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WARNING: This article contains spoilers from the season 3 finale of Mr. Robot. Read at your own risk!
Mr. Robot barreled forward at a thrilling pace throughout its third season, but at the end of it, Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) wound up in an entirely surprising spot.
The fix that Trenton teased in the season two coda — the fix for the 5/9 hack — was real, and Elliot seems to have been able to undo the damage he and fsociety inflicted on Evil Corps data.
It was an insane twist that provided some deep and beautiful character growth for Elliot and refocused his energy toward the real target, White Rose and the Dark Army.
To help us through all of the insanity, series creator, executive producer, and director Sam Esmail talked to EW about the finale and what might happen when the show returns for the recently announced season 4.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The season ends with the suggestion that the hack will be undone. Was this the plan from the outset?
SAM ESMAIL: If I’m going to conjure up my original feature plan, this was always part of it. The plan was that basically toward the end of act two, he would reverse what he did, but still kind of be in a position of now pivoting and targeting the real top one percent that orchestrated the 5/9 hack behind his back. That was always a plot point, but as you can see, that kind of gets unwieldy because your main character’s goal is essential reversed as you go through the second act of the story.
Yeah, it’s basically Mad Max: Fury Road, turning back around and going back to where they came from.
Exactly. It’s literally turning the main motivation and main dramatic drive upside down. It’s kind of an Odyssey structure. With Elliot, because the journey is really internal and really about his emotional growth, having the plotline be circular like that lent to that more internal exploration.
Right, so that turn only makes sense if it’s just about Elliot. What do you think that return means for him as an evolving character?
I think Elliot starts off the whole series by having this really deep pain. He tries to externalize that and put it on the world, that the world is broken and needs to be fixed — not him. Then he goes through this journey of fixing what he presumes to be what’s wrong with the world. He sort of ends up realizing that what’s wrong has been inside him all along. He makes that discovery on the subway platform at the end of the finale, when he decides that he needs to undo this for him. He’s coming to that realization that this whole thing was kickstarted by him externalizing the pain he had been going through.
And from a story perspective, he has a much clearer idea of what and who is wrong with the world.
Exactly. Throughout all of this, he may have bungled his main mission, to genuinely try to save the world, but in doing so, he kicked the hornet’s nest and exposed the real top one percent of the top one percent. Now he’s sort of moving forward with more clarity on that.
Does that make him less vulnerable to manipulation now?
Yeah, so this is when we sort of realize that Elliot’s plan had been co-opted from the beginning. His anger was used against him and his aspirations to change the world for the better. That’s actually something we wanted to explore. We kind of did it with Angela’s character too, this idea of belief and faith being radicalized and perverted for nefarious motivations by a higher organization. We paralleled that with a lot of what’s going on in the world today. There is that sense that good things that people believe in and want for the world are continually being co-opted and perverted for selfish means.
Does the end of season 3 feel more like a chapter ending than the previous two?
I look at every season as an act or a piece of an act. What’s interesting about the third season is that it comes pretty close to being the end of act two. Just the go-to classic screenplay structure, the first and third acts should be shorter than the second act. The second act is really kind of the bulk of a film. Usually, you kind of separate the second act into two acts, divided by this midpoint event. Structurally, I always felt that seasons two and three were of a whole, meaning that the end of the first season kicked off the story and was the end of the first act. Seasons two and three completed that journey. In that way, there is sort of a closing of a story thread and a pivot into a new direction. By no means, obviously, it’s not the end. This is probably the most revelations we’ve given the audience in terms of the mystery behind Stage 2 and the 5/9 hack and White Rose. But it also spins us into a new direction to go into that final act of the story.
How drastic do you think the pivot into a new direction is going to be?
It’s ultimately actually kind of lives up to the promise of Elliot’s initial motivation, to take down this invisible controlling group behind the scenes. In that circular way, it comes back to the original premise. In a weird way, it doesn’t really change what the show is but, in a deeper way, underlines what the original premise was all about.
I didn’t see the Angela-Price twist coming. What’s exciting for you about that dynamic going forward?
I’ve read this somewhere — though I wasn’t conscious of it when creating the show — that people consider this a family drama. In a weird way, I see the underpinnings of that. Obviously you have Elliot, Darlene, and Mr. Robot being this weird dysfunctional family. But then you throw in Angela, who, because she’s such a close friend, she is sort of part of that family unit that Elliot created growing up. One of the things that I think drives a lot of our characters are those family ties and the history of their families. In fact, that’s how they even know each other — because of Elliot’s father and Angela’s mother going through the same trauma. What I always felt was interesting was to reveal that this whole thing was actually kicked off by another family connection that we had no idea about: Price being the estranged father of Angela. If you peel back the onion and think about it. That caused this chain reaction. It’s because of Price’s connection to Angela that he hired this company that had no business being a cybersecurity company for a major conglomerate, and it’s because Angela worked at Allsafe that Elliot was offered a job there and had the idea to initiate the 5/9 hack. I thought it was interesting that, when you boil this massive global tragedy down, it was really these family connections that motivated and kicked off this whole event. That was always there from the get-go. In fact, that was the one reveal I thought people would most likely guess by the end of the first season, given how close we played Price and Angela together.
If people watched until after the credits (Note: If not, do so now), they saw Vera return to New York. How did you decide how you wanted to leave the audience before the break?
As with any season ending of Mr. Robot, I think there’s a mixed bag of renewed motivation, a new mission comes to light in a way that should be energized. But in a way, there’s still a mystery there that fans are hopefully intrigued by and wanting to know more. I think the way this season ended, there is a strong pivot of Elliot’s real mission being realized and being energized by that.
Do you intend for White Rose to remain a target for Elliot?
Yeah, I believe that the thing about the show is that we set up Tyrell as the main villain, when in fact, it’s White Rose, and that’s something that comes out this season. The ultimate target is White Rose and the Dark Army. Moving forward, that’s the pivot we’re trying to make. Elliot is going to go after them.
I have time for only one question, so I’m going to make it count. Does the pee tape exist in the world of Mr. Robot?
I think far worse than the pee tape exists in the world of Mr. Robot and our real world.
Read the Mr. Robot season 3 finale recap here.