SciFi Weekend: Mr Robot’s Big Reveal; Superman; Agents of SHIELD; Hugo Awards; Doctor Who

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Unlike the first season, we didn’t have to wait until the end of the season for the big reveal. (That should be a clue that a major spoiler is coming for those behind). Fans have speculated since the first episode that Eliot was really in prison or a psychiatric institution rather than living with his mother to provide more structure. This week, his psychiatrist asked Eliot where he believed he was. His mother’s townhouse faded away and he admitted to us that he had been suppressing the fact that he was in prison.

Alan Sepinwall interviewed Sam Esmail about this development:

Where did the idea come from that you were going to disguise Elliot’s surroundings in this way?

Sam Esmail: It came from a two-prong approach. We knew exactly what the fate of Elliot was at the end of the last season, and we started breaking this season’s storyline. 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.

When we spoke at the end of season 1 about the Mr. Robot revelation, you said you would be hesitant in the future to do things that would leave people questioning the reality of the show. Did you have any concerns about doing another big, “This is what it really is!” reveal in that way?

Sam Esmail: I did. I remember bringing it up to the room. The one thing I also told you is I wanted to stay as authentic to Elliot as possible. And the truth of the matter is, 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. Like I think I told you last year, we’re not in it for gotcha moments or shocking the audience, but we’re in it for interesting reveals and deepening and enriching Elliot’s experience. 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.

But you understand how fandom works. Having done this two years in a row, you’ve now conditioned them to, whatever you do next, the fans will pick it apart frame-by-frame to explain what’s actually happening.

Sam Esmail: Yeah, well, truth be told, don’t you feel like it’s already happening this season?

True. How did you feel about people having this exact theory of prison after only the season premiere had aired?

Sam Esmail: It was weird. One thing that we always do is we never want to cheat the audience. We never want it to be some extraordinarily contrived thing where we’re basically lying to the audience and what they’re seeing isn’t actually happening, and we’re fooling them. In doing that, and being honest with what is going on, even though the surroundings aren’t actually what they are, we didn’t really hide it that well, right? I didn’t expect people to catch on from the very first episode, but I thought people would start to theorize and catch on. Look, a reveal is great when it’s surprising, but it’s terrible when it feels like a cheat. To me, the fact that some people who guessed it may not be surprised, it verifies that we didn’t cheat anybody, because it adds up and makes sense to them still.

I’m sure much of this will be explained in future episodes, in terms of why Elliot was in prison to begin with, but was Ray a guard in the prison? How much of Ray’s business involved prisoners versus the outside world?

Sam Esmail: That’s going to get revealed in a couple of episodes.

By sending Elliot to prison, you also spend the first half of the season with him physically separate from the other characters, give or take a brief visit by Gideon or Darlene. What did you see as the advantages and disadvantages of having him apart from the rest of the ensemble, other than Mr. Robot?

Sam Esmail: I’m glad you asked that question. Obviously, knowing we were doing this, it was very important for Elliot to address this incredibly internal conflict that sprung on him at the end of the first season: that he has an alter ego that he can’t control. That was the first and foremost issue that I wanted to tackle with Elliot. So of course the isolation of him being in prison really helped that. It meant that we get to basically do this deep dive into his internal battle with his demons. There is not much else for him to do. He couldn’t escape it. So it was great on that level. I knew it was going to be a polarizing choice to go in this direction with Elliot, but for whatever reason, it felt organic and natural. But when I took a step back and looked at the whole season, I realized that, when I think about the sequels that I really love, or second acts of movies or larger stories, they tend to do this: to go into this inward battle after accomplishing this big Herculean hero’s journey. The one uncanny similarity — which I only realized in hindsight — is Empire Strikes Back. At the end of the first movie, you take down the big band, the revolutionaries kind of win, but the second movie opens, they’re still battling, they’re still struggling, the Empire is rebuilding, and literally Luke goes off to another planet for most of that movie to learn to become a Jedi, while his sister is still out there fighting the good fight. This wasn’t something planned, but I looked at it and realized we were literally following that same pattern. And it’s not just with Empire Strikes Back. It’s Godfather Part II. There’s a lot of introspection that happens. That’s often the next stage after this huge external conflict comes to an end. Then it’s, “Well, then what?” It’s a hangover moment, of reflection and going inward. So that direction made sense for our story.

Esmail was also interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter.

News also came out during the past week that Mr. Robot has been renewed for a third season.

Superman Black

In other genre news, Henry Cavill has teased what will happen to Superman when he returns for the Justice League movie, in light of what happened at the end of Batman v. Superman.

Agents of SHIELD will be edgier with its move to 10 pm. It is a safe bet it will still be much tamer than the far better Marvel television adaptations on Netflix (one of which won a Hugo Award).

The 2016 Hugo Awards winners have been announced. The award for Best Novel went to The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. The Martian won for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. Jessica Jones: A.K.A. Smile won for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. Unfortunately the awards continued to be tainted by conservative politics.

Doctor Who Capaldi and Pearl Mackie

BBC America has announced that Doctor Who and other genre shows will be represented at New York Comic Con:

Mark your calendars: BBC AMERICA is coming to New York Comic Con in a big way this year. On Friday, October 7, the network will present a block of star-studded panels at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, featuring Doctor Who, with Peter Capaldi making his NYCC debut alongside new companion Pearl Mackie at her first-ever fan appearance. Ahead of its October 22, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency will launch a world premiere screening followed by a panel with cast, showrunner, writer and executive producer. And the Doctor Who spinoff Class will have its first-ever U.S. panel with cast, executive producer, and creator of the series.

They included more on the panels including Doctor Who:

BBC AMERICA’s Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi will make his New York Comic Con debut along with the first ever fan appearance by new co-star Pearl Mackie, who joins the series as Bill, the Doctor’s new companion. When Pearl joined the cast, Emmy-winning lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat teased “a new voyage is about to begin” and “this is where the story really starts.” Fans will get a sneak peek of what’s ahead including the upcoming Christmas Special this December on BBC AMERICA and hints on what’s in store for Steven Moffat’s final season as showrunner. The panel includes stars Peter Capaldi (The Thick of It) and Pearl Mackie (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time), as well as Steven Moffat (Sherlock) and executive producer Brian Minchin (ClassTorchwood). Doctor Who is a BBC Cymru Wales production for BBC One and a BBC AMERICA co-production.

The Time Travel Question of the Week:

Hitler Time Travelers

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