Posted on Thursday, August 18th, 2016 by Peter Sciretta
Last night’s episode of Mr. Robot, “eps2.5h4ndshake.sme,” featured a pretty big twist that left some fans upset and others feeling it was too obvious all along. Our own Corey Atad has already offered a significant analysis of the episode, but I wanted to take a deeper look and also find out what series creator Sam Esmail has to say about the intention and response.
It should be noted that the following post delves into major spoilers for season 2 of Mr. Robot up through last night’s episode “eps2.5h4ndshake.sme.” If you haven’t watched the August 17 episode yet, please bookmark this post for a later time.
The Big Mr. Robot Season 2 Twist
Mr. Robot season 2 episode 7 (“eps2.5h4ndshake.sme”) ends with the big reveal that much of what we’ve seen from Elliot’s story this season did not happen the way we thought it did.
Some people watching are bound to feel hurt that the series has deceived them, and the show even acknowledges this. Through voiceover, Elliot explains: “Please don’t be mad at me too long. This will be the last time I keep things from you. I promise.” We can’t believe that promise because this has always been a show about an unreliable narrator. But knowing that fact should be enough for most fans of the series.
In July, star Rami Malek told Rolling Stone about his reaction to learning about the plot of season 2:
My first response was, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ Sam was like, ‘It may fall flat on its face. But I think it’s going to work.’
Now series creator Sam Esmail tells Hitfix that he is not going for “gotcha moments or shocking the audience, but we’re in it for interesting reveals and deepening and enriching Elliot’s experience.”
The show is about mystery, and there will always be questions and we won’t actually see the full picture all of the time. Having said that, if we can’t invest in what is happening and what is going on, that would become very frustrating, to the point where you wouldn’t feel any stakes. That was the test we ran through with this idea: is this actually happening to him? Is what he’s experiencing still real? And can the audience still buy into this after the reveal? Those answers were obviously yes: the events that we saw were still very much real, and the consequences of them are real, and what Elliot went through is real. It’s just the coping mechanism he used was not exactly what he saw. To me, it was definitely one of those things that prompted a real conversation. … We felt that him going through his prison sentence in this way was more true to life to Elliot than actually having seen it as a prison.
Esmail explained that the idea for the twist came from how we’ve seen the character cope with problems in the past and the fact that he now feels betrayed by us from the first season.
We’re always trying to stay as authentic to Elliot as possible, what he’s going through. Knowing Elliot, from the very first episode, he definitely has interesting coping mechanisms. Even from the pilot, he has this ability to reprogram his life: E Corp was turned into Evil Corp. When we thought about him being in prison, what would be that coping mechanism, this came to mind. The other approach was his relationship to us — to his “friend” — and how we left him at the end of the first season. He basically didn’t trust us anymore, he felt we were keeping things from him. So we wanted to develop that relationship as well. That was the one approach of, “This is what Elliot would do in this situation, to cope with being in prison,” and then the other of keeping it from us because he felt betrayed by us from the first season.
We will find out what really happened to Elliot in prison; Esmail says “That’s going to get revealed in a couple of episodes.”
As with any mystery, you’ve got to start answering some questions. We will do plenty of question-answering in the back half, especially with all the things we set up in the first half of the season.
So, for now, we can try to piece together the puzzle ourselves. The first six episodes of the season painted a picture of Elliot trying to live off the grid and away from the fsociety madness. But it turns out he’s been living this whole time in prison. Why Elliot is in prison is not revealed. It is hinted that Elliot is getting out of jail soon, which suggests that he is not in the slammer for a major crime like leading the fsociety hack of E Corp.
The story we were presented with this season was that Elliot had moved in with his mother and was maintaining a repetitive routine in an attempt to weaken the influence of Mr. Robot. When he’s not attending his therapy or group sessions, Elliot spends most of his time hanging with his old neighborhood friend Leon (Joey Bada$$) in a shitty diner and on the local basketball court. In this episode, Leon was revealed to be a fellow prisoner who was watching Elliot’s back for Dark Army hacker Whiterose (BD Wong). As for Whiterose, Esmail reveals, “Whiterose is the real person; [Minister] Zhang is the mask.”
Joey Bada$$ didn’t know about the big twist until he read it in the episode table read. The rapper-turned-actor tells GQ how he thinks Leon got involved in the Dark Army:
I’m sure he’s done some wild shit. He might honestly just be a spy or an agent. That’s what I’m starting to think. He’s onto something, man. Wait until you see the last episode—it’s like, Wait, what? And he’s clearly not afraid to kill. He’s definitely done it before. You don’t just kill four people like that for the first time.