One of the very first people to guess the biggest twist of “Mr. Robot” Season 1 was Christian Slater. In an interview with IndieWire last year, the Golden Globe-winning star of USA’s challenging hacker drama said that after reading the pilot script, “I just had a funny sense — I kind of went back and forth, like, ‘Could this…Could they do this?’ That would be interesting… I was very happy that I’d picked up on it and that [creator Sam Esmail] and I were on the same page from day one.”
Of course, once the first season premiered, Slater wasn’t the only one who had an inkling that something might be up with his mysterious hacker persona, whose scenes often had us questioning what was real. For questioning reality has always been a major theme of the show, since so much of it is told through the point of view of Elliot (Rami Malek), the psychologically damaged computer genius whose point of view, we’ve come to discover, really can’t be trusted.
Season 2 has doubled down on that: In Wednesday night’s episode “eps2.5_h4ndshake.sme,” it’s revealed that the routine Elliot has tried to carefully maintain over the last seven episodes was enabled by the fact that instead of living in his mother’s house, he’s actually been in prison. Unveiled at the end of the episode, it’s a reveal that still needs some explanation due to a number of plot and character issues… even though we saw it coming.
Peter Kramer/USA Network
Because we live in an age where the Internet hive mind cannot help but suss out twists, humble Internet scribes began suspecting weeks ago that Elliot might be trapped in more than just a prison of his own mind. More than one site began theorizing just that, as far back as the season premiere. There’s a lot to still be explained, but now we have the essential key to understanding the season, and plenty to process about the episodes that have come before.
Here’s what’s key about both of these twists — the timing. The Season 1 reveal that Mr. Robot was actually Elliot’s hallucination came at the end of Episode 8, but it’s the sort of moment you’d expect from a penultimate episode. By pulling back the curtain a bit early, Esmail was able to devote a major portion of Episode 9 to Elliot processing this new knowledge, leading us into the climatic moments of the season finale with a firm grasp on what exactly this all meant for the character, and the show.
And Elliot’s recent confession that orange is the new black comes with five episodes left to go (Season 2 received an expanded order from 10 to 12 episodes). That leaves plenty of time to discover how Ray (Craig Robinson) fits into this scenario, what Leon (Joey Bada$$) is up to and most importantly — what put Elliot in jail to begin with? There’s a lot of meat on those bones, and Esmail won’t be too rushed to chew through it.
Michael Parmelee/USA Network
But all this is happening under increased scrutiny, and not just because it’s the sophomore year of a critical breakout. What makes “Mr. Robot’s” second season so interesting to track in comparison to its first is that right now, Emmys voters are sitting with their ballots, trying to figure out where they land when it comes to this year’s nominees. The show is nominated for four awards — including Outstanding Drama Series, Lead Actor in a Drama, Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series — and the fact it was able to make an impression on the Academy in its first season is something we’ve already heralded as real proof that the Emmys are evolving to embrace more challenging television.
The vast majority of shows up for Emmys consideration aren’t airing a new season during the voting period — they’re being evaluated solely on the basis of the season under consideration. Technically, of course, all that voters should be evaluating is the execution of Season 1 in comparison to its fellow competitors, but nothing exists in a vacuum.
The pressure that comes with a successful first season is what often leads to a sophomore slump for some shows — the need to wow viewers beyond previous expectations. Some have said that Season 2 suffers by comparison to Season 1, and Rotten Tomatoes does indicate a dip in reviews on an episode-by-episode basis from Season 1 to Season 2.
But it’s also important to notice that the number of reviews available for each episode increased dramatically as well — the consequence of increased scrutiny that comes with Golden Globes wins and general critical acclaim. Meanwhile, the show is taking chances like nothing else on television — after all, how many dramas would completely break with reality for a full 20 minutes?
Given that the Emmys are often reluctant to embrace the truly avant guard, the fact that “Mr. Robot” got recognized at all was one of the biggest twists of this year’s awards season season. Now, in the post-nomination period, we have some time to reflect on what exactly that recognition means. For fans of the show, it’s almost too perfect.