Hacking has become a way of life, the effects increasingly more devastating on personal, corporate and governmental levels. It's into this environment that Sam Esmail has created Mr. Robot, the ultimate hacking nightmare that is getting ready to launch its second season.
Rami Malek stars as Elliot Alderson, the anti-social computer programmer working as a cybersecurity engineer during the day, while at night he's Batman...if, you know, Batman used a keyboard to fight for what's right. But things take a radical turn when he's recruited into an underground group of hackers named fsociety, which wants Elliot to help take down corporate America. Year two explores the consequences, both personally and globally, of the decision he ultimately makes.
Extremely tight-lipped about what's to come, Esmail initially envisioned Mr. Robot as a film but, given the way the story expanded as he developed it, decided to go the television route instead. The result? Critical and audience accolades and a wide variety of awards, including the American Film Institute's Program Of The Year, the Golden Globe for Best Drama Series and the Peabody. Also starring is Christian Slater, whose role is enigmatic at best.
Season One Video Recap: Massive Spoilers
Throughout the first season, it seemed that hacking was becoming a way of life. How does it feel to be predicting world events?
Sam Esmail: It's eerie. One of the things that we say in the writer's room is that we want to write a show of this time. It's very important to be about today, because it's very easy for our show to be dated. We're about technology and in a couple of years all the technology in our show is probably going to be passé or whatever. My opinion is it's as if we're making a period show of today. That's the way I look at it, so maybe that has something to do with how close to reality we get.
One of the biggest questions about the show is why everyone in fsociety remains so loyal to Elliot and his vision, when he's so obviously erratic and has radical changes in moods.
Esmail: You've got to think what their intentions are, too. Their motivations really cause this kind of catastrophic event, so they're not the most balanced folks either. I actually think we're going to explore that a little bit, about how they're kind of following this leader who's a little off. It's not the first time we've had groups led by someone maniacal.
It would be fair to say that Hollywood hasn't always done a good job writing about or depicting technology. Specifically hacking. What do you think they've gotten wrong, and what do you think you did right in the show?
Esmail: I'll say two things. One, they, for whatever reason, think that if you show a person typing, it's going to get boring really quick, so we have to force these cheesy graphics and CGI and the big red button, because the audiences are too stupid. For the life of me, I don't understand it. I don't get it. I don't know why I'm the first one to say, "I don't think you have to do that," although I shouldn't say that I'm the first one to say it, because The Social Network was also very respectful in the way they treated technology. And they were pretty accurate. The second thing is, if you're making it about the hacking, then you've made a grave mistake. One of the things that we always knew in making the show, it was not about the hacking. It was about the characters. That goes for anything, whether you're making a medical drama...I don't know half the stuff that the lawyers are saying on Law & Order, or whatever it is. If it's about the people, you get the emotional beats, and that to me is the most important part.
The show has a fairly unique visual flair, and not just in the portrayal of the tech.
Esmail: For me, when we film something, when we compose the shot, it's incredibly important. I wanted to be a director before a writer, so that was something that just was a high priority for me. In television you always hear it's a writer's medium. I never looked at it that way. For me, it's the filmmakers meeting. At the end of the day, every component, not just the look of it, but the music and the sound design... everything. Why not work at the highest levels you can? We have this very specific framing and composition that I thought worked well for the show, because the world is very off-kilter. Elliot is very off-kilter, and so our framing sort of represents that.
The show has so many twists, how much pressure the cast exerts to get information on what's to come.
Esmail: I've actually stayed tight-lipped about it, because with the nature of the show I don't want to spoil anything. In the writers room I've realized that season two is incredibly dark. For a show that's already kind of dark, it's a little crazy right now, so I'm trying to lighten the mood. I'm going to have to throw some jokes in or something.
Was this the perfect moment for a TV series based on this concept? Many people say that this is the Golden Age of TV. Do you feel that?
Esmail: These kind of shows or this kind of storyline I don't think can be made as a film. I think that's why filmmakers (a lot of writers and directors and actors) are moving towards television. You get to hit these more interesting, provocative storylines and themes. For that, yes, television is just sort of reaping the benefits of the losses of the film industry.
Then there was the decision to bring the show to the USA network. It's not their typical fare, but it has done a lot for them.
Esmail: It's just an interesting position, because they really wanted to rebrand their network and they were really passionate about the script. And they didn't really want to change the script. I was in a position where I was going to have a lot more creative freedom than I would at another network, so it was kind of like the perfect marriage. Just one of those things where we were teaming up to do something crazy and bold.
Did that creative freedom sort of stay the same throughout the first season and leading into season two, or did things change?
Esmail: Let me put it this way: I'd never been in a writers room. I've never done a television show. I have no business being a showrunner on a TV show, and they let me do that. That's how much they trusted us. Look, every once in a while they would push back, legal would push back, and that's going to happen. But for the most part, they kind of left us alone to make the show we want to make. I've got to give them a lot of respect for that.
Mr. Robot airs on USA in America and Amazon Prime Instant Video in the UK. Its second season premieres on July 13th.