Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Mr. Robot’s Finale and Incredible Third Season Plants it Squarely Among the TV Giants

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In a year full of terrific television, Mr. Robot’s third season has stood tall among almost anything else. It’s been exciting, emotional, surprising, and a total thrill to watch. Outside of one episode to date, I’ve walked away every week thoroughly pleased. The finale had a hell of a lot of pressure on it as a result. Could Mr. Robot deliver one more incredible episode to cap its best season yet?

Oh hell yes, and then some. Though with a few caveats.

Spoilers for 3×10 “shutdown -r”

mr robot reboot

Episode Review

This episode was just plain fantastic.

Going in it felt like there just so much happening Mr. Robot couldn’t possibly close it all off. And to the show’s benefit, it didn’t try. Some of the plot was kicked further down the road and for the better. We still don’t know what Whiterose’s project is or whether the continued suggestions of time travel hold any water. We didn’t actually see the results of Elliot’s reset of the 5/9 hack. No protagonists died, but they also failed to escape the oppressive influences present throughout the season, instead trading them for different influences.

And you know what? It was perfect, because the specifics of the reboot and the project didn’t matter. As always, it was never actually about those specifics or their truth. What mattered more was the effect upon the characters, and this season resolved the characters fantastically. It also did a pretty great job closing off the plots necessary to this season.

In fact, it could almost have worked as a series finale. A grim one, but a satisfying one nonetheless.

The 5/9 hack tore the world down, and has now been undone. One FBI mole was eliminated in favor of another. Elliot helped the Dark Army in a way that allows them to vanish from his life and the lives of his sister. Angela learns Price is her father and is now in a position to accept her culpability in the Dark Army’s actions.

Would this make for a dark finale? Definitely. After all, nothing Elliot set out to accomplish was actually accomplished. Most everyone except Elliot is in a worse place than they started. Still, if I told you these were the ending points of the show in the aftermath of season 1, I expect Mr. Robot fans would like it.

Of course, the show expanded greatly in season 2 and put a broader focus on numerous characters besides Elliot. This was not a very satisfying ending for any of those characters.

This is my main complaint (and definitely a subjective one) of the episode; it was just so damn depressing. I know Mr. Robot has always tended towards the “you can’t stop the top 1%” viewpoint, but still. Dom was broken and will forcibly spy for the Dark Army now. Darlene is left basically drifting aimlessly. The Dark Army won. There’s a feeling of helplessness to this finale that fits the show, but I hoped we’d see steps taken against it.

Where previous episodes seems poised to team everyone up, as I’ve mentioned a couple times now, this one put them further apart than ever. Thankfully this isn’t the show’s finale, and I hope it was just another low point before the climb. It certainly ended hopefully for Elliot, and everyone has always followed in Elliot’s footsteps.

In the process we got a tense, exciting episode that brought everyone together in a room and made for one hell of a finale to one of the best shows this year. I’m not sure where Mr. Robot will go from here. I’m giddy to find out.

mr. robot dom and elliot

Season Review

Season 2, however much I liked it, was a divisive one that created doubt regarding the future of Mr. Robot. Fans wondered whether season 1 was the peak and Sam Esmail didn’t know where to go afterwards. As much as anything season 3 did successfully, it not only restored faith in the direction of Mr. Robot, but it completely validated the effort put into broadening the world in season 2. I couldn’t imagine caring about the events of season 3 without the focus on Dom, Darlene, and the larger world in season 2.

Even better, Mr. Robot managed to find a blend between the plot-and-Elliot heavy focus of season 1 and the greater character work of season 2. As a result season 3 showed us Mr. Robot’s final form, a show that has fully realized what it can be, and a show that can now move forward confident in its identity.

In many ways it mirrored Elliot’s journey throughout the season, who as I mentioned last week was becoming arguably the most mentally healthy of the main cast. All through this season we saw him and his Mr. Robot persona at odds. They were never “in a room” together. They spent half the season actively working against each other. This was nothing new. Elliot has always viewed his alter ego as a toxin to be expunged, or a tumor to be excised.

Gradually, his viewpoint changed to realize Robot was a vital aspect of who he is. Robot is him. The finale and this season as a whole brought Elliot around to the truth of why Robot exists and what he represents. Robot does the same; he ends the season admitting Elliot’s influence on him and his need to cooperate.

I hope this sticks around and there’s no overly manufactured reason for them to split again. The reconciliation between Elliot and the Mr. Robot persona has been 3 seasons in the works and for these two sides to split again would feel terribly unsatisfying. I’m not saying they should never disagree or have deep tensions between them. Mr. Robot wouldn’t be the same show without Elliot’s struggles with his alternate personality, after all.

Esmail and crew have put so much work into that scene of them at the subway, though, and I can’t imagine a future split that doesn’t feel cheap. Of course I’ve been surprised before.

Reconciliation with your actions played a huge role in this season as a whole and for almost every character. It was a significant theme, as characters struggled hard to undo the past. Elliot spent most of the season trying to stop the Stage 2 attack he unknowingly put in motion. Darlene and Dom continued fighting to undo 5/9. Angela cooperated with Whiterose out of the desire to literally reset the past and undo all the traumas of her life.

When the Stage 2 attack happened, everyone was left lost in its aftermath. They’ve all been left to find ways to live with their actions. Some better than others, as seen in Angela’s case. This desire to rewrite the past has existed throughout Mr. Robot since season 1, and will continue into the future.

We still don’t know for sure who Elliot is and what has happened in his life, as evident by Darlene’s insistence that their father never pushed Elliot out of the window. Even as they live their lives, characters rewrite them in ways that ease their guilt or pain. Whiterose and the Dark Army seem to genuinely believe they can change the past in some way. This theme will continue on and continues to be one of the biggest themes of Mr. Robot.

The nature of reality has always come into question due to Elliot’s mental illness. Season 2 arguably overused the “unreliable narrator” trick, and while season 3 scaled back, the nature of reality still affects everything we see. Just how real is the world around these characters? How does each of their personal views of what is and is not real affect everything we see and everything that happens?

Whiterose, with Angela’s help, kills thousands of people because their reality tells them they can undo those deaths. If that doesn’t speak to the effect of differing views of reality upon Mr. Robot’s world, well, nothing can.

For the most part, Mr. Robot gave fans the best of both worlds with season 3. They managed a balance between heavy plot and character. This balance did not occur flawlessly, however. In order to scale the scope down to where it needed to be, I think season 3 made a couple of big, lazy mistakes in the method used. Namely, the sudden, expedient deaths of Joanna, Trenton, and Mobley.

I’m hesitant to judge these decisions too harshly. Especially with Joanna, as I don’t know how things will play out moving forward with Tyrell. Still, in a season that did so well blending and working to focus the plot, the methods of eliminating these three characters felt like taking a machete to a knot rather than finding a way to untie it. Like it or not, season 2 engaged me with those characters and I wanted more of them. The skill with which season 3 weaved together basically every single other plot thread only increased my dissatisfaction with the abrupt ending of those stories.

I also continue to worry about where exactly Mr. Robot is heading with the Dark Army. I’m reminded again of Lost, of how it always played with and built up these sci-fi elements until they had no choice but to dive headlong into them. There’s only so long you can tease and suggest and outright foreshadow before you have to deliver.

Yet again, Mr. Robot teased at Whiterose having some way to undo the past. I feel like Sam Esmail wants me to treat the possibility as real. He threw in so many hints this season. If he doesn’t want me to think it is a possible course for the show, why does he keep trying to make me?

Tread carefully, Mr. Robot. Tread very carefully. The result of Elliot undoing the 5/9 hack will go a long way in telling us what the show has planned.

Still, despite these two issues, season 3 of Mr. Robot was a resounding success. One I honestly didn’t see coming. I liked the show a lot through its first two seasons, and saw the potential, but it was always just that really good hacker show that I would suggest for fans of the setting. Season 3 made it must-see for anyone. It vaulted Mr. Robot up among the upper echelon of not only currently airing shows, but the best shows in recent years. It has created a chance for Mr. Robot to end up, depending on where it goes from here, among the best dramas in television history.

Mr. Robot isn’t there yet. For the first time, though, the possibility is there. If nothing else, the wait for season 4 is going to hurt.

Assorted Thoughts:

  • Seems Elliot actually did hack the Dark Army. I’m surprised.
  • Having Elliot and Robot on screen together reminds me how funny it is to consider everyone around them. Does Elliot just see Robot opening a backseat car door, or does he actually open one?
  • Jesus Bobby Cannavale would have made a great Negan. Also cool to finally see the violence welled up inside him explode.
  • Irving used to be second to Whiterose? That’s quite interesting.
  • Okay, I laughed at the Dark Army hacking the Democratic National Convention. The overt Trump stuff has been very hit or miss, but that one got a laugh out of me.
  • I’m pretty sure previous knowledge makes Elliot jumping from the window a retcon. Maybe I’m wrong.
  • I could not care less about this drug dealer guy coming back. He’s an awful character and it just freshly pisses me off about Shayla dying while exacerbating my frustrations about Joanna and Trenton. I’ll take a living Shayla over this guy every day of the week.

Images Courtesy of USA Network

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