“Mr. Robot” began as a story about a troubled programmer but steadily expanded to encompass underground revolutionaries, global power brokers and a hack that disrupted the entire world. The USA techno-thriller returned for its third season Wednesday night with even broader horizons, as key characters like Whiterose (B. D. Wong) and Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday) seemed to envision alternate universes, while the tormented hero, Elliot (Rami Malek), resumed his baroque existential struggles. The episode found him recuperating from last season’s culminating gunshot and pondering ways to counteract his Mr. Robot alter ego, specifically his world-shattering acts of cyberterrorism.
“The big question this season is: Can you put it together after you’ve broken it?” said Sam Esmail, the show’s creator. “Can he reverse what he did? Or is it going to be forever changed, given the set of events he set in motion?”
After debuting to near-universal acclaim in 2015, “Mr. Robot” put off some viewers last season with a slower pace and deeper focus on the internal struggles of Elliot and other characters. Season 3 will be “a lot more action packed,” said Mr. Esmail, who again directed every episode (and wrote five of the 10).
In a recent phone interview, he discussed why criticisms of Season 2 surprised him, and why the rise of President Trump is the latest real-world event to eerily parallel the universe of “Mr. Robot.” These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Where do things stand with Elliot heading into Season 3?
The internal battle he went through in the second season led to a certain kind of acceptance. In the third season we rip that all apart again, in a very different way. In the same way he is wondering if he can take back the 5/9 hack, he’s also dealing with his dissociative identity disorder and questioning whether he can put that genie back in the bottle.
“Mr. Robot” has always been interested in duality in its characters and structures. But this season it seems as if you’re getting into parallel universes.
We reveal more of Whiterose’s overall plan. It is still cryptic and still a mystery, but she clearly has an agenda and that agenda does involve parallel universes. The most powerful people in the world — not unlike a lot of people in our real world — go after these loftier goals because they can, because they have the money and the power to do so. In the “Mr. Robot” world there is a character who is fixated on this idea of parallel universes. Do they exist? And can she somehow find a way to harness that?
The first season of “Mr. Robot” was almost universally acclaimed but the reception for the second was more mixed. Did you anticipate that?
No, to be honest with you. I think the second season was much better than the first season in every way, from the performances to the writing to certainly the way the show was shot and executed. So I was a little taken aback that it did get the mixed reviews. But I think the ask on the audience was bigger.
I’m not a huge fan of very plotty shows. I’m much more of a fan of character-driven stories. The second season really delved into not just Elliot and his inner conflict, but all the other characters. It turned much more into an ensemble, and that’s something I appreciate.
At the same time, it had devices like the extended charade of the prison being rendered as Elliot’s mother’s house. Do you anticipate…
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