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Mr. Robot finale postmortem: Sam Esmail answers burning questions — interview

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Christopher Saunders/USA Network

After resolving one of the show’s central mysteries in its penultimate episode — Yes, we know you called it. Everyone called it. — Mr. Robot spent most of its first season finale giving the audience new questions to chew on until season 2. The hacking collective fsociety pulled off the cyber attack on Evil Corp that they had been planning for all year, but with one major hitch. Mr. Robot is back, but has he returned for good? And is he here to help or hurt Elliot? With a lot much to process before Mr. Robot returns, EW spoke with executive producer Sam Esmail about what went down and a little of what’s to come.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: For the finale, you skipped the hack and threw the audience into the deep end. What was the thinking behind that choice?

SAM ESMAIL: We’re shifting down gears into this new world where we’re aware, along with Elliot, that Mr. Robot is his alter ego and that he sort of is this demon that lives inside of him and that Elliot can’t account for all of his actions because of him. That opens up this whole interesting can of worms that we’re basically setting up for next season, one of them being this element of time loss. Let’s not forget that in episode 9, Darlene mentions that he was the one that created fsociety with her. We’re not even aware of that, neither is Elliot. There’s that to explore. Now we’re missing three days. In those three days, what happened? Where is Tyrell? What was the deal between him and Tyrell that allowed the hack to still continue? All of that sets up really interesting questions for the second season. One of the things that I love about the finale is that it’s essentially queueing up where we’re going to go and on top of that, shifting the direction of our story. Now it’s not about this mystery within himself that Elliot’s trying to resolve. Now it’s grown more external. He’s aware of what’s going on inside of him, and it’s leaking out. How’s he going to deal with that?

Is the mystery of those three days the immediate conflict once season two picks up, or is that something you’ll explore over time?

I think everything is going to be looked at over time. The whole backstory of fsociety, as well as those three days, is something that I think we’re going to delve into in the next season. I don’t know exactly when yet, but we’re definitely going to show it.

The score during the scene between Joanna Wellick and Elliot reminded me of Mica Levi’s score for Under the Skin. Was that a coincidence?

That’s not just you. I love that movie. That’s a great movie. Whenever I think of Joanna, I think of that movie. I think Stephanie [Corneliussen], who plays Joanna, has that kind of really cold, but somehow seductive vibe to her. Under the Skin is amazing and beautiful — and the music is beautiful — but it also feels very Kubrick as well. There’s something about that music that aesthetically fits right into our show.

The finale also pivots Angela and the perspective we’re getting from her, which is from within Evil Corp. Is that something we’ll more of in season two?

Absolutely. The thing about Angela that I think is interesting is that she parallels Elliot in an interesting way because she’s actually embracing the more traditional route of the American dream. You work hard. You’ll get the job offers. You’ll get the promotions. If you really want to affect change, you do it by having a good work ethic and sticking to your principles. Maybe then you can influence and make changes from within the system, whereas Elliot is on the other side of it and trying to change from outside the system. I can see the good and bad of both. You can make arguments for both sides equally. It’s almost 50-50. That morally ambiguous gray area is where I love the show to be, especially where we see those paths collide. That makes for a really interesting story.

White Rose popped up again in the after-credits scene. Please tell me you’ve locked BD Wong down for the next five years.

BD Wong is one of my favorite actors, and I’ve always dreamed of working with him. I’m so happy that I got a chance to work with him. He loves the show thankfully. I definitely think that we’ll see more of him for sure, if I have anything to say about it.

Where did the idea come from to include that sequence after the credits rolled?

I’ve always pictured that as the last scene of the season, but it was kind of hard for me to make that the last scene of the episode because our story is about Elliot. We came into this world with him, and I wanted to end with him. He’s the eyes we see everything through. I couldn’t justify having the last scene of the episode be between these two characters that we don’t even know very well, much less anyone who isn’t Elliot. Reconciling that made me think to put it at the end of the credits. It actually was the perfect solution because it is a coda. It is there to set up the second season. When I pitched that idea to USA, at first they thought it was the end of the episode, they had the same reaction that I did. You can’t end not on Elliot. When they realized that I meant after the credits, they got as excited as me. I said, “I don’t even know if this is possible.” USA, who has been extremely supportive throughout the whole time said that they’d figure it out, and they did.

The Ashley Madison reference had me laughing. Was that a clever bit of ADR [automated dialogue replacement]?

It was. The weird thing is that in the pilot, Ashley Madison was one of his vices. When this whole thing happened, it was something that I was going to use in the season finale, when I wrote that scene, but then I was like, “Well, I already mentioned Ashley Madison. How many references can we have?” So I kind of edited it out. When we were reshooting it, this whole hack happened, so I thought this was perfect. In post, I thought, “I have to put this back in.”

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