Features

Carly Chaiken Is Mr. Robot's Much-Needed Emotional Center

Darlene is facing her demons in the show's underated final season.
  • Carly Chaiken  in Mr. Robot (USA)
    Carly Chaiken in Mr. Robot (USA)

    Warning: the following contains spoilers from the first half of Mr Robot's final season. In other words, if you're not up-to-date, stop reading now!

    It's not easy being Elliot Alderson's sister on Mr. Robot. At various points in the series, Elliot (Rami Malek) has either misremembered or forgotten vital events related to his family, especially sister Darlene (Carly Chaiken), whom he tried to kiss in the first season, mistaking her kindness and concern as a signal of romantic interest. He regularly talks to a likeness of his dead father, who he believed pushed him out of his bedroom window when he was a kid. In the Season 3 finale, Darlene (Carly Chaikin) revealed that their dad had nothing to do with this defining moment in Elliot's life — and that Elliot had in fact jumped. An architect of the 5/9 hack and integral fSociety member, Darlene’s role extends beyond her technological talents, as she is often the emotional tether connecting Elliot to the real-world. Bad things happen when he forgets, and Darlene has repeatedly pulled him back from the brink. But in the final season, Darlene is just as lost as her brother, which has given Carly Chaikin a real chance to shine.

    Rami Malek and Christian Slater have received the majority of Mr. Robot's acting plaudits, but the women of this show consistently deliver nuanced and memorable performances. As our unreliable narrator, Elliot is understandably the focal point, but Darlene and Angela (Portia Doubleday) are a reminder of Elliot's humanity. He isn’t simply defined by his mental health issues, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), or his hacking schemes. In a shocking twist, Angela was killed in the opening minutes of the final season premiere, dramatically reducing the list of people Elliot cares about. He knows what happened to her, but Darlene is in the dark, choosing to stay in her childhood friend’s apartment and get high to counter the reality of the situation. But beneath her sardonic demeanor, Darlene is desperate to connect with her brother.

    The final season takes place over what feels like a never-ending Christmas, which only underscores the disharmony among the fractured Aldersons. When their estranged mother — whom both siblings hated — dies, it brings them back together, but eventually the situation isolates Darlene further. Elliot might physically be in the same room, but there's always a part of him that's elsewhere.

    Chaikin has the challenge of portraying Darlene’s instability, her insurmountable guilt over her various misdeeds, and the ache she feels over her brother’s absence. She screams into his voicemail before deleting the recording and leaving a more measured message. Both fear for the other’s life, and yet it takes a dialogue-free episode for them to finally hear the other. In "Not Found," Darlene takes a long and strange trip to find her brother, driving a drunk guy dressed as Santa (played by Jon Glaser) home, convinced he's considering suicide. As it turns out, the oblique references he makes to It’s a Wonderful Life and Steinbeck are intended as advice for Darlene. In a moment straight out of a holiday movie, Darlene realizes that she is the one who needs saving. All it took was the wisdom of a wasted Santa to open her eyes. As Elliot steps further into the dark, consumed by destroying the Dark Army and White Rose, Darlene is still trying to protect him.

    Creator Sam Esmail’s ambitious streak has continued in Season 4, with a dialogue-free episode that owes as much to Buffy the Vampire Slayer as it does to 1950s French heist movie Rififi. The pair attempt their own daring robbery, which is ultimately successful despite some very close calls. They are terrible communicators, but when it comes to hacking, they are telepathic. Rami Malek may have emotive wide eyes, but he has nothing on Carly Chaikin’s peepers, which is why she hides them behind heart-shaped sunglasses when she doesn’t want to give anything away.

    The palpable tension means "Method Not Allowed" is full of hold-your-breath scenes that showcase Malek's physicality, but Chaikin has the harder role, as she must fake smile her way in and out of the secure building. Selling her fear while attempting to appear breezy -- all with zero dialogue -- is no easy feat.

    Elliot might only have his sister left, but Darlene did make a connection last season with FBI Agent Dominque DiPierro (Grace Gummer). This all went to hell when, against her will, Dom became the latest pawn of the Dark Army. "My whole life is ruined because of you," Dom bitterly told Darlene at the end of last season. "All you deserve is pure and utter agony." It's a point she reiterates when they are reunited on Christmas Day. This isn’t a time for fond remembrances as Dom has been ordered to kill her, leading to a moment that should earn Chaiken best-in-show honors.

    At the halfway point of the final season, Mr. Robot has hit its stride, even if Elliot, Darlene, and Dom all face increasingly dangerous predicaments. If the Television Academy chooses to recognize this final run, it will do them good to look beyond previous winner Malek. "I'm here to remember for you," Darlene previously told her brother, but she's much more than Elliot’s memory keeper. As her brother steps further over the line, Darlene needs to stand strong, and Carly Chaikin has shown she is more than up to the task.

    People are talking about Mr. Robot in our forums. Join the conversation.

    Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina

    TOPICS: Mr. Robot, USA, Carly Chaikin, Rami Malek, Sam Esmail