If you’ve ever doubted that TV creators can be nearly as adored as their show’s stars, you haven’t seen several hundred breathless Mr. Robot fans pack a room to get a glimpse of show creator Sam Esmail, whose arrival was greeted with noisy cheering and a whole lot of raised phone cameras.
“Everyone’s current, right? Everyone’s caught up? If not, this is going to suck for you,” said moderator Josh Wigler, and he wasn’t wrong: the panel, while largely about the upcoming book Mr. Robot: Red Wheelbarrow, was also full of spoilers and discussion about season two.
“‘Red Wheelbarrow’ on a very very very very surface level is a reference to this amazing William Carlos Williams poem,” Esmail said. “Lots of people find him pretentious. I don’t. I think he’s amazing. He’s also from New Jersey. I’m from New Jersey. And Tyrell, in the final episode of season two, quotes this poem to Elliot, and there’s a bond formed between these two.”
The phrase sticks in Elliot’s mind, Esmail said, and becomes a thing in season three—though the moment in which Tyrell recites the poem is, timeline-wise, in season one. (Still with us?) And Red Wheelbarrow, the book, is essentially Elliot’s notebook, which fills the “thirty days that kind of lapsed between the two seasons.” It overlaps a little bit with season two, Esmail said, so they had to be careful with the details.
“It’s a story,” Esmail said. “It isn’t just … well, it is the thoughts and ramblings of an insane person.”
Esmail and Courtney Looney, a writer on the show who co-wrote the book, made a point that the book was not just made as a promotional tie-in. “This was going to be its own story, and you’re only ever going to hear this story with this book.” While the show’s stars were absent, they provided the voiceover for a short video clip of the book, which really is Elliot’s notebook: the handwriting is Rami Malek’s (when it’s not Christian Slater’s), and it makes very visible the struggle between Elliot and Mr. Robot, who argue about what they’re doing, and who’s in control or captivity. “What is he doing when he steals my time?” Elliot asks.
The book is also stuffed with meaningful ephemera, about which Esmail cheerfully refused to elaborate: “I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’m not going to talk about anything at all! Here’s what I’ll say: I think these are really cool items for you guys to check out. There we go.”
A very engaging speaker, Esmail is clearly practiced at giving good answers while simultaneously saying very little, and he’s not afraid to be brief to avoid spoilers. (“Do I have an endgame in mind? For the whole series? Yes.”)
A few choice comments:
On the season two reveal: “We know we have hardcore awesome fans who are going to read into it. We didn’t think you guys were going to figure it out that fast.” Esmail was initially a little bummed out that people online had figured it out so quickly, but then, “I was like, This is fucking cool, man. … Why wouldn’t we want people to be that engaged on that level, to care that much, to want to decode the show?”
On the main inspiration for ECorp: “Enron. Have you heard of Enron? They’re a terrible company.”
On Grace Gummer, who plays Dom: “She just brought it.” Esmail had originally imagined her character as someone older, nearing retirement, but Gummer auditioned, and now he can’t say enough nice things about her, especially when asked about the tense diner scene near the end of season two. “It really fell on Dom, I mean Grace, to bring it home. We didn’t actually do a lot of takes on that because she just hit it right on every take.”
On characters that might be more important in season three: “Leon is one to look out for.”
On his sitcom influences: “I grew up, and my parents were Muslim Arab-American. People made fun of me a lot. Going home didn’t help because it was this Arab culture and then going to school was this American culture—I was always alienated. I never knew where to be like, this is home, this feels good, this is all cozy and comfy. Except when it came to Friday nights, 8 pm. TGIF. For those two hours every week, I was home.”
Mr. Robot: Red Wheelbarrow is available November 1st from Abrams.