The Mr. Robot Hack Report: The final hackdown
Mr. Robot is a show built on hacks. The mother of all hacks serves as the big cliffhanger at the end of the show's first season, and nearly every plot development leading up to it was nudged along by some kind of exploit. It’s rare to get through an episode without at least one digital intrusion, often drawn from real life. Each week, we'll be running throughMr. Robot's C Y B E R activities — who got hacked, why, and how much magic would be required to make them actually work.
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So that’s the whole season! Pretty wild, especially the Ghost in the Shell teasers that popped up in the middle. There are still a lot of C Y B E R M Y S T E R I E S — but I prefer to focus on what we actually know. Darlene’s fine, it turns out, although she might be a narc now? We also got to hear Rami Malek’s Christian Slater impression, which is one of the most Emmy-worthy things I’ve ever seen. And just like last season’s finale, Elliot completely lost his mind at a pivotal moment for the plot. It happens!
On the hack front, Tyrell also laid out the details of Stage Two, the earth-shaking hack that will most likely be the backbone of season three. It’s detailed, technical, and genuinely cool — although it was easy to miss if you were caught up in the whole you-can’t-shoot-me-because-you-are-me drama.
WHAT THE HELL IS TYRELL TALKING ABOUT?
The plan is basically a redux of the first season’s hack: destroy all records of property and debt, the precarious stool upon which rests the horrific Moloch edifice of capitalism.
Stage Two revealed
The fallout from the 5/9 hack is still a little unclear (did they ever straighten out that nice old lady’s mortgage?), but we know E Corp has made a big shift towards paper storage in the wake of the attack. Most of those records (literally pieces of paper) have ended up in a single data center building in lower Manhattan. If that building blew up, all that property would be up for grabs.
It’s worth looking back a little bit now that we know exactly what everyone’s been talking about this whole time. We first heard about Stage Two in the season’s first White Rose scene; she sensed that Price was opting for "the E Coin strategy," and wanted to move up Stage Two in response. We still don’t know the exact connection, but it makes sense. The more E Corp moves to a Bitcoin-style public ledger, the less vulnerable they are to an attack on paper records.
So hopefully Tyrelliot can blow everything up before it’s too late. Or maybe that would be bad? Hard to say!
HOW DO YOU HACK A BUILDING INTO EXPLODING?
This is where things get complicated. The widespread brownouts have led Tyrell and Evil Corp alike to rely on Uninterruptible Power Sources (or UPSs). The same building that houses those paper records also has a bunch of servers running on UPS power — so if Elliot can get the UPSs to explode, he can get the whole building to explode.
Hydrogen gas has a tendency to explode
UPSs are entirely a real thing! You can get one here; it will take up roughly the same amount of money and space as a mini-fridge. In practical terms, the device is a backup power supply that sits between you and the wall outlet, making sure your computer doesn’t crash when the power cuts out. It’s particularly important for systems that can’t handle a hard power cut, so you see them in the racks at a lot of data centers. Keeping the power going continuously usually means a series of linked systems: a physical flywheel to maintain power for a few seconds, then a battery that provides a few more minutes of power once the flywheel gives out, all of which should give the building’s backup generator time to kick in.
For Elliot’s purposes, the most important part of that chain is the batteries. Almost all consumer devices use lithium-ion batteries for power density reasons, but they’re fragile and age poorly. As a result, UPS’s tend to opt for the older lead acid battery, most often used in non-Tesla cars. It’s a lot heavier than a lithium-ion battery, but it can sit dormant almost indefinitely without breaking down. The only downside is that the batteries tend to leak hydrogen gas — particularly when they’re charged beyond recommended limits. And as you'll remember from the Hindenburg, hydrogen gas has a tendency to explode. So if you pump power into the device and shut down the fans, then overcharge the circuits until they start to throw off sparks, you’re going to have quite an explosion on your hands.
That’s a lot of ifs! As the episode ends, that plan still hasn’t gone through, so we don’t know exactly what it would look like. These things are never quite as simple as they sound, so we’ll probably see a bunch of new complications popping up along the way. But as elaborate master plans go, there’s no reason it couldn’t work.
Of course, there are still a lot of things that can go wrong! For instance, it seems like Elliot might actively try to stop all this from happening. Also, Darlene might be giving everyone up to the feds and god knows what Angela is up to — but such is the mystery of Robot.
Sadly, there’s no digital aftershow to work out exactly what the hell’s going on, but let me know
Disclosure: NBC Universal, owner of USA Network, is an investor in Vox Media, The Verge’s parent company. Additionally, we are an independent editorial partner in the Mr. Robot Digital After Show hosted by The Verge.