravado of it lended itself to feeling as though he was just kind of manufacturing that phrase: “I’m going to show you that when they see you, they see me.” There’s just this bravado that felt really false. And in that one moment, Elliot could see that. He could see a vulnerability in that. I think there’s this really great relief in discovering that. Elliot, being the David to Mr. Robot’s Goliath, saw this as a weakness, and that he could be brought down. There’s a kind of euphoric mania that we had talked about having in that moment. What was great about having Sam direct that episode is it could go in a very terrible direction in the hands of someone else. But because Sam knows our characters so well, and we work so well together, we could really modulate that into a moment that felt real and honest, and have a sense of relief, and have Elliot feel like it could be a precursor to taking that guy down.
As you mentioned, Elliot has had hallucinations outside of Mr. Robot. In the first season, he often saw visions of himself as a child alongside his mother — someone who is something of a nightmare figure in Elliot’s life and in the lore of this show. Now, Elliot’s back at home and living with his mother. When he explains this to his therapist Krista, Elliot says: “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Is that how desperate he is right now?
Yeah, he’s very desperate. I think there are a lot of unresolved issues with her as well, underneath everything he says, that he would hope to bring some type of closure to perhaps. But for all of her negativity, he does have a small amount of trust in her. I don’t know. There’s something about a mom, no matter what, good or bad. There is a sense of protection, whether it exists or not. Just knowing that the word and person “mom” are at home brings a lot of people a sense of safety. It’s a bit juvenile, but I think at your most dire moment, those are the things you revert to.
Speaking of parental figures, there’s Gideon, who was quite paternal toward Elliot at the beginning of the show. Gideon is killed in the premiere, having already begged Elliot for help in clearing his name. How much of this death lands on Elliot’s shoulders?
I think the majority of it. Gideon wouldn’t be in this position if it weren’t for Elliot. That’s on Elliot’s hands. There’s a lot of guilt that will impact Elliot’s progression, and that’s due to what happens to Gideon in that first episode. It’s so sad. Elliot’s situation with his own father is very tumultuous. He obviously grapples with what kind of a father he had, and the one he envisioned versus the one that existed. He did kind of find the best in Gideon, that resolved all of what was missing with his own father. To have the loss of both of them on his hands, to a degree, and to feel like he’s responsible in a way, not letting his father leave the world in a certain way, and now having to deal with being the cause of Gideon’s end… it’s something that’s deeply on Elliot’s mind and heart.
Throughout the premiere, Elliot presses Mr. Robot on Tyrell’s whereabouts. Is Elliot concerned about Tyrell specifically, or does he need to confirm just how far he might have gone while he was blacked out?
He needs to confirm what he’s capable of when he’s unaware. There’s a shock and devastation of not knowing what you do and not having any recollection of it. Can you imagine where your mind would go if you lost three days of your life, and all of the sudden the world flipped upside down? He just wants answers, and when you want answers of something unresolved, you’ll go through the greatest lengths to find them, no matter what it is. That’s what Elliot needs. He needs answers, and he’s willing to go wherever he needs to go to get those answers as the season progresses.
By the end of the episode, Elliot is speaking with Tyrell on the phone. Where are we going from here? Is this Elliot’s journey toward the answers?
I think any way he can find some type of link, he’s going to jump on it. I can’t speak to where it leads, but I will tell you that he’s very much of an investigator in that sense.
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