A review of the Mr. Robot season finale coming up just as soon as I finish my book…
For a series with a fairly labyrinthine plot, Mr. Robot has taken an interesting approach to dealing with story arcs at the end of each season. The season one finale focused almost entirely on the war inside Elliot’s mind, with the hack and several other major plot points occurring during one of his blackouts. The season two finale, meanwhile, was more focused on the narrative, but its revelations wound up feeling anti-climactic, in part because the part of the show driven by mysteries and twists had run out of steam.
There are two developments in “Shutdown” that could be looked at as surprises — that Price is Angela’s biological father, and that Elliot fell out the window during a fit, rather than being pushed by Mr. Alderson — but the show was always ambiguous about both. You could have read Price’s interest in Angela as sexual in nature, but he never really pushed himself on her in that way, and Elliot has long been an unreliable narrator of his own story, so his dissociative identity disorder could have manifested itself that early. Neither revelation felt as seismic as Elliot realizing what Mr. Robot really was, or even Elliot being in prison for the first half of season two, but they also weren’t meant to. They were character moments first and foremost, not story moments, and season three was generally at its best either when the emphasis was on people over plot, or when we and Elliot understood most of what was happening, rather than fumbling around in the dark.
“Shutdown” mostly played things straight, other than continuing to conceal the mystery of Whiterose’s master plan. It was far from the season’s most thrilling hour — a good chunk of it involved people sitting around in a barn — and on the whole felt like a way to reset the plot, Christopher Reeve Superman-style, before the next phase of the series involves Elliot going directly after Whiterose, Price, etc. But it was emotionally satisfying, particularly in one moment involving Dom, and another involving Elliot.
Santiago working for Whiterose has never been particularly elegant in either concept or execution, and he’s been a walking plot device like many a 24 mole. But the scene where Irving hacks Santiago to pieces with an axe while threatening every member of Dom’s family to explain why she’ll now work for the Dark Army was incredibly chilling, thanks to the performances of both Grace Gummer and Bobby Cannavale. He’s simultaneously casual and frenzied, while she’s devastated to realize the risk that she and everyone she cares about are now in, and how her life as she always saw it is now over. Now when we deal with Whiterose having an FBI mole, it’ll feel like it matters, because Dom is a character the show has built from the ground up, and also one with a motivation to fight back rather than roll over forever.
And the season’s final scene (not counting the traditional mid-credits oner, which I’ll get to in a moment), with Elliot preparing to undo the Five/Nine hack, was a potent reminder that, hey, Rami Malek is really great at this acting thing (just look at the unguarded hope in his eyes), and such a powerful asset that the show doesn’t always need fancy camera or story tricks to make its point, so long as he’s somewhere in the frame. The season as a whole added up to less than it seemed at times, particularly in how it kept Elliot and Mr. Robot apart for so long, but I was deeply engaged by a lot of it, thanks to the more confident and open storytelling, and thanks to that guy in the hoodie.
A few other thoughts:
* The mid-credits scene not only allows the show to point out the many downsides to Elliot undoing the hack and restoring everyone’s debt, it brings Fernando Vera, the drug dealer who caused Elliot so much trouble (including murdering Shayla) early in season one. It feels like the story has largely evolved beyond a guy this small-time, but Esmail obviously has a plan for him. We’ll find out what next year.
* Vera returns, but is Irving gone for good? His last scene with Grant certainly played with the subtext of Very Special Guest Star Bobby Cannavale saying, “This was fun and all, guys, but I’ve got to start developing another show where I play the lead.” If this is, indeed, it, I will miss this memorably twitchy performance and that hair/mustache combo.
What did everybody else think?