From the beginning of Mr. Robot, it was obvious that Elliot Alderson was an unreliable narrator. He "hacked" his own brain to change different sensory inputs, lost large chunks of time, and is unbelievably paranoid. So it was not a huge surprise when the show revealed Mr. Robot was not, in fact, Christian Slater — he was Elliot’s mind taking the form of Christian Slater taking the form of Elliot’s deceased father, who used to own a computer repair shop called Mr. Robot. How was Elliot going to handle this new information about himself? What happened to him during the three days of the E Corp hack? Where is coconspirator Tyrell Wellick? And what else is Elliot’s messed-up brain hiding from the audience?
The second season of Mr. Robot has finally premiered, and writer-director-creator Sam Esmail has deigned to answer almost none of these questions, other than the first: Elliot is now spending all of his time on a schedule trying to avoid the internet so Mr. Robot can’t break out and get into the computer. This means few answers and even fewer scenes of Rami Malek’s face dimly lit by a screen. That doesn’t matter, though, because Season 2 of Mr. Robot has introduced a bunch of new characters (and reintroduced some old ones in surprising new situations), and that raises a whole host of new questions, like: Are any of these characters figments of Elliot’s imagination we don’t know about? Let's take our best guesses.
We'll start start with an easy one.
Yup, still definitely a figment of Elliot’s imagination. Moving on.
First of all, it’s incredibly suspicious that Elliot has a new "friend" who just happens to be played by rapper Joey Bada$$. Does Elliot even know how to maintain social connections with anyone? (No.) The person he most consistently refers to as a "friend" is ... the invisible audience, which says not-good things about Leon. Nothing about their relationship makes sense, from the way they eat every meal together in the same diner at very specific times to Elliot’s habit of never speaking to Leon at all.
This doesn’t bode well for Leon’s chances of being a real human, especially when he just happens to disappear from the pickup basketball game when Craig Robinson's Ray shows up and starts talking to Elliot. Where did he go? Back into Elliot’s mind hole. (Sam Esmail’s directing here is reminiscent of all of those scenes in Fight Club, the Mr. Robot urtext, where Edward Norton just kind of fades into the background because Tyler Durden has taken control.) The pattern is almost too obvious. Also, how is a twentysomething man just "discovering" Seinfeld? And why is he so confused by narrative aimlessness?
Verdict: Almost definitely a figment of Elliot’s imagination. Unless he’s not.
Robinson’s character shows up at the basketball game, ready to ask Elliot for help with a nebulous computer-related issue. He has all of the hallmarks of being a real dude who exists in the world — annoying Elliot, talking about his wife, having seemingly real problems that he wants Elliot to solve with his super-cool hacking skills. But there’s something a little off about Ray, who claims to have had a phone conversation with Mr. Robot.
Is it just that Craig Robinson usually does comedy, so he feels like a weird fit for the show? Is it that Ray doesn’t just go to a different computer specialist for whatever his problem is? Or is it that he has normal emotional responses to other people and uses low-key humor as a defense mechanism, like an ordinary person? All of these make him far too well-adjusted for Mr. Robot.
Verdict: Probably not a figment of Elliot’s imagination, should run far away from this show.
Dominique DiPierro is a new character this season — an FBI agent assigned to investigate the E Corp hack. We only get a brief glimpse of her making her regular, too-friendly purchase at her local bodega, then interrogating Gideon. (Is she working out of E Corp’s offices? CEO Phillip Price suggests that’s where the FBI is, but they could have other offices, assuming the $900 billion E Corp bailout didn’t bankrupt the government.) Since she hasn’t interacted with Elliot at all and by all appearances is an extremely outgoing person, it seems reasonable to conclude that she is not a figment of his imagination. Besides, Grace Gummer has probably had enough of playing in boys' fever dreams after being on The Newsroom.
Verdict: Realer than Will McAvoy.
The supposed mastermind behind the hack is nowhere to be found, other than a brief appearance in a flashback to the hack. There’s nothing in the two-part premiere to contradict the popular fan theory that Tyrell is another one of Elliot’s personalities, except for the fact that he gets called out by Poorly Dubbed Obama (more on him later) and that his wife Joanna is seemingly in hiding and being questioned about her husband’s whereabouts. But Mr. Robot keeps refusing to tell Elliot where Tyrell is, even though he (and therefore Elliot, even if he can't access the information) ostensibly knows what happened to him. Then he calls Elliot at the end, and says "bonsoir" and everything! Disembodied voices and mind games are very in this season.
Verdict: Probably real, but a mystery.
Where could Elliot possibly be living where he would have to do minimal housework and self-care? Who could he stay with who would have no use for the internet? His mom! Who apparently is still alive and in the picture, even though she’s barely been a presence in his mind. Elliot’s mother mostly opens and closes the door to his room, glowers at her son, and sits in front of a fan, which is all pretty authentic mom behavior, judging from personal experience. Look: Everything about Mrs. Alderson screams "additional personality," from the way she’s framed by the camera to the fact that everything about her presence is insanely implausible. But it’s just too obvious to make sense, unless everything about Elliot’s new life is one big lie.
Verdict: One imaginary parent is enough, thanks.
For most of the first season, Elliot’s boss, Gideon, was probably the character spiritually closest to most of Mr. Robot’s audience, even if no one wanted to admit it — he seemed like a genuinely decent guy at heart, but he was also trying to pay the bills by protecting an evil company, and he was definitely not talking to Christian Slater in his head all the time. So it's pathetic when he shows up at Elliot’s mother’s house begging for help with the FBI’s investigation of the hack, especially when Elliot refuses to assist him out of fear of Mr. Robot. Gideon does go to the FBI to try to rat out Elliot, but we don’t know what he told them — and it probably doesn’t matter anymore, because he gets shot in the throat in the middle of a bar because that’s what happens to characters on Mr. Robot now.
Sadly, he is (was?) probably not a figment of Elliot’s imagination, since he was a major character last season and has interacted with several people who are probably also not figments of Elliot’s imagination, unless Mr. Robot goes full St. Elsewhere this year. With that in mind: R.I.P. Gideon. Until you show up as an actual figment of Elliot’s imagination to torment him with guilt over your death. That’s going to be super fun to watch.
Verdict: He dead.
Poorly Dubbed Obama
In a spectacular feat of spreading misinformation (or just fiction closely approximating reality), news reports about this season of Mr. Robot made it sound like President Obama would cameo as himself — and the president is just cool enough, and Mr. Robot just hyped enough, that it was a plausible story, if you squinted and stopped taking your meds. Instead, Obama is just dubbed, his face manipulated to make it look like he’s talking about Tyrell Wellick and Fsociety in a supposedly "live" press conference about the E Corp hack (that somehow always seems to be on TV, no matter what time of day Elliot is watching). The only conclusion is this: Barack Obama doesn’t even exist in the world of Mr. Robot, and only Elliot can see him. Yes, there are lightly fictionalized versions of Obama administration officials like Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, but I think we all know that the real president in this world is Dennis Kucinich.
Verdict: Only in Elliot’s dreams.