August 24, 2016 8:08pm PT by Josh Wigler
Michael Parmelee/USA Network
“It’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever done,” Chaikin tells THR about Darlene’s moment of vengeance.
[Warning: This story contains spoilers through season two, episode seven of Mr. Robot.]
Madame Executioner has been executed.
In the latest episode of the USA Network drama’s increasingly bleak second season, fsociety co-founder and current shot-caller Darlene (Carly Chaikin) crossed the point of no return and claimed her first life: E Corp attorney Susan Jacobs (Sandrine Holt), a woman Darlene has blamed for all of her life’s problems since she was four years old. After weeks of using the vacationing Susan’s New York City apartment as fsociety’s new base of operations, the so-called Madame Executioner finally returned home, catching Darlene and her allies red-handed. While the team debated the best course of action against Jacobs, Darlene took it upon herself to kill two birds with one stone: in killing Jacobs, Darlene kept fsociety’s cover intact, and also scratched an itch for vengeance several decades in the making.
Darlene’s deadly decision comes at the height of a dark journey throughout season two. She’s been leading the hacker society on her own while her brother Elliot (Rami Malek) serves a prison sentence for an as yet unrevealed crime. (Indeed, Elliot isn’t just absent from Darlene’s life, but from Mr. Robot at large; this week’s episode marks the first time Rami Malek and Christian Slater have sat on the sidelines for an entire installment.) Now, with murder added to the list of crimes she’s committed, not to mention the external pressures of both the Dark Army and federal authorities breathing down fsociety’s neck, Darlene’s isolation and paranoia are poised for all new depths of despair.
For more on this week’s episode, THR spoke with Carly Chaikin about the current state of Darlene, the show’s brief exploration of an Elliot-free world, and more.
It’s been a dark season for Darlene, and this is her darkest hour yet. What was it like, pushing Darlene to this place where she kills Susan Jacobs?
This was the episode that I was looking forward to the most. When I read the scene with Susan Jacobs… it’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever done. Even the moment after, when I tell [the members of fsociety about the murder]. I never really paid much attention to that scene until we were shooting it, and then I think it became, going into that mindset, was one of the darkest that I’ve been in. It was pretty hard to get out of. Before we started, when [creator Sam Esmail] first told me that I was going to kill her, I was like, “Wait, I’m a murderer now?” And when I got the scripts, and started getting into it, it feels like she makes this decision once she’s down there. It’s not something she’s planning on doing necessarily. But Susan is the face of everything that’s happened to Darlene — of E Corp killing her dad, and everything like that. Susan is the face of the situation. I think many of us have had those times where we’ve felt, “If I ever see that f—ing person again, I’m going to kill them.”
Hopefully most people aren’t crossing that line, but yes.
And to be put in that situation when you’re four years old, having this person in your head as the epitome of everything that’s destroyed you… most people put in that position wouldn’t actually do it, but it really is Darlene at the lowest point of not having an option. If they do let her go, they’re all screwed. But also, it shows the place she’s in, and who she’s become, to get to that place of detachment and desperation. She’s come face to face with the person she put all of this onto. Darlene’s whole story and progression this season has been hitting that low. What does she have to lose?
There’s a bit of a “heavy lies the crown” element to Darlene’s story this season, where she’s left to lead fsociety while Elliot is in prison, and it’s not exactly going well. Was it inevitable that Darlene’s leadership position would bring her to actual violence?
It’s doing whatever it takes. At this point, that’s the only option when you’re really hanging on by a thread, when you’re desperate to see this whole thing through and when you’re so in over your head. It’s hard. People always talk about how Elliot is the lonely one, and him being alone. But what’s interesting about the show is that every character he’s surrounded by is so much lonelier than he is. At least he has Robot. Really, with Darlene, all she really has now is kind of Cisco. Other than that, it’s this young girl trying to navigate her way through having the world on her shoulders.
You mention Darlene as a young girl, and in this episode, we find out that she’s been nursing this grudge against Susan Jacobs since she was four years old. That’s a very long time to carry around so much anger and vengeance.
One of the other crazy things is when Darlene tells Susan that no one saw her smile but me. I just picture her being four years old in the living room, seeing that, and having this moment of thinking, “Did anyone else just see that?” And no one else did. She’s been alone in this situation of holding onto that. After her dad died, it really was the downfall and destruction of her life. Most people, like Angela, have E Corp as a whole to blame. I think Darlene put Susan Jacobs’ face to the situation. It’s one of those things that people fantasize about: facing that person and what they would say and how that would be and what it would actually be like. You have what it would be in your head, versus how it plays in reality. Coming face to face with that is such a big deal. For me, I wanted to play that moment really intimately and really quiet, instead of yelling at her, and coming at it with screaming and rage — but instead having this moment to connect with her and really look her in the eye.
Darlene sets the tone of Susan’s final moments by saying, “Let’s keep this friendly.” But she doesn’t have friendly intentions; she’s already made up her mind.
I don’t know if her mind is necessarily made up from the beginning. It’s one of those things that throughout the conversation, it’s having that moment of waiting for something to stop her, and it just… it doesn’t. Susan says, “I’m sure we can figure something out.” And Darlene laughs in the same way that Susan laughed at her, and just makes up her mind.
Earlier, you mentioned the show’s exploration of loneliness, and how Darlene doesn’t have many people she can trust right now, save for Cisco. But by the end of the episode, Darlene learns that Cisco and the Dark Army have been making moves behind her back — leading to Darlene knocking Cisco out with a baseball bat. What’s swimming through her mind as she’s processing all of this double-dealing?
It’s interesting. Originally, half of my storyline from this episode was in episode six, and then they combined it all into one [episode]. When I originally read this, it was like having Cisco go through all of this with her, and finally feeling like she has someone, and then seeing [the betrayal]… it’s so beyond devastating. She finally felt like she had one person she could trust, someone who would be with her through all of this — even her killing someone — and then that sense of betrayal, which she’s been dealing with from everybody, between fsociety backing down and Elliot backing down, to now finding out that she’s been betrayed by Cisco. It pushes that loneliness even further, I think. It’s a huge blow.
This is the first time that Elliot has been completely absent from an episode. How do you think people will respond to an Elliot-free hour, and what does it say about the state of Mr. Robot that it’s confident enough to explore an episode without its lead character?
When they told me that Elliot and Mr. Robot weren’t in this episode at all, I was very surprised. But I also think it’s incredible. It says a lot about this season. Elliot, of course, is the anchor of this show and the narrator of this show. But it goes to show you how much else is going on outside of Elliot. I think it says a lot about the characters that Sam has developed, that they’re so strong and that they can hold their own. These are important and pivotal characters. It’s exciting to be trusted enough to carry an episode without [Elliot and Robot]. I am curious to see what the audience has to say.
It’s a bold time to move away from Elliot, given the reveal in last week’s episode that he’s been in prison this whole time. What was your reaction when you first learned about the twist?
Christian, Rami and I knew about it from the beginning. When I read even the first episode, I knew about [the twist] going into it. It was so crazy, and I was just like, “Holy shit.” I was always wondering what it would be like to read that script without knowing it, and then finding out later on. It just shows how smart the audience is, that they immediately picked up on those clues. I don’t think any of the other cast put that together before it came out. I remember Portia [Doubleday] being like, “What the hell? Who is this dog? Who are these people? It’s so weird!” (Laughs.) I can’t imagine what it would be like to see it without knowing. But I thought it was so cool, and so in line with the show, and so in line with who Elliot is. It felt very true to the tone of the show and the person that Elliot is, being in this situation and creating his own world in order to survive it.
Speaking of Elliot creating worlds, and just to explore a tangent for a moment, can you talk about your experience shooting the season’s sitcom sequence? Of course, Darlene was unconscious for most of it…
It was very weird and it was really funny, with Sam and everyone trying to figure out how to shoot a sitcom, which seems so different and simple, but is so out of everybody’s realm. We were all so excited to film it, and then it turned out to be one of the most miserable things to film. (Laughs.) We were all so excited, and then everybody — especially me — didn’t find it that much fun. You’re sitting on a stage under these huge lights that are pounding on top of you. It feels like you’re cooking in an oven. Being in the back of that car, where you can barely fit into it… I was just so hot and cramped.
Seeing Alf didn’t cheer you up?
Well, that’s the thing. I was knocked out! I was lying down! I couldn’t see anything. Everybody was laughing, and I kept wanting to poke my head up. It was funny. It was cool, too, because they had all of the old cameras and old monitors in the same way we saw it, as well as some monitors that were more new age. It was a very interesting and cool experience, but it was not fun.
Elliot’s incarceration must have greatly informed your work as Darlene throughout the season. Is this the biggest stressor in Darlene’s already very stressful life?
I don’t even think it’s necessarily about Elliot being physically gone, as much as it’s about him not being with her in this anymore. Emotionally, Elliot being like, “We can’t do this, we need to stop.” With the flashback scene, we saw Elliot telling Darlene everything that she’s now regurgitating to him. We’re holding onto all of the words that he said. Just this whole idea of them being in on this together and him starting this movement, and me following… this is supposed to be our thing. But last year, with Darlene realizing that he didn’t even know who she was this whole time, and now him being the one to back off, I think that’s the biggest thing. All she wants is her brother to be there, to be there emotionally and to be on the same page, doing the things they were supposed to do together. I think that’s the biggest weight: not having that support anymore, and having to do this alone.
At one point in the episode, Mobley tells Trenton about the 5/9 Hack and the fsociety cause: “What we did was colossally f—ing stupid. We can’t afford not to see that anymore.” Is there any part of Darlene that feels the same way? Is she starting to think that the revolution against E Corp was a mistake?
I think that’s been her struggle from the beginning. People have these ideas about revolution and changing the world, and thinking that they have the answers, and if this was just the case then everything would be fine. … In season one, she was going into this kind of naive, with this idealistic vision that’s almost like a fantasy. Now, going through with it and seeing the reality of it and the aftermath of what happened, and the world completely shattering… I think the biggest fear right now and why she’s having her breakdowns is because she’s wondering if what she did was wrong. But if she doesn’t stand behind it, and if she doesn’t see it through, she’ll feel like the biggest monster there is. The idea of this being wrong and being so f—ed up and the worst thing we could have done, it’s not even an option for her to consider. Right now, the only thing she’s holding onto is this: if we can just see this through and get to the other side, it’s all going to work out. It’s not an option to leave the world as is, to have done more damage than good. And I think that’s her battle: seeing the consequences of her actions. That’s what she’s fighting through this whole season, not being the monster. All she can do now is stand behind it with all her might.
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