Mr. Robot returned last night with a two-hour season premiere that was as exhilarating as it was confusing. Tyrell Wellick as well as FSociety have been blamed for the “5/9 Attacks,” (5/9 is also the birthday or Mr. Robot, and $5.9 million is how much ransom money Scott Knowles had to burn in the park), but Tyrell Wellick — who may or may not have helped with the 5/9 hack — is missing. Elliot may or may not have killed him back on Coney Island with a gun that Darlene left stashed in the popcorn. Only the alter Mr. Robot knows, and he’s not letting Elliot in on the secret.
Meanwhile, Darlene has taken over leadership duties at FSociety. Darlene implemented the hack — with the help of Mobley — that resulted in Knowles (whose wife Wellick strangled to death last season) burning the bags of cash. Elsewhere, Angela has apparently done a complete 180 and is no longer working for E-Corp from within to take them down, but because she genuinely loves working for The Man, or so it appears.
The episode eventually ends with a strange man who pulls out a gun at a bar and shoots Gideon — Elliot’s former Allsafe boss — in the neck. Tyrell Wellick also calls Elliot. “Bonsoir,” which is the opposite of our narrator’s, “Hello friend.”
There is a lot of “may or may not haves” going on on the season premiere, and it left enough unanswered questions to give the anxious among us panic attacks. We will almost certainly return to those questions throughout the week (we’re obsessed), but I wanted to address a theory going around — originating perhaps on Reddit — about what’s really happening in season two of Mr. Robot. It’s one of those theories that doesn’t seem particularly plausible, but with the idea of it in your brain, the idea becomes inescapable on a second watch.
Elliot is in prison.
Viewers who watch the episode a second time with that perspective may begin to pick up on a lot of suggestions that he is either in an actual prison or in a metaphorical prison of his own mind. The theory is that, at the end of season one, the knock on the door we see is from the FBI, who apprehends Elliot and puts him away for the 5/9 hack.
What we’re seeing so far is Elliot’s mind trying to create a new reality to cope with his prison life. Elliot has returned to his family home, where his mother — the “strictest person I know,” who is not really there — wakes him up each morning, like a prison guard rustling him from his cell.
Here’s his prison bunk:
Notice all the stripes/prison bars in his home.
He doesn’t have access to a computer. Instead, he is journaling in an apparent effort to keep Mr. Robot at bay.
“The day started just like yesterday and the day before that and the day before that.” He’s developed a strict routine that begins with breakfast at the same time each day in the same place with the same person (Leon), who talks about Seinfeld, which he has just discovered, perhaps because they play Seinfeld on the prison television. Leon is someone new. Someone we don’t know from last season. Elliot also eats lunch and dinner with Leon at the same time every day.
Elliot also checks out a basketball game every day at 2 p.m., which could be the prison recreation time — the ‘invisible code of chaos hiding behind the menacing face of order.” There are bars everywhere.
Elliot also goes to a “church group” two days a week. Bible study is not uncommon in prison.
He’s living an analogue life, although he does still get to see his therapist. Also, note the “bars” behind him there, as well.
Even in walks through the neighborhood, there are bars. The gates. The windows.
His meeting with Gideon is staged like a prison visit. They are separated, as though there were two-way glass in between them. Elliot’s mother — the guard — is keeping an eye on them from the background. Note also that Gideon doesn’t say he had to lay off or fire everyone at AllSafe. He had to “furlough” them, which is a prison term.
Meanwhile, Elliot is meeting with Ray and his dog (dogs are not uncommon in prison), who wants Elliot to do a job for him from the inside. Ray may be a guard. The way he refers to the basketball players — “dumb animals,” “killers” — suggest it’s a possibility. Plus, he has access to the outside. His wife is a fan of Elliot, but as Mr. Robot says, his wife — and everyone else inside prison — doesn’t see Elliot. “They see me.” The guy who took down E-Corp. One might imagine he’d be a hero to the working class folk.
Outside of prison, Elliot’s sister Darlene has taken over FSociety leadership. Someone else is walking Elliot’s dog, Fliipper:
And Angela is taking care of his fish, Qwerty.
Finally, Elliot isn’t talking on a cell phone at the end of the episode. He’s talking on a prison-style phone surrounded by bars.
See what I mean? Once you see it, it’s all that you can see. Bars everywhere. The routine. People on the outside taking care of Elliot’s animals. Like The Fight Club theory, it’s not exactly a “twist,” but something that we figure out over the course of the early episodes that doesn’t alter our enjoyment of the season, but enhances it.
Elliot is in prison. He’s created this other world to help him cope with that reality.