Mr. Robot creator talks cliffhanger finale, Tyrell, what's next in season 3
Season finale spoilers below.
We may not have all the answers, but the second season finale of Mr. Robot shed some harsh light on the underlying mysteries of the USA series’ polarizing sophomore year. The FBI knew more than they were willing to admit, python-style. Something pretty major happened to Angela during those 28 minutes with White Rose. Stage Two reared its ugly head, and Tyrell Wellick turned out to be crazy real (and real crazy).
Mr. Robot‘s creator and executive producer got on the phone with EW ahead of tonight’s finale to answer a few lingering questions and tease what’s next for the already greenlit season 3.
But first, he had a question of his own.
SAM ESMAIL: Let me ask you a question before you start asking me questions.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Yeah, sure.
At the end, when Tyrell’s got the gun on Elliot, which way did you think it was going to go right before it went the way that it did?
Before I answer, I would like to say that the moment works, because I think based on what viewers watching closely had to go on, it really could have gone either way. That said, as reluctantly as I am to admit it, I thought Wellick was going to disappear.
Oh! Wow! Cool.
You got me, and I hate that.
Well, I love to hear it. People always say that: “Did I fool you?” That, to me, was never the goal, to surprise people. I just like to people to enjoy. Even if you did think Wellick was going to be real, I think it still hopefully would have played.
So let’s dive in, by the end of the episode, we’re seeing what Stage Two is — or at least what a part of Stage Two is. When was the concept of what Stage Two would be brought up in the writers room? Was that discussed hand-in-hand with how season 1 ended?
That was actually brought up in the writers room — if you can believe it or not — during the first season. That was something that was worked out in my head when I was just thinking about the feature. It was intentionally in that feature stage. We obviously talked about it in the writers room, but if the endgame of the first season was hacking Evil Corp, the endgame of the second season would be to take down their paper records. Once you take down their digital property, you would know that they would then try to rebuild the database and go to analog. That would be the executional plan for the season 2 arc. The way we kind of went about it in the second season was very, very roundabout. One thing that I knew heading into the second season — knowing that was our endgame — was that I did not want this to feel like this was the first season redux: Here’s the new plan, here’s the new arc of the season, here’s the new plot, so let’s watch our guy struggle and figure out how to bring down the building where they’re housing all of these paper records. Going through the conversations, we talked a lot about how to really keep it with Elliot’s storyline and his emotional journey, his struggles with Mr. Robot. We thought that was the most authentic and organic next step to Elliot’s journey anyway. After the big realization, he’s not just going to ignore that and continue on with the plot. That’s how it all folded up with the structure that we came up with for the second season.
If you look at the season as a whole and what was accomplished by Mr. Robot and Wellick, there is a story that’s very similar to season 1, metaphorically 10 feet to the left of the version we saw. After the finale, you see the route you could have taken, which would have been the repeat you’re talking about.
Yeah. For me, that wasn’t interesting. With TV season structures — and I’m a huge TV watcher — you look at shows like Breaking Bad, which is my favorite show of all time, and The Sopranos, which is pretty high up there as well, and there was that thing where every season Walter White would go up a level, but there would be a new bad. Then he’d dismiss them and move up another level. Then there’d be a new bad. Sopranos did something kind of similar. To me, they executed that on the highest level you could, and it paid off in dividends. It was amazing. When we sat down to figure out how this would look in our universe, we could have done that, but we felt like that because we’d seen that, because that was the way these traditional anti-hero rises-and-falls happened in these previous shows, we wanted to figure out what was unique about this story and how were were going to take a different route, as it pertains to what Elliot’s going through. That’s when we found this indirect route to essentially accomplishing the same thing.
Tyrell came back into the picture last week, long after we expected him. What was the conversation like when deciding at which point he reenters?
The decision to keep him out of the season had a lot to do with Elliot. Like I said, going into the second season, we wanted to have Elliot reconcile this relationship with Mr. Robot. He made this damning realization about himself at the end of the first season. Any notion of dismissing that in an episode or two — “Oh, I’m seeing this hallucination, and sometimes he takes over. Okay, now let’s move on and get to the plot” — felt completely disingenuous. It honestly always felt to us that the only way Elliot could proceed is to get into this battle with Mr. Robot, to reconcile how he’s going to live with this, how he’s going to negotiate with this, how he’s going to work through this. That all was predicated on Tyrell’s absence, because once he comes back in, it blows up the whole thing. Whether Mr. Robot lied to Elliot or what he withheld from him, all of the sudden, the show becomes about that and the plot machinations of that and not about what Elliot’s emotionally going through in terms of this serious disorder that he’s discovered about himself. Tyrell’s absence was a byproduct of what we felt Elliot’s journey needed to be for the entire season. Once we Tyrell came in, it went back to those plot machinations, folding Elliot back into the overarching journey of the revolution.
Season 2, arguably, has a bigger cliffhanger than season 1. What do you think are the big questions fans are going to be asking heading into season 3?
I think the one big one will be “What happened to Angela? Has she really been flipped? Or is she now playing some other motivation?” And I think that’s great. I know that people sometimes get frustrated that we leave Angela’s motivations in the dark, but I think that’s what adds to the intrigue of her. That’s why I’m so continually fascinated by her character: You can’t quite nail her down to which side she’s playing. It feels like she’s always playing both sides. I think that’s going to be a big question.
What else? Obviously, Leon and the coda and what will become of our affable heroes, Mobley and Trenton. Darlene and what will become of her relationship with Dom and how that will transpire, especially as that relates to Elliot. I think those will be the questions, but the fans and all of the viewers have always surprised me with the questions they ask. Sometimes they’re questions I didn’t even think we were asking.
For me, it’s to what extent we should be wondering about White Rose and her connection to the Washington Township plant. Is that a thread that still needs to be explored?
It is a thread that needs to be explored, but the big question is: What is going on in that plant? Why does she care so much about it? Also, what did she tell Angela to convince her of that? Obviously — and I’ll say this right now, on the record — those questions will be answered in due time. Not every episode can answer every question, but those are the big, overarching mysteries of the show. The White Rose and plant of it all is something that harkens back to the beginning of the series. I think it will always be looming throughout the series and as we go into the next season. When it comes to Angela and it comes to the characters, those are the questions we want to answer more satisfactorily. Literally in the next season, we’ll start to unravel those motivations and what did happen to Angela in those 28 minutes.
We’ve previously talked about how the production schedule had been shaped to allow you to direct every episode. How do you think that went, and how will it affect production going forward?
For me, it went extremely well, except that — [laughs] — I was on little-to-no sleep every day and had zero life. Creatively, I think we accomplished everything we set out to do and then some. There’s a cohesion that wasn’t quite there in the first season, and the execution, I think, was a lot stronger in the second season on a production level. With the complicated, byzantine plot that we have, with characters and their motivations all over the place, it really did feel like you need that central person in the middle to traffic any sort of questions, whether it came from costumes or the cast or whomever. This is an extremely layered show, and so it would get complicated very quickly. The decision was still the right one, and even going into season 3, I’ll be doing it again. On that level, aces. On a personal level, I really need to get some sleep.