Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail previews the 'sentimental, reflective' final season
Mr. Robot is ready to log off.
The Emmy-winning series, which helped USA rebrand away from blue skies programming and catapulted recent Oscar winner Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody) to stardom, is back for a fourth and final season that promises to be “filled with answers, hacking, and blood.”
Realizing the end was coming, creator Sam Esmail set the stage for Robot‘s swan song with the season 3 finale, making Elliot’s (Malek) mission clearer than ever and reconciling him with his alter ego, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater). Now, taking inspiration from British TV Christmas specials, the final episodes will be set during the 2015 holidays. “It adds a sentimentality to it,” says Esmail. But it won’t be all presents and cheer. “We definitely question the morality of Elliot and what he’s done,” he adds. “That gets put to the test in interesting and dark ways.”
Before the series returns one last time, EW talked with Esmail about the reason he’s ending the show, Elliot and Mr. Robot finally working together, and whether Trump will pop back up again.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What went into the surprise decision to wrap up with season 4?
SAM ESMAIL: I don’t know we ever thought it was going to be longer. In fact, my answer has always been between four and five seasons, and I never quite knew what the exact number was. But basically the way we came to this decision is, after we wrapped season 3, we went back into the writer’s room, and this whole time we’ve had the ending in mind, that’s what we’ve been building up to, and as an exercise I decided to put the last two episodes of what would be the series finale up on the board and I just asked the writers, if we were being honest with ourselves, how much story do we have from where we ended season 3 to these last two episodes? We let that dictate how much story we had left, and it turned out that this would be the final season. It’s a little bit longer than our usual 10-episode season. To us, it was very fascinating to do it this way, because it was really the story letting us know when it was time to end it.
I talked to Rami earlier this year, and he said him and Christian and Carly kind of made a pact to soak everything up as much as possible while filming the final season. Were you able to do the same? Or, with so much left to do before the show is officially over for you, will the reflecting on what this experience has meant to you have to wait a little longer?
You do have those surreal moments when we started wrapping actors and their characters. You start to take in the finality of it. No matter what I’m not going to be writing any more scenes for these characters, I’m not going to direct Martin [Wallström] as Tyrell in a scene again, and those things really resonate. I am in this weird position, because, even though we’ve wrapped shooting, we’re still editing the show, so my mind very much is still in the world and in these characters and still trying to shape how it’s all going to come together. But I think the communal experience on set, it really hit us all and we did try to savor it as much as possible, especially towards the end.
Season 3 ended with Elliott reversing the 5/9 hack, but, if everything was suddenly just fixed and all good then you wouldn’t have a show, so what will the repercussions of that reversal?
Well, I think Elliott says it to us at the end of season 3, that even though he’s reversed the hack, one thing has come out of this, which is that the top one percent of the one percent have shown themselves in White Rose and her associates, and now we’re setting the stage with season 4 for Elliott to go after her and her clandestine group.
Would you say that Elliot is now more clear than ever in what his specific mission is?
Obviously, the whole series was set out to take down these sort of puppet masters from the beginning, but along the way, it’s been kind of foggy to exactly who that is and who specifically is pulling the strings. And now at the end of season 3 and as we go into season 4, all that is crystalized to White Rose. So, yes, the directive hasn’t been clearer than it has been as we go into this season, that White Rose is the ultimate target.
After last season, what’s the status of Elliott and Mr. Robot’s relationship? It appeared that maybe they’re set up to be more in sync than ever.
You kind of said it right there, but I’ll answer it this way: Season 3’s theme was disintegration, where we’ve seen Elliot and Mr. Robot at odds like we have never seen them before in the series, I would say that the word for season 4 is integration. We saw a little bit of this at the end of season 3, where we’ve seen them go through this reconciliation, and season 4 now begins this new relationship where they’re really on the same team now and working together.
The first promo asked the question of Elliot, “Was it worth it?” So would you say that is the main question that he is faced with in the final season?
We definitely question the morality of Elliot and what he’s done. We always love to explore the gray area of Elliott as a “hero,” or as some would call him an anti-hero. We love to explore where that took him, and is he really morally or ethically making the right choices, even if the consequences are as dangerous as they have been. That gets put to the test this season in really interesting and dark ways.
In the tag for the season 3 finale, Vera (Elliot Villar) made his return, so how will he play into the endgame?
I don’t want to give away too much, but Vera’s return will, let’s just say, complicate Elliot’s journey to face-off with White Rose.
Speaking of complications, how is Angela (Portia Doubleday) doing? She was having a full breakdown last season, only to then find out that Price (Michael Cristofer) is her biological father.
Well, again, I don’t want to give away too much, but I’ll say that Angela has to face the consequences of, not only that reveal, but of her now strained relationship with White Rose.
In the background of season 3, you had Donald Trump being set up to become president by White Rose. Will there be more of that?
In the Mr. Robot room, we’re never scared to go there with anything. I think we had our fun with Trump in season 3. We are very political and active and speak out when we see injustice out there in the world, and we do infuse that in our show — how could it not be in this show? This show is born out of real political activism. So when we can, we try as elegantly, without distracting from Elliot’s story and journey, to infuse it into the show as much as we can.
The final season is set during the 2015 holiday season and it seems like you’re really playing into that theme. So how does that setting affect the story, and what appealed to you about that timing?
Well, I have to say, being a fan of British television, they often did this Christmas special as a way to end a series, specifically with The Office and then Ricky Gervais’ follow-up Extras. And I remember always being blown away by the Christmas specials, especially in both of those instances. And there is something about setting that final chapter against Christmas that adds a sentimentality to it without even trying. There’s a thing about the holidays that makes you reflect and look back on the past year, and because this is the last chapter of Elliot’s journey, I really wanted that sort of sentimental, reflective tone overshadowing the entire season.
One more very important question: What is Leon (Joey Badass) now watching? Did he fully drop sitcoms after his problems with Frasier Crane’s love life?
I will say this, I think Leon has become a cinephile in season 4.
Mr. Robot returns to USA for one last hack on Oct. 6 at 10 p.m. ET.