Sunday, July 14, 2024

Mr. Robot’s Slightly Underwhelming Finale Ends A Great Season 2

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Spoilers for 2×12 “eps2.9pyth0n-pt2.p7z” and the entirety of season 2 after the break

Here we are, a week behind schedule! After last week’s slightly underwhelming part one, part two of the finale has come and gone. A lot of fans hoped for a little more resolution than “eps2.9pyth0n-pt1.p7z” provided. There also existed hope for an exciting conclusion to make up for the slow burn of season 2’s first half. So how did Mr. Robot do with the finale and the season as a whole? Well, the headline pretty much tells you that. 

Mr. Robot robotelliottyrell
This shot convinced a lot of people before airing that Tyrell was fake.

I’m a little sad to say that my worst fears about this finale at least halfway came true. First things first, “eps2.9pyth0n-pt2.p7z” was a really good episode.  I feel it necessary to make that clear before I complain too much. However, remember the worry I had about Mr. Robot raising more questions than it answers? The finale did little to alleviate that worry.

Not to say there are no answers at all. Right away Tyrell leads Elliot to the hideout where Stage 2 will be executed and shows him the plan, though we don’t actually learn it ourselves for a while. That plan? To use the previous backdoor Elliot created into E Corp’s network to destroy their corporate HQ and the paper records brought in to rebuild their database. Which would also cause the loss of many innocent lives, something Elliot cannot allow to happen.

With all this happening, however, the real conflict was that of Elliot’s continued struggle to determine what in in his life is real, and what is a manipulation by Mr. Robot. After all, Mr. Robot told him Tyrell was dead. That “confession” created an all too brief peace between the two personalities. Needless to say their peace is long gone now. Since leaving prison Elliot has gradually learned the truth of everything Mr. Robot has done and hidden the truth of. No matter the persona’s claims to protect Elliot and only provide the information “he can handle,” all those secrets have done is create the largest schism yet between the two and question Elliot’s entire grasp on reality. This was a season long conflict that finally came to a head in a pretty terrific way, with Elliot believing Tyrell just another Mr. Robot trick and choosing to take “real control.”

Then Tyrell shoots him for trying to delete the malware which will carry out the Stage 2 plan.

Despite my frustrations about still not knowing what happened during the 3 days Elliot can’t remember, I’m pretty well satisfied with this conclusion to Elliot’s storyline. Mr. Robot belongs to Elliot Alderson. The entire show (and especially this season) revolves around him. When his scenes excel it typically means the episode as a whole excels, and if his season’s arc is concluded well, then it means good things for the entire season. I’m happy, if not fully satisfied.

He was not the only character to have a satisfying conclusion, either.

Mr. Robot darlenedom

The co-plotline of the episode was definitely Dom and Darlene (not only alive, but apparently without a sign of the diner shooting besides blood stains on her jacket). Darlene spends the episode in custody under questioning about her role in fsociety, and gives nothing. The toll of the season shows heavily in her body language and expression, but she still stands strong against every tactic taken to gather information. Eventually Dom decides to show her the full extent of the case the FBI has built against not only fsociety, but everyone involved in the 5/9 hack. Which is quite extensive. Throughout the season we believe Dom and the entire FBI to be five steps behind the truth, only to see they know about Elliot, the Dark Army, fsociety and its many associates. Basically everyone but Whiterose is identified and accounted for.

While this revelation is huge, I’m more impressed with just how well Dom and Darlene’s scenes together were not only entertaining, but a perfect microcosm of their season 2 arcs. Darlene remains belligerent, offensive, stubborn, and anti-authority, but clearly struggles with the burden of Cisco’s murder and fsociety’s collapse. Dom is intelligent, charismatic, somehow both social and anti-social, and entirely focused on her job since she has no personal life. Their moments together gave a brilliant little closing statement on their arcs this season, and the kind of person each woman is.

This was especially true of Darlene, who received the largest non-Elliot focus this season in her efforts to keep the fsociety dream afloat. Carly Chaikin did great with the role, too. Probably the hardest acting to do is entirely with the eyes. So often throughout season 2 Chaikin had to play a character that was stone-faced and internalizing everything she faced in order to be the leader she believed fsociety needed. All of her reactions needed to come in those brief glimpses of vulnerability seen in the eyes while she did her best to bury it. Along with the terrific pacing of the various burdens heaped upon her, Darlene was a character that shined very bright this season. Bit by bit we saw her resolve and confidence break with each new bit of trouble.

By the time she ends up in an FBI interrogation room she has lost her friends, her boyfriend, and her cause. She has killed someone. She can’t be sure if her brother wants her dead or not. She has lost whatever belief and confidence she once had when Elliot first suggested the 5/9 hack. All she can do is try to protect herself in the face of FBI questioning. She even loses that when Dom shows her the evidence board and makes it clear they know everything Darlene tried to protect.

Great, great stuff. I think it was the best revelation of the episode and a perfect example of closing out the character arcs for one season while also setting them up for next season. Fine work, Mr. Robot. It’s just too bad so much besides Elliot, Darlene, and Dom failed to do the same.

Mr. Robot joannapreg

Joanna also received closure, though somewhat anticlimactic and far too disconnected from everything else. The beating she baited Scott Knowles into given her was incredibly brutal and tense TV, and the scene where she manipulates her boyfriend into implicating Scott as the murderer of his wife Sharon properly disturbing, but there was no real connection to the rest of the show. Angela’s brief appearance was tantalizing, but we still have no idea what happened with Whiterose or why she is working with the Dark Army.

There was nothing about Washington Township, the harm of the 5/9 hack, no Whiterose, no Dark Army, only a brief post-credits appearance that raised a ton of questions involving Trenton, Mobley, and Elliot’s prison buddy Leon. The destruction of the E Corp building did not occur, so Stage 2 remains basically unresolved. Price didn’t appear. Tyrell reappears and we learn what he has been up to, which is nice. I’d still like to find out what happened in the three-day gap Elliot can’t remember and how exactly the guy’s walking around the city in a suit and going unfound.

While there was good resolution of Elliot’s personal arc and the arcs of Darlene and Dom, this finale felt underwhelming. It was a very good episode, but not an ideal end to the season. This retroactively degrades “eps2.9pyth0n-pt1.p7z” as well since that episode’s quality depended a lot on the second part. I said last week that this finale would be a turning point for Mr. Robot. Instead it somehow ended up stalling place; giving just enough answers not to be a disappointment and keep me hopeful, but not enough to feel complete confidence in the future of the show.

Mr. Robot darlenefbiboard
NFL Draft right here.

Overall, season 2 proved a divisive one. I’m not surprised by that for multiple reasons. The characters advanced more than the plot, which always splits opinions. The feel of the show changed drastically, especially in the first half of season 2. The brain-twisting plot became even more confusing. Mr. Robot went experimental in many ways; characters, plot, visually, with many strange scenes that were quite hit or miss.

I loved it. More than season 1.

I’d mostly attribute that to the show finding its own way, where season 1 felt like a variety of shows cobbled together. Season 2 found its own identity centered on the Mr. Robot’s skill with its characters and the many, many problems, both social and personal, that the cast deals with. Could they have smoked through the prison storyline in a couple episodes and moved on? Of course. But think of everything we miss out on if that happens. Think of the characterization for Ray that we miss out on. Think of the Adderall episode being cut. Or the freaky tribute to 80s sitcoms while Elliot took a beating from Ray’s goons. Think of the clues we miss out on regarding Elliot being in prison, which makes the reveal appear rushed.

Do we care about Trenton and Mobley as much without multiple episodes to breathe needed life into their characters? Does Darlene’s burden carry the same weight without those many episodes leading fsociety without Elliot? Or Angela’s gradual breakdown throughout the season? I know it’s a fine balance between fleshing things out properly and boring the audience. I won’t deny Mr. Robot had trouble with that balance at times. I think the end result justified the effort and kept that necessary balance.

And a stronger show resulted for that effort. A show with its own identity apart from the “Fight Club with hackers” reputation. A lot of that has to do an increased focus on mental health that I wrote so gushingly about 2 months ago. The synergy between Elliot’s mental state and the world around him is brilliant, and worth every slow second Mr. Robot spent exploring it. Season 2 also delivered some tremendous comparisons and contrasts between its characters.

Mr. Robot ep12_leon
I really hope Leon becomes a series regular.

This especially shows with Angela and Darlene, I think. Both characters searched throughout the season to find themselves in the post-5/9 world, and also to deal with the absence of family (Elliot in both cases, along with Angela losing her father). Both put up fronts to convince themselves and others of strength and confidence neither truly felt. As their burdens grew and grew, that confidence wore away. This led to an interesting contrast in both characters positions by the end of the season; Angela has gone from working with E Corp to working with Whiterose and Dark Army, while Darlene is seemingly on the brink of cooperating with the FBI. They damn near switched allegiances.

Of course, Elliot is the star and the show would suffer if his character had not been compelling. What we got in season 2 was an examination of how the human mind can only go so long questioning everything around it before it snaps. Elliot spent all of season 2 not only questioning reality, but fighting it. He spent half the season crafting an elaborate illusion to avoid the truth of his imprisonment. By the time he escaped it, the damage was done. Elliot’s mind fractured too greatly to trust the world around him, and as previously mentioned this led to Tyrell shooting him because Elliot refused to believe Tyrell existed. Rami Malek (Emmy award-winner!) was his usual excellent self this season as Elliot fought a battle he simply could not win.

Seriously, there are few characters on TV right now as fully realized as Elliot Alderson. This may not have been a plot-heavy season for him, but the character leaps made were huge.

Then you add in Whiterose and Price, Elliot and Dom, Mr. Robot and Tyrell, Dom and Whiterose, and this really was a season of characters. Mr. Robot managed to connect the varying arcs in some pretty terrific ways, and not just regarding plot. The mental and emotional connections showed in an abundance of ways. The only exception, as previously mentioned, was Joanna, who still stood out just about every time she was on screen. Give me a compelling cast of characters and I will forgive a great deal.

But I’m also the same person who spent weeks arguing with Better Call Saul fans about the brilliance of season 2’s slow burn. I’m a Mad Men fan. I’m the kind of person who will always, always take slow but great over fast but full of plot-holes. I’m not alone, but it seems that’s not what most audiences want to see. Or Emmy voters, apparently, despite rewarding the glacially paced Mad Men for years. And I get it. Plot absolutely matters, and plot is still an element of Mr. Robot that stands to be questioned. Does that drag the show down that much? Not at all. Not yet.

I suppose Sam Esmail could write a bunch of shocking plot points one after another without regard for the sense behind it, and start including a bunch of faux-empowerment violence to solve Angela and Darlene’s problems. He could randomly add and subtract personalities or throw in twists without setup just because. He could always mimic the amazing writing that has won Emmys the last two years and completely ignore logical characterization. Mr. Robot could always decide it cares more about the amazing visuals than the story it tells.

I prefer things this way, and can’t wait for season 3. This is a terrific show and easily one of the best on television. Even if I worry a little about where exactly this all will go.

Mr. Robot tyrrellrobot

Other Thoughts:

  • Really, Mr. Robot? That Burn Notice reference was just too cheesy. It stood out like a random cartoon character had entered the room.
  • While the show definitely separated itself from the Fight Club comparisons, the plan to blow up a building to destroy banking and debt records is straight out of Fight Club.
  • Congrats to Rami Malek for winning an Emmy. It is likely the first of many. His speech was pretty great, too.
  • I actually missed the post-credits scene with Leon, Mobley, and Trenton. Needless to say I had no idea what people were talking about when I saw the references this morning. Whether this was introducing a subplot of season 3 or suggesting the deaths of Mobley and Trenton I don’t know, but I sure hope for the latter. Considering Trenton and Mobley discussed reversing the 5/9 hack (which apparently can be done), I doubt they’re gone from the show.
  • Tyrell may have had little time on-screen this season, but he was pretty terrific in that limited time. His admiration and devotion to Mr. Robot’s cause is downright frightening. Even more so since he is entirely oblivious to Elliot’s multiple personalities.
  • Speaking of, people are still questioning whether Tyrell is real despite the shooting. That makes sense considering the whole “Mr. Robot shooting Elliot” thing from early in the season. I think we’re supposed to assume he is real.
  • The last thing we see before credits roll is a pretty substantial blackout rather than the brief flickering lights occurring throughout the past few episodes. Should be interesting to see what that means going forward.

Images courtesy of USA Network

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