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Here's Why Mr. Robot Had That Season 2 Twist

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Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal
We saw the twist coming. Lots of people did. So if Sam Esmail, Mr. Robot creator, knew that we would likely sniff out the fact that Elliot was in (spoiler) prison, why do it? That was the question posed to him during an excellent and lengthy interview with a trio of Vulture critics.

"I started looking at it as, well, if we start hinting something is going to be off here, we're not going to hide it that well," Esmail tells Vulture. "It's gotta be real. It's gotta be like, no, there is something a little off, we're hinting at it, we're really in his coping mechanism, what Elliot would do, but the audience is going to sense it and is going to maybe predict it, maybe not. I mean, I didn't really know, but I didn't really care either way."

Here's the thing about twists. They don't really work. Or, they work once as a twist. But in order to hold up as a narrative device there has to be some reason the information is being withheld. If there isn't, if the audience feels purposelessly lied to, then we turn off. Why watch, if the show won't let us access its reality? Mr. Robot's twist had an excellent motivation that came from a character. And it was built into the conceit that we live in his head as well.

"We have this opportunity with our character, who is obviously narrating to us and considers us a friend, felt betrayed by us the first season," Esmail tells Vulture. "What if he feels like, well, I'm gonna lie back, I'm gonna withhold from you and I'm not gonna tell you everything. I mean, I've not seen this done before, but now we're developing this weird relationship with the audience. Whether you saw the prison coming or not, that's not the point. The point is that now you're having this subtextual relationship with him that you didn’t have in the first season. And then to add that now, under the unreliable narrator device, not only do we see it through his eyes, but he could also be lying to you. That's another storytelling device that we could throw in."

That's a fascinating line of reasoning. Even if you don't think the season was as strong as the first, that it lacked the direction and propulsion provided by a good plot, you have to admit that it was engaging. People didn't watch as often, probably because none of the characters had a strong immediate mission other than survival, and their survival wasn't under tangible threat until late-on, but the show still worked on a basic level. That's a testament to the strength of Esmail's choice.

Read the rest of the interview here.
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