The finale of the lightning-bolt hacker drama makes more bold moves in a season full of them.
This is what revolution looks like: people in expensive clothes running around. Not what I expected.
Last Wednesday, the morning before the Mr. Robot season finale was originally set to air, an act of shocking real-life violence sent us reeling. Even though the WDBJ shootings didn’t bear a specific resemblance to events of the episode, USA was wise to delay this broadcast a week. Not for the first time, Mr. Robot has shown itself to be firmly on the pulse of the 2015 zeitgeist. And not all in ways we like. More than just capitalizing on economic inequality, fear of cyberterrorism, and debates about mental health, it accurately captures the national mood. Even the recent Ashley Madison hacks don’t go unmentioned: as Dr. Gordon’s scumbag ex-boyfriend wryly observes, his wife would have found out about his infidelities even if Elliot hadn’t effectively blackmailed him. Honestly, though, he just wants his dog back.
As I wrote several weeks ago, Mr. Robot is not just the summer’s best show, but one of TV’s best, period. Its extraordinary visual style, fearless performances, and confident writing make it unlike anything we’ve ever seen, even as it liberally (and cheekily) borrows from other sources. The use of “Where Is My Mind” in Episode 9 let us know that yes, creator Sam Esmail (who co-wrote and directed tonight) is well in on the joke. Elliot wants to balance the world’s financial scales with the help of the alter ego inside his head; but where Fight Club ended its story, Mr. Robot follows it to its logical conclusion, and beyond. We came into “zer0-day” with a long list of questions, and with an extra week to stew on them, anticipation has been high.
Does FSociety pull off the hack?
Actually, yes! Esmail throws us a steep curveball in not only allowing Elliot’s plan to go off without a hitch, but rocking us forward 2 days in time to where Elliot is just as disoriented as we are. When he emerges from Wellick’s car, the world has changed: the global stock markets have crashed, no one’s credit cards work, and jubilant millennials roam the streets in copies of the FSociety mask. The problem is, Elliot has no memory of what happened. “Were you there? Did you see it?” he asks us, the viewers, we think.
Is it a little annoying that we didn’t get to see the hack play out? Maybe. Even so, the actual fallout of their international scheme — complete with stock footage of President Obama, Germany’s Chancellor Merkel, and others — is far-reaching. As Gideon prepares to shut down Allsafe, and Darlene and the gang melt hard drives in a dog pound incinerator, we realize we are now on the ground floor of a revolution. The world of Season 2 will be completely unrecognizable. That’s ballsy storytelling. The real mystery is what’s underneath all the others, and the one Darlene doesn’t want to confront: what comes next?
Is Mr. Robot gone for good?
Of course not! Christian Slater actually gets his meatiest material yet, a lengthy monologue in the middle of Times Square where all of Elliot’s season-long mutterings are writ large. Before that, however, we finally get a good look at how Elliot’s split personality really appears to the rest of the world: he strangles his own throat while coffee bar patrons gawk, and when his “father” insults one of them, it’s Elliot — having something of an out-of-body experience — who is swiftly knocked out cold. The editing is slippery in these scenes, as Elliot’s mind and nerves are fraying at the edges, fighting through the bugs in his operating system to keep track of what in front of him is actually real. “I’m only supposed to be your prophet,” Mr. Robot tells Elliot. “You’re supposed to be my god.” (What does that even mean?)
On multiple occasions this hour, Elliot has a reverie rudely interrupted, so lost in his own chaotic thoughts any disruption from the outside hits like a freight train. Even his own subconscious interrupts: “Stop talking to them,” Mr. Robot tells him in Times Square. “They can’t help us.” Who’s them, and who’s us? Are we still “them”? Is “them” all the voices in Elliot’s head? Are there more split personalities than these? And when Elliot imagines the young version of himself with his parents, where is Darlene? For all of his and his sister’s bluster about tearing down the world’s institutions, what Elliot really wants is peace and quiet. Like he said last week, and to quote Pulp Fiction, Elliot is pretty f–ing far from okay.
But as Alabama Shakes’ “Sound and Color” plays on the soundtrack, he takes Mr. Robot’s advice and starts to fully absorb what he’s achieved. FSociety now boasts millions of members. All of the world’s governments are bent on finding him. He did what he set out to do…or what one part of his brain set out to do. Somehow, the urgent knocking on the door doesn’t seem all that unexpected, even though we’ll have to wait until next year to find out who’s on the other side.
Does Angela take the job at Evil Corp?
Yep. And she has one of the worst first few days imaginable, as no sooner has she joined with the conglomerate that is poisoning the world like it did her mother, the financial markets — the lifeblood of capitalism — have crashed. Then her boss, the Executive VP of Technology, kills himself in the middle of a TV interview. In the horrified crowd, Portia Doubleday’s shockingly blonde hair pulls focus to her little corner of negative space; every single person around her is dark. She doesn’t belong, and she knows it.
Price, the Evil Corp exec played with oily menace by the great Michael Cristofer, doesn’t mourn the company’s loss. Instead, he tosses Angela some money for new shoes, and callously confides that “the world might be better off” in the man’s absence. Then he mounts a dais high on a balcony, like District 13 in The Hunger Games, for a disingenuous eulogy. Why doesn’t he seem that concerned about the hack? Is Angela in way over her head, or is she already slowly, ever so slowly, becoming like them? She coldly dismisses the shoe salesman who begs her not to “drink [Evil Corp’s] Koolaid,” but is clearly more rattled than she can afford to let on.
How does Wellick fit into this?
Perhaps “zer0-day’s” biggest surprise was that Tyrell Wellick was nowhere to be found. Elliot’s search for him turns up empty, save a chilling conversation with Tyrell’s wife in which she hints at many a dark possibility. “I feel like she can hear us,” Elliot tells us. Is this really the first time she and Elliot have met? Where is Wellick?
For almost the entire season, we’ve watched Martin Wallström’s striving Macbeth figure circle the perimeter of the story, and his idiosyncratic performance slowly erode until becoming as unstable as Elliot. In some episodes, I resented Wellick earning extra focus at Elliot’s (and the miraculous Rami Malek’s) expense, because it’s never been clear just what his ultimate role in the story will be. Is he supposed to join forces with Elliot, or are they meant to destroy each other? He clearly allowed the hack to take place, even after Elliot revealed the full plan, but is there more going on? We can even wonder if that unusually animated man behind the mask is not Elliot (or Mr. Robot) in this case, but Wellick. The closeup of his eyes seems to point toward no, but we can’t really be sure. Heck, is Wellick even real?
If this was really designed as only the first act of a longer story, as Esmail has claimed (check out this great post-finale interview by Alan Sepinwall), then that makes its unpredictability all the more striking. Not only does it surprise from week to week, but from scene to scene. In an intriguing post-credits tag, an unbroken single take brings us inside what seems to be Price’s mansion, as he attempts to avoid discussion with a fellow member of the 0.1% about what FSociety has done. “We will handle that person as we usually do,” he says. At first, I wasn’t sure if this scene told us anything new. Then I realized that the other man was B.D. Wong’s Whiterose. Have they planned the hack from the beginning, using Elliot for their own nefarious ends? I’m not so sure — it’d be out of character for this show to be so cut-and-dry — but it’s within the realm of possibility. Everything is. That’s only part of what makes Mr. Robot so brilliant.
Are we finally awake?
Season Grade: A