Mr. Robot: shutdown -r

"History is finally coming for you."

This season really just came and went, didn't it?

As with most season finales, there's a lot to dissect. Even though it still struck a balance between the resolution of one season and preparation for the next, I feel like a lot more happened in this finale than in those of the two previous seasons.

Elliot and Mr. Robot finally reconnect and begin functioning as a team again. The Dark Army plot escalates in a big way. We get some elaboration on the backstories of a few different characters such as Elliot, Irving and Price. Speaking of Price, we finally discover what his deal is with Angela, which moves her arc forward in turn. And we see another huge event -- or, at least, the start of one -- take place in the world, as well as the return of a long-absent character.

The Dark Farm

The bulk of 'Shutdown' centers around the Dark Army herding our heroes (and quite a few villains) to that remote farm Tyrell used as a hideout. Agent Santiago abducts Darlene, then Dom for interfering, and brings them there. When Elliot and Mr. Robot attempt to hunt down Santiago and save Darlene, they are found by Irving and taken to the farm too. Also present are several Dark Army goons, Leon and technically Whiterose, overlooking everything from a surveillance camera. Eventually, Whiterose's assistant/lover (whose name is apparently Grant) arrives to represent his mistress.

The whole atmosphere of the farm had a real horror movie vibe. It reminded me of Night of the Living Dead. It really kicks in as Irving and Santiago march Dom out to be executed with a wood-cutter's axe. Irving, who until now had been an eccentric and somewhat goofy fixer guy, suddenly goes into axe-murderer mode and brutally kills Santiago right as he was in the middle of pleading for Dom's life. While introducing an entirely different kind of hacking to this show, he proceeds to inform Dom that she now belongs to the Dark Army and will be taking Santiago's place as their FBI mole. Poor Dom tries to refuse and hold true to her noble integrity, only to submit when Irving reveals that they are capable of killing every member of her family whenever they wish.

Dom's unwavering sense of duty and justice is one of the reasons I like her so much. Seeing that get etched away through the most extreme forms of blackmail and intimidation was just heartbreaking. It also paints Santiago in an even more sympathetic light as well; as Elliot discovered, he had quite a large family too and only took part in all of those terrible crimes out of fear for their lives. It really underscores the merciless, corrupting influence of Whiterose and the Dark Army. If they can't recruit you, they basically enslave you to their will.

Angela and Price

The intense developments at the farm are intercut with a huge breakthrough in Angela Moss's journey. She's taken to the mansion of her old boss Phillip Price. Like I said, he finally decides to reveal why he's so obsessed with her. As I began to suspect after several clues this season, he reveals that he and Angela's mother were once in love and that he is in fact her father. That's right. Angela, the woman so determined to bring down Evil Corp, is the daughter of its CEO.

It's a reveal that adds quite a bit of clarity to both of their stories. It's why she was offered a position at Evil Corp after building a lawsuit against them, why Price immediately became a sort of nefarious mentor to her, and why he now takes it upon himself to free her from the maddening delusions Whiterose placed in her head. Price claims to know about Whiterose's mysterious pet project, and believes it to be pure insanity, something that defies reality. And that the terrorist merely exploited Angela and the grief she felt over her mother's death for her own gains.

We are given reason to have great sympathy for both of these freakishly complex characters who have done unforgivable things. Angela, whose wish to positively change the world led to her being manipulated into helping sink it into even greater misery and destroy countless lives, and Price, whose tyrannical ambition and desire for dominance cost him the life of the woman he loved and the chance to be a father to their child.

In the wake of her crippling despair, Angela wants Price's help in taking revenge against Whiterose. Price tells her that all she can do now is try to live with what she's done, which is really the theme of the episode. Every character is forced to face their inevitable feelings of guilt.

Pyrrhic Victories

Every character except Whiterose, that is. Instead of having Grant kill Elliot and Darlene for meddling in her plans, Elliot is able to turn the tables by offering to move her project to the Congo in a single day, swaying her to have Leon kill Grant's henchmen and forcing the latter to kill himself. She tells him she loves him, but casually throws his life away while enjoying a bath. This is the only real bit of justice we get in the episode, since Grant's fate ends up being the same undeserved one he forced onto Trenton and Mobley.

Elliot, Darlene and Dom all get to walk away from the farm, but do so in misery. Dom has no choice but to be the Dark Army's pawn, and Darlene is left with the knowledge that Dom, who she does care about, now utterly despises her and blames her for ruining her life. Elliot gets into Sentinel and finds Romero's files, but they turn out to be useless in reversing Five/Nine.

As Elliot notes to Mr. Robot, though, there is a silver lining in all of this. The chaos brought about by their failed revolution served the purpose of exposing the real power players in the world, people like Whiterose and Phillip Price. Now Elliot can focus on fulfilling his personal vendetta against them, which is something I've been hoping for a long time.

In response, Mr. Robot acknowledges the goodness of Elliot that exists within him by revealing that it was him who created a backup to reverse Five/Nine. He embedded the code in an old photo of young Elliot and Edward Alderson (the one where they're cosplaying as Marty McFly and Doc Brown, of course) on a blank disc in their apartment. Together, they undo the hack that ended the world as we know it.

Of course, the post-credits scene reveals that even this great victory comes with a few caveats. As a witty hooker tells Darlene, undoing Five/Nine means restoring the debt everyone was dealing with and that the economy isn't as likely to recover as she thinks. But that's the big picture. A more direct problem arises at the very end, when Darlene is confronted outside Elliot's apartment by a gang. A gang led by Fernando Vera, the oddly philosophical psychopath from season one. I can't tell you how freaked I was when this happened.

The Brave Traveler

I know it's strange. Vera really shouldn't be that much of a threat, seeing as how Elliot has dealt with far more dangerous forces since his departure. Honestly, though, Vera is still even more unsettling to me than Tyrell, Whiterose and all the Dark Army players combined. With them, there's at least some method to their madness. Not so with Vera.

In a lot of ways, Vera is just as much Elliot's nemesis as Whiterose; he and Whiterose are the few characters who have been able to manipulate Elliot and wound him personally, which Vera did by killing Shayla, Elliot's friend and love interest.

I assume he's returned to once again use Elliot's "power" to his benefit, but I'm hoping Vera will end up being the first of several characters who Elliot and Mr. Robot bring to justice. It's been kind of lost, but that's how this series began. A cyber-vigilante bringing evildoers to justice. Let's get back to that, shall we?

Ones and Zeroes:

* If I had one complaint it's that this episode features a number of fake-outs. Death scenes were set up for three of our protagonists, and it was abundantly clear that none of them were going to die. I get that they have to build tension and make us seriously afraid for them somehow, but it was very predictable. Elliot (and Mr. Robot) clearly wasn't going to be executed in a barn. They're the center of the show. It was obvious Irving was going to kill Santiago instead of Dom. The only one whose fate I was a little uncertain of was Darlene. Killing her would be a bold move and would seriously affect Elliot's whole character. She even pondered her own possible demise earlier this season. But in hindsight, that was unlikely too; Darlene is Elliot's rock in a lot of ways, and she provides a very personal window into his past.

* The moment where Dom gazes up into the sky in anticipation of her death (which doesn't come) reminded me of the 'Ozymandias' episode of Breaking Bad, where the same thing happens to Jesse Pinkman. Though in fairness, Dom gets off just a bit lighter than Jesse.

* We get another eerie insight into Irving's character when he reveals that, before Grant came along, he used to serve as Whiterose's number two man/lover; really not an image I needed in my head. He evidently earned his position as the more independent operative he is now. The more we learn about Whiterose and the Dark Army, the stranger it gets.

* I hope we see Price's cheery mansion butler again. And that he does eventually make pancakes for someone.

* According to Elliot, in addition to orchestrating China's annexation of the Congo, the Dark Army bribed the president of South Korea to allow backdoors into their military networks and hacked the Democratic National Convention on behalf of the Russian government. Busy little bastards, I'll give them that.

* I've been waiting for Elliot and Dom to become partners in seeking justice since she started tracking him in season two, but it doesn't seem likely now. The cinematography seems to back this up. They finally meet in this episode, but are almost never shown in the same frame. In the rare shots in which they are, there is always something in between that divides them, like a support beam in the barn, Santiago's car, or a laptop.

* We revisit Elliot's memory of being pushed out of a window by his father as a kid. Only that never happened, according to Darlene. The way she remembers it, their father came home and Elliot went crazy, making Darlene hide and breaking everything in his room with a baseball bat including the window, which he jumped out of on his own. This stuns Elliot, and Mr. Robot changes the subject when it's brought up in their last conversation. I'm thinking this was the first time Mr. Robot took over, and he pushed Elliot out the window, leaving him with the memory of his father doing it. This would have been foreshadowed as early as the second episode of the show where Mr. Robot pushed him off the boardwalk to echo this memory, only for us and Elliot to later learn that he simply jumped off the boardwalk. Although, it does beg the question as to why Edward Alderson went along with Elliot blaming him for this until the day he died.

* In the episode's climax, Elliot passes a movie screen playing the original Superman movie. Specifically, the scene where Superman screams in devastation and flies into space, using his godlike powers to reverse time and undo all the death and destruction he failed to prevent. It's probably the most symbolic pop culture reference yet. Not only does it allude to Elliot's new frame of mind -- undoing the damage he caused with Five/Nine and resolving to bring the Lex Luthors of his world to justice -- it also serves as a covert reference to The Matrix: Neo transforming from an anonymous computer hacker to a virtual Superman who has the miraculous power to change the world. The ending of this episode was really beautiful. You know, until Vera showed up.

* EDIT: "Intro" by M83 is the ending song. Absolutely wonderful.

Quotes:

Elliot: The only reason we haven’t been talking is because I haven’t let myself. Because I’ve been scared of you. The part of… me that is you.
Mr. Robot: Why are we talking now?
Elliot: The 71 buildings.
Mr. Robot: I didn’t know about that.
Elliot: If you did, would you have done it? Would you have done it?
Mr. Robot: I would have… I would have found another way.
Elliot: As much as there is a part of you in me, there’s a part of me in you.

Irving: (to Dom) In time, this will get easier to live with. I promise. Head into the barn and await further instructions on how to clear up Santiago’s missteps. Now forgive me while I take a moment to center myself. This next bunch, these are for me.
His reassurance rings pretty damn false, considering he says this as he's eagerly hacking apart the last guy who was in her position.

Grant: You are just one hacker. What makes you think you are better than an army of people exactly like you?
Elliot: Because I am.

Angela: What is this? I don’t believe you. You’re lying.
Price: I am your father. Biologically speaking, anyway.
It's official. Price is Darth Vader. I suppose this means Whiterose is the Emperor.

Price: (to Angela) I’m afraid your only move here is accept that you’ve been conned. Find a way to live with what you did.

Elliot: They won’t win. Because one good thing came out of all of this. They showed themselves. The top 1% of the 1%, the ones in control, the ones who play god without permission. And now I’m gonna take them down. All of them.
Oh, fuck yes!

Lady of the Night: If anything this is the calm before the damn storm.

Darlene: Who are you?
Fernando Vera: I’m just… I’m just a brave traveler who’s finally come home.
Oh, fuck no!

I can't say it enough. Mr. Robot is a show that just keeps getting better and better. It seems most agree, as season four has been greenlit. Four out of four miracle blank discs.

5 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Season four -- congratulations!

Logan Cox said...

Thanks, Billie. I can't wait to review it. The network would be fools not to see a show like this to the end.

milostanfield said...

Thank you for the explanation of the Superman excerpt. Haven’t seen it. Didn’t know. That’s why we come to Billie Doux!

Here’s a backatcha: the music during Grant’s entrance to Dark Farm was a Mandarin rendition of Cher’s "Bang Bang My Baby Shot Me Down". Also, for the origin of Elliot/Robot’s ferris wheel scenes check out the late 1940’s film "The Third Man". Esmail is a pop culture encyclopedia!

- - -

It was ironic that during the intercut scenes of Angela/Price and the Dark Farm doings, while Angela was being convinced (we hope) that Whiterose’s Grand Plan was bullshit, Elliot was actually abetting it’s implementation by solving the logistics problem with another keyboard dance. Is the Grand Plan really BS? What if it’s not? After all some kind of beast is slouching to the Congo.

- - -

Do you think maybe Whiterose has had his eye on Dom for a while now? I’m beginning to wonder if their clock room encounter in S02 was a "job interview". She was not shot during the hotel massacre when she shoulda been. Irving seemed to say to Grant that he had spontaneously decided to replace Santiago with Dom, but I think it was orders from Whiterose. YMMV. Also, did Whiterose spontaneously decide to replace(?) Grant with Elliot, or was that his plan all along?

- - -

Grace Gummer and Portia Doubleday had to carry the heavy acting loads. Honorable Mention to Bobby Cannavale for his Mr. (I never wanna close a used car deal with that guy) Irving. I think Grace should get a Supporting nom for this ep. Her performance broke my heart. I love a character who is afraid, naive, has flaws, and yet commits acts of bravery despite them. The worst thing about seeing her broken that way: it was so damn easy for the DA to do. But I still think she and Elliot will be allies.

- - -

Season One’s Slow Ride Epilogue was Whiterose in a stretch limo en route to a 1%er soiree. S02 was Leon in a classic Caddy in a Frye’s parking lot. And now we get everyone’s favorite human being, Fernando Vera, in a smoke filled low rider cruising a bad NYC neighborhood. So what’s next? Perhaps a Presidential motorcade through a sewer? And will somebody please shoot Vera’s tailor?

I may start shipping Vera and Whiterose (Fernandrose? Whitenando?). Wouldn’t they just make a lovely couple?

- - -
S03 was gone in a flash. Now the forever wait for S04. Hope you’ll be there, keyboard and hacking chops in hand. Thanks!

Logan Cox said...

milostanfield, first of all, love the comments. Just love it. Thank you.

Secondly, Esmail's pop culture literacy is one of the reasons I'm so in love with this show. I'm kind of like that too, so it naturally clicks with me.

I think it'd be interesting if Whiterose's beast is real, since it's gotten so much damn foreshadowing and I love science fiction (especially surprise science fiction). But I really don't want it to be. Because something like that would almost validate everything Whiterose and the Dark Army have done. It would make her right, and I don't want that. I want her arrogant ass dead. I think it's more likely she's just using the "alternate reality" motive as a twisted rationalization for destabilizing the world, placing herself above everyone and doing all the horrific things she does. It would be in line with her role as Elliot's foil: bringing society to ruin in their attempts to reshape it into something better.

I'm uncertain whether or not sacrificing Grant and sparing Elliot was all part of her plan, but it's not unlikely. Pretty sure Leon received his orders before Elliot offered to do what Grant couldn't with the project relocation.

Speaking of Dom, I think Whiterose originally wanted her dead for trying to expose the Dark Army, but she became a convenient replacement for Santiago after he made so many mistakes and could no longer cover his tracks. Also, yes, Grace Gummer is tremendous (she's her mother's daughter, for sure) and more than earned herself a nomination, at least, for this episode. And Bobby Cannavale is always solid, whether he's playing a good guy, bad guy or something in between.

I forgot to point out the synchronicity of the epilogue Oner sequences. Well done. And yeah, Whitevera is a funny idea; I wouldn't put it past Whiterose, given her tendency to work with/seduce fellow psychos. I actually would love it if Vera somehow usurped main villain status from Whiterose, as unlikely as that sounds. He's so crazy and unpredictable, I could almost believe it. But realistically, I'm thinking he goes the way of Joanna Wellick: unceremoniously killed early into next season. Or even better, maybe Elliot tricks Vera's gang into attacking the Dark Army or vice versa.

Dammit, I already want the show back so bad. I'll absolutely be back for S04.

milostanfield said...

OMG! Grace Gummer is Meryl Streep’s daughter!? Looked her up on IMDB. We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy! This girl is permanently on my watchlist.

Yeah, I’m starting to lean toward Whiterose waiting to see which side of the coin landed up and then deciding Elliot and Grant’s respective fates.

One thing about Whiterose is that she has been miles ahead of everyone when it comes to long term strategy. Gotta give her that. But Elliot was brilliant at thinking on the fly. He came prepared and played his cards wisely, his trump being the "I can get your beast to the Congo" card. And that saved his and Darlene’s life.

For what it’s worth: "shutdown -r" is a Unix Terminal command on the Mac that not only shuts down the OS but also reboots it at a time specified after the -r. So maybe a ray of hope there.

Thanks again.