“Is anybody here a fan of British television?” he asked a packed Tribeca Talks crowd at the Tribeca Film Festival. He then offered a gift he hopes will keep on giving. “Typically how [British shows] wrap up series, like the British [version of The] Office, you tend to do a Christmas special. So the final season of Mr. Robot is one very long Christmas special that will last about a week over Christmas of 2015,” Esmail said.
As to the question of exactly where the series will head, the cagey Esmail would only point to the show’s history, which takes place in 2015.
“The tagline for the first season was, ‘Our democracy has been hacked.’ A year later it happens,” said Esmail, whose personal fascination with hacking led to the creation of the series in the first place. “In the writer’s room [for season 4], we’re continuing to let current events inspire us, and that’s what feels relevant. [When we first started], hacking felt relevant, and the day after [USA Network] picked up the series, the Sony hack happened.
“Part of the reason people connected to the show is we wanted to talk about now,” Esmail continued. “The show is still set in 2015 for this reason. The technology will always look dated, but we specifically said, this is about 2015, so it’s almost like a period piece for current day.”
If the show started in 2019, Esmail said, “It would be cute and quaint. I think about that with Veep: would it exist?”
And yet, from the first, Esmail had his concept of exactly how the series would end—a concept that he insisted would not change due to the astounding swirl of current events that have taken place since the series began. “It is still ending [the exact way I always envisioned],” he said, smiling.
That end will be bittersweet for his main stars, whose stock has risen since the June 2015 premiere. For three seasons, viewers have seen Malek’s cybersecurity hacker Elliot Alderson align with both his sister Darlene (Chaikin) and Slater’s anarchistic “Mr. Robot” in a hacktivist group called fscociety that worked to destroy huge international conglomerate E Corp. But Esmail also shocked viewers with revelations each season, starting with the idea that Mr. Robot is both Elliot’s father and his alter ego—a condition of Elliot’s dissociative indentity disorder.
Nobody has benefited more from the series than Malek, who admitted the only reason producers even considered him for the role of Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody—the film role that won him a Best Actor Oscar in February—was because they’d watched him in Mr. Robot. Referencing the continuation of his good fortune, Malek briefly mentioned his next assignment would be a co-starring role in the upcoming James Bond film.
“I’m going to be trying to take down Daniel Craig!” he said of Bond himself. “What happened to my life?” Malek described his early attempts to get into the character of Elliot by walking around New York City in Elliot’s signature black hoodie, trying to not look at anybody and instead “hide from the world.” With the recent change in his level of fame, Malek added, “I’m now finding myself needing to do that” a bit. “So I’m always gonna be living a part of Elliot’s life now.”
Slater joked about his early confusion from the show’s title. “With the title, I thought, ‘Oh, god, what will this be?’ In my imagination, I thought I’d be playing a butler as an android, lifting up my shirt and there’d be wires and shit, kinda like ‘Mr .Robot Belvedere,’” he said. “But then I read the script, and the writing was extraordinary.”
Chaikin, who came to the series straight from popular sitcom Suburgatory, added to a chorus from the panelists speaking about how the show got the lesson of diversity sooner than many others. “It’s really cool to play a woman in tech, representing that,” she said. Addressing the idea that Darlene has never been a “damsel in distress,” she added, “Every hack Elliot did needed my help, too. We always needed each other. And one cool thing about our show is how it changes the view of hacking culture and what a hacker looks like. A hacker is not someone in the basement of their mom’s house, sitting at a computer.”
As to what that atypical hacker will do in season 4, the panel was short on information. What will happen to Elliot’s childhood friend Angela (Portia Doubleday), who learned at the very end of season 3 that E Corp CEO Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) is really her father? And will Elliot and company exact revenge on Whiterose (BD Wong), the evil head of the Dark Army, a Chinese hacker group that has upended all the action?
Esmail’s only offered clue was that all plot decisions have been made based on “Elliot’s journey. It’s not about finding puzzles and tricks; it all starts with how does Elliot feel about this, and that has motivated everything else.”
Regarding Elliot himself, Malek remained equally elusive about the coming final fadeout.
“I think it’s going to come to a phenomenal end,” he said with a wide smile. “But I obviously can’t say how.”