Sam Esmail wants you to pay very, very close attention. The Mr. Robot creator is directing every episode of his show’s second season, and he’s nothing if not detail-oriented, littering the screen and soundtrack with Easter eggs: references, callbacks, and call-forwards. As soon as last week’s season premiere aired, viewers — including us — started to wonder if Esmail was already subtly planting the seeds of a big, reality-bending twist. But how does that suspicion fare in the wake of the taut second installment in the season? In short: very well. Let’s take a look at the new evidence. Spoilers below.
The theory is pretty simple: Although Elliot tells us that he’s living an unplugged life at his mother’s house, he’s actually living in the psych ward of a hospital. Episode two offered nothing to contradict the theory and plenty that synced up nicely with it:
The way the fsociety gang talks about Elliot.
In the premiere, fsociety hacker Mobley asked Darlene if she’d seen Elliot, to which she ambiguously replied, “That’s not important.” In tonight’s episode, the remaining members of the hacker collective — RIP Romero — talk about him in slightly greater detail. Mobley suspects that the Dark Army may have murdered Gideon and Romero, and that they knew who they were because Elliot ratted them out.
“State Elliot’s in —” Mobley says before Darlene cuts him off with a terse, “Don’t say what you’re thinking.” She says she’ll talk to him, which means she knows where he is (perhaps she helped him check himself in?). “I don’t trust her or her crazy-ass brother,” Mobley muses after she leaves. All of that dialogue fits very easily with the notion that their erstwhile leader is in the loony bin and they all know about it.
Everything with Ray.
Last week, we theorized that Ray might be a fellow patient, but it seems far more likely that he’s someone highly placed at the institution, probably some kind of administrator. We see him a few times in situations that would be happening in his life outside the hospital: dining at home and threatening a techie who appears to be working for him into some kind of criminal sideline gig. And although he talks to his dead wife, we later see him fully admit that he’s aware she’s gone, meaning he’s not hallucinating.
More importantly, he talks to Elliot in the manner of someone who has a good deal of information and authority over him. Remember how, last episode, he knew our hacker hero was computer-oriented? It would make sense that he’d have that information if he’s well-placed at the hospital. In this episode, he tries to coerce Elliot into working with him, presumably to replace the aforementioned techie.
He gets ahold of Elliot’s journal (which would be hard unless he were in close quarters with Elliot on a regular basis) and confronts him about it, confiding that he himself has also experienced a certain degree of madness in the form of his chats with his departed bride — just the kind of thing an emotionally manipulative psych-ward supervisor would do to win over a patient. He later calls Elliot into his office, which has the slightly run-down look and cubed-glass window of an institutional office. “You’re smart enough to know that keeping this inside isn’t gonna last," Ray says — could “inside” have a dual meaning? Is Ray offering Elliot some degree of freedom in exchange for some illicit work?
The saga of the pills.
Leon hooks our protagonist up with an obscene amount of Adderall, which Elliot starts popping to get rid of Mr. Robot. Such drugs would be plentiful in a psych ward, and although they’d be under lock and key, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume a crafty fellow like Leon might be able to get his hands on them. It seems especially likely if other employees are as morally compromised as Ray.
Once Elliot starts flying high, he has a vision of being abducted by men in black who cram a thick, grey paste down his gullet, forcing him to vomit up the pills. He then scrambles to pick them up out of his spew and swallow them again. This is pretty obviously a hallucination, and one that could definitely reflect an incident in some hospital bathroom or hallway: Elliot, under the influence of his Mr. Robot persona, puked, then got (relative) control of himself and reconsumed the goods. Pity the poor janitor tasked with wiping up.
Elliot returns to his group meetings, which we previously theorized were a kind of group therapy. But given how intensely religious and confession-based they turned out to be in this episode, could it be that they’re in-hospital Narcotics Anonymous meetings? And when Elliot goes on his rant against organized religion, nobody seems all that put off by his wild pattern of speech and his vehemence. Perhaps, given that this is happening in a psych ward, the listeners are used to patients losing it like that?
The Adderall-induced imagery.
While feeling his euphoric lucidity, Elliot starts to picture things a bit differently, and his visions get more hospital-y. While running up some steps, each one turns white, as they might be in a hospital. While cleaning some dishes, he notes how clean they look, and we see them in gleaming white — again, the color of a hospital. But the biggest clue comes in an eatery. Last week, we noted that the restaurant where Leon and Elliot meet up for the former’s Seinfeld thoughts looked a lot like an institutional cafeteria, with its trays and sleepy-looking diners. Elliot returns to it for chats with Leon and Ray this time, and while he’s bugged out on the Adderall, its look begins to change. The lights start to flicker, making it very apparent that they’re cheap fluorescents of the sort one might find in an institution. Perhaps, as his focus becomes more acute, reality was starting to peek in through the cracks of his hallucination.