Before Mr. Robot Season 3 airs, you should pick up Sam Esmail’s new book, Mr. Robot: Red Wheelbarrow. The journal recounts Elliot’s time in prison — the missing time between the Mr. Robot Season 1 finale into the first half of Mr. Robot Season 2. Esmail and co-writer Courtney Looney popped by Book Con down the street from New York Comic Con last weekend to discuss the new book with fans. In addition to speaking about what to expect in Red Wheelbarrow, Esmail took some time to talk about Mr. RobotSeason 2. Since Red Wheelbarrow is essentially the missing episode of Elliot in prison, it’s only right Esmail elaborated on his choice to keep Elliot’s prison sentence a secret to the audience for so long.
“We wanted this to feel like a real relationship where it’s not just a gimmicky device, where like a real relationship there’s going to be half truths, lies, things that are withheld, and subtext. When we went into the second season we know he was going to be in prison but how was Elliot going to tell us this?” Esmail asked the crowd.
Being straightforward isn’t exactly Elliot’s strong suit, certainly not with Mr. Robot controlling his mind. Elliot’s dissociative disorder means he handles traumatic events differently than others, and Esmail’s choice to keep being in prison a secret reflects the way Elliot’s brian works.
“Especially after feeling betrayed in the first season, that’s how it all evolved. That’s how the whole the prison scenario and him withholding that and creating a coping method… that’s the other thing… how would Elliot cope with being in prison? We know from Season 1 that he’s really able to reprogram his mind like he does with Evil Corp to fantasize about what his surroundings are. So those two components made sense.”
What Esmail wasn’t expecting was for super fans on Reddit to figure out the twist so quickly. While the fan’s reception to the twist was disappointing at first, Esmail ultimately believes fans putting two and two together doesn’t take away from the story.
“To me it’s like, well if you do figure out…could you watch The Sixth Sense again and enjoy it? Of course you can,” Esmail said. “We didn’t think you guys were going to figure it out that fast…it was the first episode. We were like, ‘Damn.’ But you know what? In a weird way, I remember thinking I knew people would catch on because as storytellers, we weren’t necessarily hiding it.”
It wasn’t Esmail and Looney’s intention to telegraph or foreshadow what Elliott was really doing while stuck in the ‘routine.’ Fans catching on just means the storytelling was a successful mechanism to delve deeper into Elliot’s headspace.
“The fact that people caught on just meant that we were telegraphing it in the right way and they were actually reading the signs in the right way. To us, that was actually a good thing that it wasn’t a cheat and at the end of the day hopefully the goal was to enrich that relationship between Elliot and the viewer,” Esmail said.
The prison sequence taught us never to completely trust Elliot’s word and to see through his delusions instead of getting caught up in them ourselves.
“Now it’s on the table that he could also internally lie. Yes, in the first season, he wasn’t aware about Mr. Robot and we saw that realization, but no, he can also keep thing from us. We thought that was an interesting storytelling choice.”
Even though some people figured out the twist way earlier than the writer’s room anticipated, Esmail and the team was ultimately flattered that Mr. Robot fans care so much to be that engaged.
“There was that moment about being a little bummed out about the prison, but then I was like, ‘This is fucking cool man.’ You’re taking screenshots and analyzing and discussing and writing a whole thesis about it….why wouldn’t we want people to be engaged on that level? We definitely invite that.”
Mr. Robot: Red Wheelbarrow becomes available to buy Nov. 1.