Decrypted, Ars Technica's TV podcast

Welcome to Decrypted, Ars Technica's weekly podcast that follows TV shows like Mr. Robot and Westworld. We'll be diving into the shows in a way only Ars can—which is to say it'll be thorough, we'll talk with experts, and no detail is too minute or nerdy. // Mr. Robot S2 starts 7/13/16. Show is produced and hosted by Nathan Mattise. // Westworld S1 starts 10/2/16. Show is produced and hosted by Annalee Newitz, co-produced by Jennifer Hahn.
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Decrypted, Ars Technica's TV podcast


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Now displaying: 2016
Dec 6, 2016

Topics discussed: We just don't care that William and MIB are the same person (seriously why is this such a big deal); how Maeve's final revelation completely sold her character short (and also made no sense given her past actions); why Bernard why (you were our favorite character and now you're a blob); the differences between Arnold and Ford's ideas about consciousness (or lack thereof); W.E.B. Dubois' idea of double consciousness (and why it completely fits robot consciousness in this story); robots and slavery (and some of the not-so-subtle racial subtexts); the trouble with Dolores (it's still not clear why she's leading the rebellion); and how much we want Felix to be promoted (go Felix go!).

Nov 29, 2016

This week's guest is Norman Chan, co-founder of Tested, where he writes and makes videos about science, technology, and pop culture. He is a huge fan of Westworld, and has some fascinating observations about which robot characters are the most realistic.

Topics discussed: The big reveal about Arnold (and what this says about Ford's plans); timeframes and robot memory (this is a lot more complex than a "dual timeline" theory); long loops and short loops (and OMG we are starting to think a lot about Matrix: Reloaded); what the robot revolution will really be like (and how maybe we don't really want to see the robots leave Westworld); how the show really sells us on robots (it's not the effects; it's the acting); robot therapy (which involves nuking your memories); Maeve's incredible scene with Bernard (one of the most intense moments in the show so far); what needs to get resolved this season and what we are OK with leaving until season 2 (seriously we don't mind waiting to know more about the Delos plot).

Nov 22, 2016

Topics discussed: Why the MIB is really looking for the maze (he wants a game with consequences), what makes the gameplay in Westworld so unsatisfying (there's no Minecraft element to it), Jane's so-crazy-it-just-might-work theory about who the MIB really is (and what the maze really is too!), how many timelines are floating around inside Dolores' head (yes we are finally coming around to the multiple timeline idea), whether it's cheating on your partner if you have sex with a robot (it's more complicated than you might think), how many people are actually robots (it could be everybody), Maeve's incredible new story-changing abilities (she's the ultimate gamer now), the tragedy of loops (and the horror of memory), how Westworld invites viewers to interact with the series like it's a game (and stay up late reading theories on Reddit), and whether there's something inherently limiting about the Western story (maybe we're about to see Futureworld soon?).

Nov 15, 2016

Topics discussed: Metafiction (AKA fiction about fiction), what the hell with the Bernard reveal (really, what the hell), the challenge of telling a story that feels familiar yet surprising (and how Westworld did it), whether the robots are just like humans or radically different (yes and no), Ford's real motivations (it's complicated), how intellectual property might be the enemy of storytelling (or maybe not), whether stories can be dangerous (sometimes), what characters and ideas got Yu excited about writing for Westworld (hint: Bernard and metafiction), and why Felix is so important (he shows us a side of Westworld that no one else can).

Nov 8, 2016

Topics discussed: The unregistered robots (Ford's robot family is seriously creepy), the true meaning of the maze (and why Teddy has gotten so boring), Maeve's attribute matrix (and the greatest scene in the entire show), what it means to be trapped in a narrative (male and female roles for robots are both terrible), when will a guy have sex with a male robot (it can't happen soon enough), why the park offers no romance stories or female-centric adventures (what? ladies don't want sex?), and how Dolores and Maeve are trapped in the middle of an argument between Ford and Arnold (plus they are the ultimate victims of gaslighting).

Nov 1, 2016

Topics discussed: The state of Dolores' mind (Arnold and a bunch of other things are in her head), Ford's freaky conversation with the MIB (a treat to watch), the economics of Westworld (it's hemorrhaging cash), the economics of the real world (MIB says it's peachy, but the poor med tech Felix is terrified he'll lose his job), the two faces of Lawrence (El Lazo!), what's going on in Pariah (and are the Confederados linked to Wyatt?), how guns work in Westworld (here's what we've figured out so far), why it's important that the bots use GPS (we have to be on Earth, under open sky), and how the two most popular fan theories about Westworld just got nuked (bye bye double timeline). 

Oct 25, 2016

In this episode, our guest is combat tech expert Peter W. Singer, author of Wired for War and strategist at the New America Foundation.

Topics discussed: Whether it's inevitable that humans will use robots for violence as Ford says (a philosophy question that goes back centuries), how the robots in Westworld are like military robots in the real world (creepy parallels abound), how you program a robot to be ethical in war (it's much harder than you think), why it matters that Westworld's war is a mashup of several wars during the 19th century (these wars were especially lawless), what's really scary about AI in the real world (no it's not superintelligence), and our guest Peter W. Singer's theory about how Westworld is a robot preserve because they've been banned outside (love that idea).

Oct 18, 2016

This week, we explore episode 3 of Westworld with guest Kyle Orland, Ars Technica's games editor.

Topics discussed include: Julian Jaynes' theory of the bicameral mind (you must do LSD to fully understand it), robot consciousness (it ain't your grandmother's three laws of robotics), Teddy's new backstory with Wyatt (holy crap Wyatt's gang is scary and confusing), Ford's anti-robot racism (he's got issues), the Westworld gameplay (why are there no consequences to getting shot?), the kinds of quests available to guests (they seem very hack-and-slash), whether the MIB is going on fan forums late at night to compare notes about clues he's found in Westworld (definitely maybe he is), moderation and griefers in Westworld (it's complicated), and who among the so-called humans is actually a robot (Bernard? Ford? Lee?).

Oct 11, 2016

On this episode, I'm joined by Ars Technica's video editor Jennifer Hahn, who is a documentary filmmaker and editor. We talk about the recent episode, as well as how it fits into the world established in the original Westworld movie, its sequel Futureworld, and the short-lived 1980 TV series Westworld. Jen also talks to us about Westworld's cinematography and design.

Topics discussed: Whether the Westworld theme park is underground (maybe?), William's white hat status (dubious), the robot UX (command line mode and analysis mode are fascinating), the clash between Lee and Ford over why people come to the park (revealing), the plots of the original Westworld movies and TV series (they involve robots taking over the park and creating clone versions of world leaders so they can control humanity), and why it matters that the series is shot on 35 mm film (you can control the shadows). Also: holy crap was that scene in the robot repair area with Maeve ever creepy!

Oct 4, 2016

In our debut episode of Decrypted: Westworld, we talk about the show's many layers of conspiracies, and its overarching themes. We're joined by award-winning science fiction author Charlie Jane Anders, who talks to us about how the series grapples with the idea that memory is key to identity, and wonders whether Westworld can achieve the same mainstream popularity as Game of Thrones.

Other topics discussed include: Anthony Hopkins (annoying or not?), Ed Harris (holy crap scary), the big reveal (very cool), Westerns and backstage musicals (key to thinking about the action), the future of game design (obviously), and why Bernard makes the Professor/Mr. Abernathy cry. Also: what is up with all the flies?

Oct 3, 2016

Ars Technica continues our Decrypted podcast with the first season HBO's Westworld created by Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan. Based on Michael Crichton's novel and the 1973 film with Yul Brynner of the same name, this drama about robots in a wild west theme park will fascinate, make you (extremely) uncomfortable, and generally creep you out. Join us each week as we explore the latest episode with colleagues, writers, and technology experts to discover and decrypt this complex, psychological world.

The Decrypted podcast began with season 2 of Mr. Robot, hosted and produced by Nathan Mattise. Visit us from Decrypted episode 1 and join Nathan as he explores the complexities of the fascinating, hit hacker drama.

Sep 28, 2016

"As I was preparing to utter the first part of the sentence I just stopped," says Stephanie Corneliussen, aka Joanna Wellick. "I looked across the table at Sam Esmail and gave him that kind of 'What did you do? I can’t say this' look. And he just gives me one of those famous Sam scowls that’s like 'Go ahead, do it.' I said it, and everyone is reading along but hearing it out loud... we just burst out laughing because it’s so over the limit, so over the top.”

Mr. Robot S2 ended with its share of fireworks, Joanna Wellick's nasty streak chief among them. On the final episode (pyth0n_pt2) for this season of Decrypted, we unpack the many highs (and few lows) of the season at large: Elliot is like Batman, we all love Leon, and everyone seems to have a different favorite character or S3 theory.

And after that debrief (roughly the 26m mark), Stephanie Corneliussen joins the podcast to discuss Joanna Wellick's wild ride and her dreams for S3 (including Bloody Marys with Whiterose). 

Sep 17, 2016

Only one hour of Mr. Robot S2 remains, but many questions do. Before the second half of season two's finale, GQ's entertainment and culture critic Scott Meslow helps us take stock of what answers we can expect and what's likely to linger into S3. 

"I have such a hard time getting mad at a show for being ambitious," Meslow says. "And they are really swinging for the fences. It's been a lot of fun, but ultimately it's a season that doesn't know which cards it should be playing at which times. Even right now, they're still dangling cliffhangers that I go, 'There's no reason we shouldn't have this information yet, except it's being withheld.'"  

Sep 11, 2016

It's penultimate episode time for S2, and in the classic style of The Wire we may have a death or two on this week's Mr. Robot. "h1dden-pr0cess.axx" ends on a cliffhanger with possibly tremendous repercussions, so this week we start by examining the possibilities and evidence surrounding Darlene's drama.

Then, professional psychologist and TV writer Cameron Brown (@couchpotpsych) joins the podcast to dive deep into the mind of Elliot... because even within an episode that ends on such an action sequence, everything ignited when Elliot's struggles with mental illness and alternate personas came to the forefront.

"Elliot as a human has all the information," Brown reminds. "But as an identity, Elliot doesn't have all the information at all."

Sep 3, 2016

"Who was behind the door? We already knew that," Mr. Robot staff writer Lucy Teitler told us this week. "I think it happens a lot with the show, the big questions the fans are obsessed with are things we all decide. They’re foundational. So the individual pressure is on with the way scenes are written.”

Teitler is a new staffer for Mr. Robot S2 and, no pressure, her first episode assignment happened to include the fallout from that big Elliot reveal. She co-wrote "init_5.fve" with colleague Kyle Bradstreet and joined the podcast to discuss what that process looks like (plus how it's similar to her other gigs—writing stage plays and reporting on infosec at Motherboard). 

Before that, we *had* to dive into that big PwnPhone cameo. The team from PwnieExpress got in touch to explain how their signature device showed up this week and just how feasible Elliot's SIM card hacking really is.


Aug 29, 2016

"succ3ss0r" (S2E8) did the unthinkable—an entire episode of Mr. Robot *without* Elliot. Even show staff writer/head technical producer Kor Adana didn't see that coming. "I had a lot of anxiety and I know the other writers in the room had a lot of anxiety, because we weren’t sure how it was going to be received," he told us on this week's pod. "The question was: did we do enough work early in S2 laying the groundwork for our supporting cast to carry an episode?"

This week, we finally got the chance to chat with Adana about this latest episode and much more. He talked about his process writing the show's various hacks, how he's embraced creating Easter eggs for the Mr. Robot subreddit, and just how websites land in Elliot's RSS feed. Compared to his time working in cybersecurity real time, these days Adana says, "I’m doing more IT research than I’ve ever done.” 

Aug 20, 2016

"h4ndshake" (S2E7) shook up Mr. Robot like few previous episodes have. While the critical opinion seems split on how the show handled its latest reveal, one thing rings a bit false—the notion this was some unexpected "twist." This week we *had* to break down the big news, which raises more question than it answers (that's a good thing, btw). 

Looking forward, two of the show's tech advisors—Tanium's Andre McGregor and Ryan Kazanciyan—presented a webinar this week with plenty of behind the scenes info. Amid talk of their favorite hacks so far or how real Angela's hacking prowess is, they dropped a few hints about what might be coming in the final episodes of S2. 

Aug 12, 2016

With m4ster-s1ave (S2E6), Mr. Robot S2 is officially at the halfway point. That means now is the perfect time to look at the series at-large with Ars Technica's reviewer, Jonathan Gitlin. We break down what's happened thus far in five categories: our favorite sequences, biggest surprises, largest disappointments, most lingering questions, and craziest fan theories. 

Aug 6, 2016

With "logic_b0mb" (S2E5), Mr. Robot's second season reached another level. From the FBI's tragedy to the reunion of our main characters, the episode seemed to address any lingering concerns fans may have from the slower pace of S2 thus far. 

Given how significant the happenings were this week, we devoted the entire pod to breaking down what made logic_b0mb so effective. Touching on everything from Ray to Joanna Wellick, fsociety to Whiterose, there are clearly spoilers ahead.

Jul 28, 2016
Jul 21, 2016

On this week's Decrypted, Mr. Robot's "k3rnel-pan1c.ksd' (S2E3) quickly flipped the script on S2. With the show's higher profile, there's more theorizing than ever despite the show's intent on subverting our expectations. The most popular fan theory seems kaputt after this week, so we offer three pie-in-the-sky conspiracies that will hopefully have more legs.

We also talk about the show's sound this week. From Phil Collins to the Pixies, Dusty Springfield to FKA Twigs, soundtrack is as important to Mr. Robot's aesthetic as anything. Music savant Chris Baio (Vampire Weekend, solo records under Baio) joins us to talk about the best audio moments thus far and what the differences are for musicians when you're soundtracking versus songwriting. 

Jul 14, 2016

After Mr. Robot S2 returned with "unm4sk" (S2E1), we offer an appreciation of our new favorite character and chat with the show's FBI Consultant, Andre McGregor (@AndreOnCyber). A full review of this week's two-part episode can be found at

Jul 8, 2016

On the debut episode, we look back to season one exclusively through the eyes (err, words) of main character Elliot Alderson (played by Rami Malek). Despite the Internet's (justified) obsession with the show's realistic depiction of tech, Ars reviewer Jonathan Gitlin said the characters and especially how "they break down and experience their delusions" is what made Mr. Robot compelling. So if break downs and delusions are what you're after, no one is better to relive S1 with than Elliot.

We also talk with one of the most familiar TV voices around: NPR's Chief Critic Eric Deggans. Deggans watches a lot of television, but in a crowded 2015 field he felt Mr. Robot stood out from the rest.

No spoilers, but Deggans has seen the first episodes of S2 and maintains high hopes for the series going forward. He shares the story of how Mr. Robot caught him off-guard last summer and what Batman v. Superman could've learned from this little hacking drama that could.