USA dropped the male moniker of its runaway hit Mr. Robot for a women-only panel during the network’s day on the Television Critic’s Association’s summer press tour in Beverly Hills on Wednesday.
Show stars Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Grace Gummer, and Stephanie Corneliussen joined Universal development exec Dawn Olmstead on the panel (introduced by her executive counterpart Alex Sepiol, whose last name fans will recognize was used as an alias for Elliot in season one).
During the panel, the women helped decode the series’ second season and, more interestingly, discussed their thoughts on the representation of the show’s female players, beyond their characters’ immediate functions.
Olmstead began the conversation by addressing one reporter’s question about whether the expansion of the show’s female characters in season two was a mandate to or from show creator Sam Esmail.
“I don’t think there was any mandate — I think Sam just fell in love with all of these characters,” said Olmstead. “The women that Sam gave us on this show… I would watch every one of their own shows. They each could be a show in themselves because they’re so strong, they have so much ambition, they’re so clear-eyed in what their agenda is, and it’s not based on being a woman or being someone’s spouse or girlfriend. It’s about whatever they believe in, whether it’s Darlene having the world on her shoulders or Dom coming in to figure out who is fsociety and bringing them down. I think he had such strong characters that, when Elliot did need to get himself together [at the beginning of this season], [the women] had all these great storylines that really hold up, not just this show but their own world.”
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The actors all agreed — not just that they’re fulfilled as performers by the expansion of their roles this year, but that they never questioned the weight of them. (In truth, any Mr. Robot fan would likely know that although Rami Malek and Christian Slater technically lead the cast, characters like Chaikin’s and Doubleday’s are the real heart and breath of the series.)
Gummer, who joined the cast this season as an FBI agent hot on the hackers’ trail, commented, “I don’t think we’re all driven by some female motor or some female agenda. I think we all have our own purpose and our own drive, and we are not secondary characters. We drive the story just as much as Rami and Christian and now, also, the new characters on the show, too.”
Corneliussen (a.k.a. the outrageous Joanna Wellick) added, “We’re not being unrealistically empowered or set up to be anything more than what we are. We are women, we are equals, and I think that makes [us] something new in television.”
Gummer lauded the women’s moral ambiguity, and Olmstead said she admired how Esmail embraced, rather than tiptoed around, their fallibility. “Besides being ambitious and strong, they get to make mistakes,” she noted. “They get to be multi-connectional in all facets of their life, and I think there’s so much rich story in each of them in the world [Sam’s] created and what they’re trying to pursue.”
Chaikin — who spent all of last season having to downplay her character’s importance — says the flaws of the females are one of her favorite things about the show, and cited a practical example the casual viewer may not have even picked up on. “I didn’t even realize until someone else said it… we never succeed on any of the hacks the first time,” she said. “I really love [that] because we always have to come up with another way, or go to someone else. I just love that we’re all so flawed. It’s never like, ‘Oh, look. We just did it. All of a sudden! How great was that!?’”
Mr. Robot airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on USA.