(Note: This article discusses major season 1 spoilers and minor plot details in the Season 2 premiere of “Mr. Robot“)
There are many reasons why the debut season of “Mr. Robot” beat out heavy hitters like “Game of Thrones” for a Golden Globe, but one of them might have been creator Sam Esmail‘s attention to detail. While it’s possible to enjoy the cynical travails of Elliot Alderson and fsociety even if the right button on your mouse is a mystery to you, the writers have left little narrative treats for those who know their way around a Linux.
One of those treats has been the show’s cryptic episode titles, which have often contained references to computer terms that double as a clue to the story and its themes. One example is “eps1.3_da3m0ns.mp4,” a title that refers to programs that run in a system’s background without user operation. Daemons become a key element of the episode but also serve as a clue to the big twist at the end of season 1, when it turns out that Mr. Robot is actually in Elliot’s head… a daemon that his brain has been running without him knowing.
But there’s another changing element to “Mr. Robot”‘s episode titles: the file format in which it’s presented. Every episode title in season 1 ends in a different video extension. The pilot title comes in a Quicktime MOV format, and the finale comes in Microsoft’s phased out AVI. This season, the formats have changed. The season 2 premiere episode’s title, “eps2.0_unm4sk-pt1.tc,” comes in a format native to the obsolete encryption program, TrueCrypt. All the titles now come in different encryption extensions, referencing programs like KeepSafe, SmartEncryptor, and Android’s encryption system.
At the “Mr. Robot” panel at this year’s SXSW, Esmail said that encryption would be a major topic in season 2, which is certainly fitting considering how encryption has been the cause of much debate in Washington and Silicon Valley recently. Apple had a big spat with the FBI this past spring over the iPhone that belonged to one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terrorist attack, which the FBI wanted Apple to unlock with a specially-designed program that would circumvent the iOS encryption system.
But could the tweak in the title extensions signal more than a change in theme? One interpretation of the titles that has been suggested by some fans connects them to Elliot’s fourth-wall breaking speeches to the audience, a la “House of Cards.” In the first season, the story starts with Elliot greeting the viewer, saying that the person he’s talking to is only in his head. He speaks to the viewer as a confidante, allowing us to get a deeper glimpse into his motivations than the other characters he interacts with.
This season, however, Elliot’s already intense paranoia may be escalating thanks to the chaos created by his successful destruction of E Corp and his discovery of who Mr. Robot really is. In the premiere episode, he is far more wary in his soliloquies than before. “Hello again,” he says. “I don’t know if I can tell you secrets like before. Friends are supposed to be honest with each other, and you weren’t.”
If Elliot is becoming even more suspicious of others than he was before, could the encryption extensions in the episode titles be a signal of that? If each episode is a depiction of events shown through Elliot’s unreliable perspective, the encryption may mean that there are details ahead that our hacker protagonist will keep secret from us. Sam Esmail seems to want us to question everything in “Mr. Robot,” even our own lying eyes.
“Mr. Robot” airs Wednesdays at 10 on USA.
Need a quick brush-up on the tech terms used in “Mr. Robot?” Check out our glossary below.