The first rule of Mr Robot: don't believe anything you see. Its unstable protagonist Elliot Alderson takes the concept of 'unreliable narrator' to a whole new level, and in the new season his psychotic delusions have become even more complicated, with entire scenes now revealing themselves to be fabricated.
For three episodes now, we've seen Elliot completely isolated from his former life, interacting with nobody at all from the season one cast – except for Mr Robot, a figment of his imagination. Out of nowhere, he's moved in with his mother, who was so out of the picture last season that most viewers assumed she was dead. In her weirdly bare house he's created a structured routine for himself, trying to keep his psychosis at bay through sheer force of habit.
…But that's not what's really going on. Elliot's not really living with his mother. He's in a psychiatric ward, and this week's episode 'Kernel Panic' only made us more certain. Here are 8 of the most compelling pieces of evidence…
1. Mrs Alderson's house
Nobody's house looks like this. A spartan, minimalist decor would be one thing – Elliot does describe his mother as "the strictest person he knows" – but in some shots this looks like the inside of a building that has been condemned. Look at the dim lighting, the dusty floor, the almost-empty rooms. Then there's Elliot's bedroom, which doesn't look exactly like a jail cell, but isn't far off. It's bare and utilitarian, devoid of anything personal except Elliot's journal, and the overhead shots of him waking up in his sterile single bed just scream "institution".
Also, where exactly is this house? Is it in New York? Maybe the suburbs? For a show thats's generally very deliberate with its NYC locations – from Coney Island to Times Square to Chinatown – the lack of specificity here is pretty telling.
2. Mrs Alderson
After the season premiere, we were wondering if Elliot's mother was another hallucination. After this week's episode 'Kernel Panic', we're not really wondering any more.
Mrs Alderson speaks exactly twice in the season's first episode: she tells Elliot "It's time to get up", and later asks "What's going on over there?" during Gideon's visit, both of which sound like lines from a more generic authority figure – say, a nurse. She's said nothing since, and nobody has everspoken to her, including Elliot. When Elliot's "helping out around the house", doing dishes and so on, Mrs Alderson's nowhere to be seen. All Mrs Alderson seems to do all day is stare at the TV, a habit which The Week suggested could be a reference to Psycho's Mrs Bates. Mrs Alderson probably isn't secretly a skeleton, but she probably isn't real either.
Elliot's therapist Krista asked "Why your mother?" You're led to assume she's asking Elliot why he moved back in with his mother, but there's no context for the question, so what she may in fact be asking is "Why are you hallucinating your mother?"
3. The childhood flashback
Why begin the season by showing 8-year-old Elliot in the hospital? We already know the story of Mr Alderson pushing him out of the window in a fit of rage, and we don't learn anything new from the flashback… but we do get that transition from Elliot's brain scan in the past, through to his wallpaper and journal cover in the present. Because in both past and present, Elliot's in hospital.
4. The diner
Elliot and Leon eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same diner. That might just about make sense for Elliot, who's making a concerted effort to establish routine in his life, but for Leon, it's a little strange. Unless Leon is a patient at the same facility as Elliot, and they're eating meals together in the cafeteria.
5. Gideon's visit
When Gideon (RIP) comes to visit Elliot, the pair sit stiffly across from one another at a table. Sure, that's pretty unremarkable in itself, but in the context of everything else, it brings to mind the kind of formal, supervised visit you might make to a prison, or a psychiatric institution. We don't see Gideon arriving or leaving, and he doesn't communicate with Mrs Alderson at all.
6. The phone
Look at the phone Elliot uses when he receives his call from Tyrell. That's presumably his mother's phone, and it's kind of charmingly retro. It's also mounted on the wall in a hallway, which – just like the formality of Gideon's visit – looks very institutional.
7. Ray's office
What, exactly, is Ray's deal? He's much too friendly towards Elliot to simply be a stranger, and he knows a lot about him – including, in this week's episode, the fact that he keeps a journal. We learn that intriguing tidbit during the inexplicable scene in which Elliot and Ray sit together in what appears to be Ray's office, and Ray admits that he has one-sided conversations with his dead wife every morning. This seems to connect with Elliot, who's still hallucinating a maniacal version of his dead father.
This scene makes a lot more sense if you assume that Elliot's in a psych ward, and Ray is a staff member. How this fits in with Ray's Bitcoin subplot remains to be seen, but it also explains why everybody on the basketball court stood down so quickly after Ray intervened in the fight.
8. The unresolved knock at the door
We still don't know what happened after the final moment of last season, when Elliot returned to his apartment after his Times Square meltdown, and heard a knock at the door. The other major unresolved thread from that finale is Krista, whose cheating ex asked her to help him build a criminal case against Elliot.
Krista is now seeing Elliot for therapy sessions again, which is a huge leap from last season when she severed ties with him after realizing that he'd hacked her. Maybe she was the one who knocked, coming to warn Elliot about the evidence against him, and offering him a deal – if he checked himself into inpatient therapy, she wouldn't go to the police with what she knew, and would begin therapy with him again.
9. Rami Malek quietly trolling us
Asked to describe Elliot's season two arc in a single word, Malek replied: "Committed." Now, maybe that's too on the nose… or maybe it's just on the nose enough for a show that used The Pixies' 'Where Is My Mind' to underscore its twist last season. Just like the "Mr Robot is Elliot's dad" reveal, maybe "Elliot's in a psych ward" is another twist Sam Esmail wants us to see coming a mile off.