SPOILER ALERT: This recap contains details from tonight’s USA Network series finale of Mr. Robot.
If you thought the last season of USA Network’s Sam Esmail series Mr. Robot was becoming a little too straight forward and suspenseful sans its regular twist from the mind of Elliot Alderson, well then tonight’s two-hour series finale and last weekend’s penultimate episode “eXit” popped the show’s arm back in its noirish socket complete with many Elliot doppelgangers.
Esmail wasn’t available to the press to sort out tonight’s series finale, and likely for good reason: We’d keep bugging him about what Elliot’s (Rami Malek) entire wormhole meant at the end, and quite likely the creator wants us to figure that out for ourselves, just like David Chase wanted everyone to come away with their own personal take on why their TVs went black in The Sopranos finale after Tony Soprano had onion rings with his family in a New Jersey diner.
Arguably, by the end, some version of Elliot died having been hospitalized after an explosion at the Washington Township Power Plant. Some (if not many) will disagree with this theory but the whole multi-personality scenario that Krista describes to Elliot about him being the mastermind and giving over control to the host aka the real Elliot was all just too Byzantine and complex to swallow and stole away from any kind of slick ‘wow’ at the end. Analysis leads to paralysis.
There are several signs indicating death: Elliot closes his yes turns his head and the screen lightens up to a blue sky. After giving a philosophical monologue (outlined below), Elliot enters through a series of doors and says to us, “C’mon, this only works if you let go too.” He then rejoins his family (his dad Mr. Robot aka Christian Slater, his mom played by Vaishnavi Sharma, and his younger self-portrayed by Evan Whitten) in a movie theater as what we assume is his whole life projected before him. Elliot tears up. The camera also pulls up and toward the projector light (as if he’s running toward the light, with his memories streaming like a tunnel. Get it? It’s death). The final shot is of Elliot’s sister Darlene (Carly Chaiken) coming in, looking down as though he’s dead — but then, oh, no — is he alive? She says to him in a positive tone, “Hello, Elliot”. Is this the real Elliot? We don’t get to see the look on his face. It depends on which way we look at it, and I think this poor guy has gone through so much defeating a multinational Chinese hacker organization that he just wants to go to sleep like a bad Dell. It stands to reason given how Elliot has battled his dissociative identity disorder that we’d never end on a crystal clear note, and the series finale kept going back and forth as the hoodie hacker side of Elliot battled his white-collar, perfect other-self.
Such madness is a fitting end for Mr. Robot, but it was a very long season at 13 hours compared to Esmail’s previous tight ten episodes a season. It’s always been a treat to wonder which way Elliot self was wandering. For example, back in season one, when it seemed he lost his sense of time, couldn’t locate Tyrell Wellick and wound up confused on wife Joanna’s doorstep. But in these past three episodes, the fact that all this crazy math and coding didn’t yield a clear cut resolution is a tad frustrating and tiring.
When a series is so particular to detail like Mr. Robot and Westworld, it’s literally like a soap opera/serial. We need our fix, we need to remember the details and breaking for close to two years doesn’t help. While I remember the details of season 1 and 2 very distinctively because they were back-to-back, I vaguely remember season 3 of Mr. Robot other than Dom (Grace Gummer), Elliot and Darlene being forced to be associates of big bad nemesis Whiterose (B.D. Wong). Also, Bobby Cannavale going nuts with a bloody ax. It almost feels like season 3 shouldn’t have happened and we should have just cut to the chase here in season 4 as this long journey’s practical endgame has always been about the takedown of Whiterose, and the re-distribution of wealth to society.
In last weekend’s episode, the frame went to red after Elliot’s attempt to defuse Whiterose’s computer at the nuclear power plant. He awoke in a perfect reality as an upbeat, positive guy, the CEO of his former anti-virus firm AllSafe with Angela alive, not to mention they were seriously in love. Hoodie-clad Elliot wakes up in tonight’s episode in Washington Township to find the nuclear plant gone and a perfect community, like Back to the Future‘s Hill Valley in the 1950s. His dad still has his shop, but life is off: Darlene isn’t around, the evil E-corp exec we know as Philip Price is a hokey plaid shirted dad of Angela (we revealed himself as dad in the season 3 finale), her mom is alive, and Elliot learns he’s about to get married to her on Coney Island.
But while visiting Angela’s parents, their phone rings and it’s Elliot’s alter ego: the white-collar side. WTF is going on? Elliot heads back to his apartment and learns that the guy has decorated it in a neat and posh way, something the Elliot we know would never do. Hacking into the guy’s computer, Elliot finds sketches of himself and Darlene among other Mr. Robot paraphernalia. After the white-collar dude enters his apartment, the two talk and he confesses to having made up this vigilante hacker storyline with characters in comic book fashion which is actually Elliot’s life. Throughout both parts of the episode, whenever Elliot runs into a sticky situation, an earthquake tremor happens, shakes everything up and he moves on to the next crazy set of characters in his life. Before the end of Part 1, a tremor shakes preppy Elliot to the floor. Hoodie Elliot then suffocates him and sticks him in a cardboard box.
In Part 2, Dom has become a traffic cop and demands to see the inside of the box. Opening the box, she draws her gun on Elliot but another tremor occurs and Elliot is off in his tuxedo to marry Angela. Mr. Robot shows up to tell him, that the whole marriage to Angela isn’t real, that Elliot is imaging this. That’s the short story because it’s more complicated than that. Mr. Robot says it’s “a loop that you constructed about a year go…to keep him occupied so you can take control of him.”
“Who?” asks Elliot.
“The real Elliot,” says Mr. Robot.
Elliot spots Angela in a wedding dress across the way on the boardwalk. He chases her into the boardwalk arcade. There she tells Elliot, “He tried to tell you, you’re not Elliot, you’re the mastermind.” Elliot is thrust back into an alleyway. Eventually, the Eureka moment comes in a therapy session with his therapist Krista (Gloria Reuben), who you know is not really Krista (so she says). Anyhow, she aims to make sense of why Elliot was encountering so many different realities. He’s not living in the perfect world that Whiterose’s computer was promised to yield.
Krista deconstructs Elliot’s dissociative identity disorder and how he created different versions of Elliot, i.e. the one who jumped out the window, the alter ego Mr. Robot to replace his abusive dad, etc. More sides of Elliot he created: There was the abusive mom, and his understanding family (mom, dad and younger self) to get him through painful times. The crusading hacker Elliot who takes down evil in the world is “is only part of you” she says. It’s the only grounded explanation for all the zig-zags we’ve been through.
“You’re not Elliot, you’re the mastermind and it’s now time for you to give the control over to the host, the real Elliot,” says Krista philosophically. Another tremor comes, “Don’t do this,” she tells Elliot, “this is your rage.”
Elliot awakes in a hospital. It appears we’re back in the real world. The TV news indicates that a near meltdown nearly happened at the plant and that Minister Zhang aka Whiterose was found dead in a terrorist attack. Darlene tells Elliot he saved the world, and prevented a meltdown, but was hurt in an explosion. As he struggles to understand what’s real, Darlene tells him everything over the last four seasons — the hack on E Corp, going to prison, the cyber bombings and robbing the rich Illuminati to give back to the poor — was all real. “I’m not Elliot,” he tells Darlene. While she admits she’s noticed that sometimes he’s not himself, Elliot says “even though I’m only part of him, I want you to know that I love you.” And that is when there’s a fade to light, a blue sky and the eventual segue to the movie theater scene. Just prior to that, Elliot standing his family in the E-Corp high rise, looking out, tells us that he’s “a guy trying to play God without permission” and that “I don’t have a name.” Elliot then launches into an end monologue that would make Revenge‘s Emily Thorne proud, for its quite reminiscent of the meaing-of-life speeches she delivered at the end of each episode.
“This whole time I thought changing the world was something you did, an act you performed, something you fought for. I don’t know if that’s true anymore. But if changing the world is just about being here, by showing up, no matter how many times we get told we don’t belong, by staying true even when we’re shamed into being false, I believe in ourselves when we’re told we’re too different. And if we hold onto that, if we refuse not to budge and fall inline, if we stood our ground for long enough, just maybe, the world can’t help but change around us even though we’ll be gone.” And the latter part of that quote is another hint that Elliot has passed on.
And so it’s ‘Goodbye, Friend’ to Mr. Robot. While there were some pretty taut moments in season 4: Episode 8 where Dom and Darlene were held hostage in the latter’s apartment by Whiterose’s associate Janice (Ashlie Atkinson) was one of the series’ best in recent memory. Angela’s unfortunate murder was a great trigger that got the season off to a rockin’ start. However, the reveal that Elliot was sexually abused by his father, was way too much. I found that moment when Elliot’s forced to emotionally unload at gunpoint to Krista by the gangster who took the life of Elliot’s girlfriend Shayla (Frankie Shaw) in season 1 to be just over the top and negate Elliot’s entire purpose in protecting Mr. Robot and working with him to take down E-Corp. Way too deep, and the mere reasons that Krista outlined tonight for why Elliot is the way he is, made so much more sense. Overall, Esmail took USA Network’s sense of drama to another level with a Kubrickian (and in this finale, a Lynchian Twin Peak) sense. His play with noir and the war against the man by the cyber Robin Hoods of the world will be missed.
That said, in regards to wrapping up the entire series, Elliot said it best in his convo with Mr. Robot on Coney Island, “It still doesn’t make any f***king sense.”