Easter Eggs and other winks at viewers are staples of every episode of Mr. Robot. The show runners carefully place each one for passionate fans to find, sometimes as small as a line of hacker code that's also a date with a hidden reference. Other times it could be as simple as words on a t-shirt. Spotting these strategically placed winks isn't enough though, as the real fun comes with uncovering and examining the meaning behind them.
The following contains spoilers for the Season 3 Premiere of Mr. Robot.
The Season 3 premiere of Mr. Robot continues the series-long trend of strategically placing Easter Eggs and nods throughout, but this one in particular was not even intended to be hidden. After Elliot wakes up at Angela's place, Elliot asks her for some clothes and ends up in adorned in a drastically different look from his usual jeans and black hoodie. He leaves her place wearing a long-sleeved shirt with the words on it, "Property of Josh Groban".
The quote on the shirt is a clear throwback to the show's first episode when Elliot narrates the story of how he hacked Angela's boyfriend Ollie. Elliot claimed he didn't need any other reason to dislike Ollie beyond him liking "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and the music of Josh Groban" on Facebook. However, as a gamer, I'll admit the first words I saw were "Property of Josh", (if there's one thing we learned from Mr. Robot by now, it's that perception is reality) so when I saw the combination of #RamiMalek and the name Josh, something felt familiar.
Malek also portrayed Joshua Washington in the PS4 game, Until Dawn. To add to this sense of familiarity, the preceding shots of Elliot alone in the dark with a flashlight are reminiscent of the game's atmosphere. Having just seen a sequence about parallel realities earlier in the episode, I couldn't help but draw parallels between these two characters and think about Elliot's journey down a similar path to the one Josh took.
Elliot And Josh Have Similar Actions & Motivations
Besides both being voiced by #ElliotAlderson, these two characters have some key similarities. For one, Josh is diagnosed with mental health issues. While a psychiatric report hidden in the game reveals Josh as clinically depressed, it's clear from flashbacks with his psychiatrist that he suffers from some form of psychosis.
Like Elliot, Josh is afraid of being alone, which serves as a driving force for his character and the game's plot. In the prologue his twin sisters have gone missing after a prank by their friends goes awry. A year later when the main game begins, Josh creates a horrific and elaborate plan to scare his friends as some sort of twisted revenge for his sisters' disappearance. This by no means plunges the world into economic dark days like Elliot's plot to get revenge on E Corp for the death of his father, but the reactive motivations are similar.
Is Elliot Becoming A Monster Too?
If there's one thing the Season 3 premiere of Mr. Robot made clear, it's that the relationship dynamic between Mr. Robot and Elliot is changing. The two were both present in the episode but had zero interaction with one other. Even though Angela "met" Mr. Robot, is fully aware of his presence, and on board with his plan to keep Elliot in check, Elliot thinks Mr. Robot is dead after being shot in the Season 2 finale. This lack of awareness runs the risk of Elliot losing his cool over a feeling of lack of control.
Josh had a similar problem with not being in control, so much so that depending on player actions in the game, Josh could turn into a literal monster: a Wendigo. The cause for this was his lack of emotional control over his own actions and feelings towards his friends. Elliot is trying to stop Mr. Robot from enacting Stage 2 —a plan to blow up a building and kill innocent people— even if prevents E Corp from recovering. Elliot views the plan as monstrous, regardless of the consequences of not enacting it, but by not having control over Mr. Robot's actions, Elliot could begin down the slippery slope up turning into the same monster he is trying to fight.
Who's In Control: Elliot, Mr. Robot, Or Something Else?
Who's in control of Elliot's body? Elliot or the "Wendigo", Mr. Robot? Let's pretend for a moment the shirt did say just "property of Josh." After all, during a few shots in the episode, that's all you can see of the shirt, so I wouldn't put it past Sam Esmail to have created a two-for-one nod here. If this is the case, then the shirt may give us part of the answer with the choice of words printed across Elliot's chest. The words "property of, "meaning the shirt belongs to Josh. Simple enough. But who is Elliot, the man wearing the shirt, property of? Elliot or his alter-ego Mr. Robot?
If the shirt belonged to Josh (as in Joshua Washington), then perhaps it's the show runners' way of saying that Elliot is still in control, but not for long. However, the next episode ended with Mr. Robot sitting next to Angela the next steps they should take with Elliot. It would seem as the chess battle between Mr. Robot and Elliot for control over his body in early Season 2 meant next to nothing if the war is still waging. So, as is oft said on the show, "control is an illusion". Just like Josh, Elliot is losing whatever control he still has left as he slowly turns into something else that is him, but not who (or what) he wants to be.
Ultimately, Elliot's t-shirt could be nothing more than a simply wink to his fondness for Josh Groban; however, what would Mr. Robot be without the encouragement to take a deeper look at what's beneath the surface? After all, reality is solely the perception of one living it. We're all just Wendigos trying to hack the system and keep the monsters inside us at bay.