To risk understatement, no other television series — past or present — is like “Mr. Robot.”
The complexity and unpredictability of the USA Network series’ first season earned it many fans, and a Peabody Award plus two Golden Globes for best television drama and co-star Christian Slater. It reboots both literally and figuratively as Season 2 begins with two episodes and a live (in the East) after-show Wednesday (July 13), with Rami Malek returning as technologically immersed loner Elliot … who has become the main nemesis of a “change the world”-bent hacker team and its figurehead, known as Mr. Robot and played by Slater.
“I think the whole show has been about Elliot’s emotional journey,” creator and executive producer Sam Esmail tells Zap2it, “and I really wanted to focus on that (in the first season) and make it less about the plot. And so for me, the headline for Season 2 is, how do these two guys reconcile? How does Elliot reconcile the fact that he’s just become aware that he’s seeing this fantasy (of Slater’s character, who evidently exists only in his mind)? That’s the struggle that is going to kind of take over in Season 2.”
As for other creative twists that frequently have stunned “Mr. Robot” followers, Esmail maintains, “I’m not interested in ‘gotcha’ moments or trying to shock the audience — even though it happens. But I think it really happens because, first of all, Rami brilliantly plays Elliot in a way that draws you into his psyche, so you’re learning it with him. As long as that’s organic, as long as that feels real, then I think the twists will come from there.”
Movie veteran Slater made several earlier runs at television series (“My Own Worst Enemy,” “Mind Games,” “Breaking In”), and he recalls his initial take on “Mr. Robot” vividly: “I read the pilot, and I had questions about it. I thought, ‘Wow. This is very interesting,’ and it certainly was subject matter that I hadn’t really seen tackled in this way before. And I thought the Mr. Robot character was very mysterious, and I remember, I said to my agent, ‘Do you think that guy is really there?’ And my agent was like, ‘Oh, come on. They would never do that. The show is called “Mr. Robot.” It would be crazy.’ ”
However, Slater’s hunch was confirmed by his first meeting with Esmail, who laid out the entire premise at Slater’s request. Malek reports he also knew from the start, adding that when production on Season 2 began, “Enough was shared with me. I mean, with this character, I have to prepare for anything at any given moment … so I go through kind of every direction as to what possibly happened to someone like this because, in his head, you never know what has happened.
“And I think having to trace back and discover the truth ultimately makes him more complex to play,” Malek adds, “just trying to decipher what he’s actually seen and where he’s actually been. That kind of haunts me as a human being, having to do that.”
Grace Gummer (“Extant”) joins “Mr, Robot” as an FBI agent, with Carly Chaikin and Portia Doubleday among other returning cast members. Even if a viewer feels certain about what’s up with any of them at any given moment in the show, that’s not a bet that should be placed easily per Esmail, who’s also directing the entire second season.
“This series is filling in the blanks of the past and the present and even the future,” he explains, “and it’s almost like we keep stepping back. You know, you are this close to the painting. You take a step back, and then another, and you see more of it. I think that’s how I’m approaching every season.”