After what felt like the longest hiatus of any show in history, Mr. Robot finally made a triumphant return to TV (and computer) screens with a riveting two-part season premiere this past Wednesday night. In these first two hours of Sam Esmail’s hacktivism opus, new characters were introduced, a Phil Collins song was sublimely employed, and Rami Malek delivered a performance worthy of the Emmy nomination he got the very next day.
Oh, and Reddit pretty much figured out a huge chunk of the season. (Spoilers and maybe-spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.)
Since Mr. Robot’s pilot, viewers have come to expect a cat-and-mouse kind of storytelling from Esmail. After the big reveals of season one, some of which—like Mr. Robot being Elliot’s dad—had been telegraphed from a mile away, while others—like Mr. Robot being Elliot’s dead dad—were more subtly hinted at. Though the cork’s already been popped on Elliot being an unreliable narrator, one would be a fool to assume there weren’t comparable “OH SHIT” moments ahead for this season.
The internet, knowing this, immediately took to speculating as soon as the credits started rolling on Wednesday’s premiere. Twitter had a smattering of theorists dropping 140-character prognostications, but it was on the Mr. Robot subreddit where fans truly began working together to connect the dots in the episode discussion comment threads.
The gist of the primary theory is this: the knock on Elliot’s apartment door at the end of season 1 was the police/feds and he is now in a mental ward awaiting trial, if not already imprisoned.
And when you see all the evidence supporting reddit's hunch, things that range from unbelievably small and specific to more nebulous, it’s hard not to be compelled. Perhaps the best way to work through the findings is blow-by-blow, so allow me to list everything out:
The Micro Evidence
- As numerous fan pointed out, there are vertical bars or representations of bars around Elliot at all times in these two episodes. The blind behind him in his therapy session, the stair posts and door frames around him when talking to Gideon, the fence around him during the basketball games, and the barred windows as he sat on the stoop all hint at some form of incarceration.
- Elliot’s mother barks curt commands at him, much like a guard or orderly would and pulls (cell) doors open and shut sideways.
- Gideon’s conversation with Elliot across the kitchen table paralleled that of a prison visit.
- Elliot’s daily regimen, with its precise times for waking, eating, and “helping around the house” parallels the routine of an inmate.
- Elliot regularly attends a “church group,” another staple of incarcerated life.
- Elliot and Leon (Joey Bada$$) watch an old box TV in their free time, a trope ripped straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
- The basketball game players and spectators regard Craig Robinson’s character, Ray, with a “yes, sir” as inmates would a guard.
- Ray tells Elliot he referred to him as “a friend” even though they both know that is not the true nature of their relationship.
- Elliot uses an archaic analog wall phone, similar to an institutional pay phone.
The Macro Evidence
- A shot of Elliot’s journal notes frames two lines of text so we see the phrase “I am in an illusion.”
- On Hacking Robot, the Mr. Robot after-show, host Andy Greenwald asked Rami Malek what one word describes his character this season, to which Malek replied “committed.”
- “Take Me Home,” the Phil Collins song played during the money-burning scene is, by Collins’ own words, told from the perspective of a mental institution patient.
Sam Esmail is not your father’s showrunner, however. This is the guy who not only reads all the dumb little message boards about his show, but even went so far as to surprise the Mr. Robot subreddit with a “What did you think?” comment Q&A right after the season one finale. So for him to have not seen his audience's advanced theories coming would be entirely out of character.
And that brings the whole institutionalized Eliot idea into question. What's more probable, knowing how last season of Mr. Robot went: that the show dropped a bunch of subtle-but-not-quite hints at a twist, or that all of those hints are a misdirection? Esmail could just be fucking with us, giving us a microdose of the mental uncertainty his protagonist is experiencing as homework. It’s almost a sure bet that Esmail is cackling to himself right now at the fans tripping over themselves to beat out the rest of this year’s arc, based just on the house of red herrings he constructed around them.
He’s proven himself time and time again to be a few steps ahead of us in this chess game. It’s a show about computers after all. Even if, collectively, we prove ourselves to be Kasparov, he’s still Deep Blue.