Mr. Robot: Hello, Elliot: Series Finale Part Two

“Come on, this only works if you let go too.”

But letting go can be so damn hard.

I won't lie. Part of me didn't want to write this review. Just like part of me didn't want to watch this last episode. There are some shows where, at a certain point, you're just waiting for them to stop treading water and wrap it all up. Then there are other shows that feel like they could keep going and going, and you're happy with that. But with some shows, you know they'll only really work if they're building to a clear conclusion, but are still so good that you don't want them to end. That's the kind of show Mr. Robot is, at least to me.

I've seen a lot of TV shows over the years, and of all of them Mr. Robot might be the one that most closely matches my sensibilities, in terms of how I view both fiction and reality. The fact that it's over is still a huge bummer for me, even three months after I was supposed to have written this thing. I'm going to miss looking forward to watching it and being a friend of the revolution.

With that little preface out of the way, let's get into the actual ending.

The Pretender

We return to our boy Elliot after he has just murdered the much more stable version of himself in a parallel world. Earlier this season, Tyrell Wellick asked Elliot if he would ever consider just walking away from his problems and starting a new life, which Elliot denies. He appears to have done a 180. He gets to work on covering up his crime and prepares to take over his other self's life, having finally deluded himself into buying into Whiterose's fantasy just as Angela once did.

As Elliot begins his journey to marry Alternate-Angela, Mr. Robot chooses to resurface. He is, of course, skeptical of Elliot's crazy plan, but Elliot refuses to be talked down from this. Elliot claims this is the only logical solution to their current situation. It's not, though. It's his last desperate attempt to have a better life. To escape the dark past that has always loomed over him.

Unfortunately for him, his plan starts to unravel immediately. An alternate version of Dom DiPierro shows up -- in the form of an average beat cop -- and easily sees through him, forcing Elliot to flee and make a mad dash for Coney Island, because of course Elliot's wedding would take place at Coney Island.

Before this, I really was not sure where they were going with this Body Snatcher scenario. But once Elliot got to the wedding altar on the beach, everything quickly began to fall in place.


The Wedding Planners

As soon as I saw that everyone attending the wedding was wearing fsociety masks, I realized the "parallel world" was another of Elliot's mad delusions. It was a brilliant form of misdirection, though. They built up Whiterose's mystery machine and the idea of alternate realities for so long, and our introduction to this fantasy world seemed like the payoff to that buildup, bringing our contemporary protagonist into an unexpected sci-fi scenario. However, the whole time I believed this was going to happen I also knew that that'd be a pretty huge leap for even this show to take. As much as the idea always intrigued me, I never wanted Whiterose to be right about it. I'm glad she really was just a self-righteous megalomaniac simply out to justify her sociopathic subjugation of humanity.

The twist about the new world segues nicely into the even greater twist, which is that the hero we've been following throughout this journey was never the real Elliot Alderson. He's another split personality. The real Elliot is the alternate version of him we've recently been introduced to, having been locked in this virtual reality of the mind since before the series began.

As Mr. Robot says, we nearly discovered this secret back in season one during the morphine withdrawal. In fact, if you go back and look at that episode, Elliot's hallucinations subtly foreshadow most of the show's major plot developments: Elliot and Mr. Robot being the same person, Darlene being Elliot's sister, Angela's betrayal, the oddly sad downfall of Tyrell Wellick, even the fact that "Elliot" isn't Elliot. His cryptic conversation with Angela in the Fsociety Arcade, where she reveals who "Elliot" really is, seems to be how their fantasy wedding always turns out; the most painful lie reveals the most powerful truth.

Sam Esmail had originally envisioned Mr. Robot as a movie, so it makes sense that he would have a great deal of the plot and twists in mind from the beginning. Still, I'm impressed with how well he was able to execute all of this.

We're given our last instance of Elliot's bizarre hallucinations, nightmarish and darkly hilarious at the same time. The echoing footfalls as Elliot chases after Angela, then Mr. Robot. Then, suddenly, everyone at Coney Island has Christian Slater's face. Then Tyrell randomly appears and tries to murder Elliot.

Finally, the other alter egos form a projection of Krista, to help Elliot finally understand the truth.


The Masterminds

I usually suck at guessing plot twists in advance, but I've gotta give myself some credit for seeing the "other Elliot" angle coming a few episodes back. Of course, I had something a bit more tragic and scary in mind, but I appreciate Esmail's empathetic portrayal even more.

One thing that always baffled me about this show, for all of its "realistic" qualities, was the fact that Elliot was even capable of functioning with the level of trauma and mental illness he suffers from, on top of all the freakishly intense and dangerous situations he gets himself into. Well, as it happens, he never was able to function with it. Not on his own, at least.

As the Krista projection explains, Elliot's case of Dissociative Identity Disorder is not unlike actual real life cases. The split personalities typically manifest as a way for the person to cope with their pain. The first was Mr. Robot, the childhood imaginary friend whose entire purpose is to defend Elliot. Then there's the "Mother" personality (who I've referred to as Alter-Magda), there to fuel Elliot's feelings of self-hatred; feelings which blinded him from the truth about his father. Interestingly, despite the rather negative role she plays, "Mother" is shown to be just as concerned with the real Elliot's wellbeing as Mr. Robot is. The "Young Elliot" personality, sadly, is there to endure the full brunt of pain and suffering that the real Elliot experiences; this explains why Elliot was capable of shrugging off so much damage to his body and mind.

I like that we the viewers (or the Voyeurs, as "Krista" calls us) are also among Elliot's split personalities.

The youngest and most dominant personality is The Mastermind, aka the person we thought was Elliot Alderson. He actually is the real Elliot's cyber-vigilante superhero fantasy version of himself, the identity that is obsessed with control and exacting justice on those who abuse it. It turns out the reason he could not be normal was because he was, by his very nature, not normal.

I long theorized that the hidden personality was a sort of god or director character that's been guiding the events of the series all along. I kind of like that it turns out to be "Elliot" in the end. He was a personality so powerful that he could operate subconsciously without his conscious persona ever knowing. All those cryptic scenes where it appeared to be Mr. Robot or some other alter coming up with the fsociety revolution or influencing Tyrell to "see what's above you," we were actually watching our "Elliot" setting events in motion on a subconscious level. This totally fits with Elliot's understated ability to willingly conceal entire aspects of his life from himself or create entire fantasy scenarios like we saw in the season one finale or his prison stint in season two.

The great irony is that The Mastermind -- who, from our perspective, has spent the entire series lamenting his lack of control -- had gained so much control over Elliot that he eventually became him, identifying with him to the point that he forgot they were two distinct entities. This is why I still refer to The Mastermind as "Elliot." He tricked himself into genuinely believing that's who he was.

I'm really looking forward to watching this show again having all the big revelations in mind from the start. Because I imagine it will be the same way I still enjoy Fight Club despite knowing the big reveal there.

The truth about the Mastermind even provides a lot of clarity for the character of Mr. Robot too. He's gone back and forth from menacing and antagonistic to noble and caring. For awhile, it seemed like he was the one behind everything; the show does bear his name, after all. It seems as though The Mastermind got lost in character sometime after he'd set the fsociety revolution into motion, which forced Mr. Robot to assert himself in order to take the reins and help "Elliot" finish what he started. While at first it seemed to be an act of necessity to protect the real Elliot, Mr. Robot also evidently got a little carried away with his role as leader of the revolution. It isn't clear if he was so virulently opposed to "Elliot" during seasons two and three because he thought he was defending "the host" or because he was unwilling surrender control back to The Mastermind. A good chunk of Season 3 especially revolves around Mr. Robot, not "Elliot," slowly realizing that he's not as wise or in control as he believed. This season he's been trying to prevent The Mastermind from taking things too far like he almost did before finally showing him what he did to the real Elliot. His goal, and that of other identities, has always been to persuade The Mastermind to release Elliot from his prison of the mind.


The Real World

As one might imagine, the part of The Mastermind that believes he is "Elliot" has grown rather attached to life in the physical world. He is angry and stubborn and refuses to let go. Which is understandable because The Mastermind is naturally compelled to be in control, especially now that he knows what it is he's controlling. It's this denial of reality that releases him from his limbo state, whereupon "Elliot" awakens in the hospital, where Darlene has been waiting.

I'd just like to say that I'm very glad Darlene was real in the end. Her notable absence from Elliot's "perfect world" seemed like it might have been confirming that she was another of his identities all along, but I think that would have been a disservice to her character.

Turns out, Elliot's emotional connection with Darlene was so strong that The Mastermind intentionally erased her existence from his fantasy simulation, out of fear that her presence would break the illusion. So strong that "Elliot"/The Mastermind came to love her just as much as the actual Elliot. Which is why this scene is one of the most bittersweet, heartrending moments ever.

Darlene is overjoyed that her brother is alive. She explains that he was able to prevent the power plant from melting down and blow up Whiterose's machine, and that Elliot was unharmed thanks to being in a specially secure room. The rest of the Dark Army was presumably destroyed in the aftermath. He succeeded in saving the world not only from a shadowy cabal of coldblooded oligarchs, but from what could have been one of the most devastating terrorist attacks in human history.

It should be the happiest moment the two have ever experienced. They won. They survived. They're finally free.

Almost.

"Elliot" can't bask in the moment with her, even as she grips his hand in hers and desperately assures him that she's real and that everything that happened to them wasn't all in his head. Because he knows the truth now, and he can no longer deny it when faced with Darlene. Just that instance alone was so powerful. The idea that you can feel yourself inhabiting a body, feel yourself holding the hand of someone you love, yet know that it's not your body, that it's not your hand to hold, that you're not real. It is so sad and haunting.

I was happy when Darlene revealed that she's known all along that the "Elliot" she's been with was not her Elliot. Then saddened once again when we learn she originally went along with it and the fsociety revolution because she just wanted to spend time with her estranged brother, even knowing it wasn't truly him.

This gets back to what I've said in previous reviews is at the heart of the show. It's not really about cyber-warfare, the toxicity of capitalism, tyranny and rebellion in America, or even secret conspiracies. In the end, and forgive me if this sounds too mawkish or simplistic, it's about people suffering from mental health problems. Or emotional, behavioral or developmental problems. It's the constant among every major character, whether it's the crippling social anxiety experienced by Darlene and Dom, pathological self-esteem issues like Angela or Tyrell, a narcissistic god complex like Price or Vera, or the dangerously unstable identity issues of Elliot and Whiterose.

So I appreciate that this was the focus of the show's ending. It's been my concern throughout this final season. Taking out the Illuminati and defeating a supervillain was never going to cure Elliot's mental state.

Now that concern has been mollified for the most part.

Out of love for Darlene, The Mastermind finally gives up the control he's been clinging to all this time and gives Elliot his life back. The revolution began as a defensive measure to protect Elliot from a world full of predators out to use and abuse. It succeeded in eliminating many of these negative elements from his (and everyone else's) life, but the journey also exposed the origin of Elliot's lingering trauma and just how deeply damaged he was by it. Now the real Elliot is given a world where he can feel safe and have hope for the future, and a renewed bond with his sister, who will be there for him now through the hard times ahead. He has the chance to heal his wounded mind, body and soul.

In the final scene, The Mastermind, Mr. Robot and the other personalities stand in The God Room and gaze out at the world they've forever changed. Their work done, our "Elliot" joins the others as they resign themselves to dormancy within real Elliot's mind. They all enter a movie theater and the "movie" they are watching appears to be a massive supercut of the entire series. We are given the impression that they are uploading everything that happened to Elliot after The Mastermind took over. So, in essence, Elliot and The Mastermind are now essentially one, having shared each other's lives and memories. Darlene says "hello" to the true Elliot Alderson, and the story ends.


The Movie Begins

I say that the show is really about mental issues, but honestly, I could go on and on about all the things this show is about. Instead, I will try to limit my thoughts to the aspects I'm most impressed with.

Again, this show is probably one of the best and most vivid depictions of mental health issues and loneliness in the modern age that I've seen.

It's also one of the best shows that act as a character study. The character of Elliot, both the individual and his alter egos, rules the story. Hell, the narrative is practically dictated by his fucked up psyche. We're made to feel like his partner-in-crime and gradually come to know and care about him. And there are few combinations of character and performance that align quite as perfectly as Rami Malek in the role of Elliot Alderson.

Mr. Robot also excelled at highlighting many serious issues we are facing in the 21st Century, in America and abroad. Nothing is left untouched, whether it's subversive culture versus the status quo; the potential dangers of cyber-crimes as well as the potential good of hacktivist figures; the postmodern effects of pop culture; the dicey state of the world's economy; wealth inequality; the perimeters of sexual orientation and class warfare; terrorism and false flag events; political propaganda and conspiracy theories, the way the internet, technology and the age of information shape our lives, or the way a desire for power and control can shape the world. It's rare that TV shows or movies handle so many real subjects with the level of care and nuance seen in Mr. Robot.

The idea of saving or changing the world is another crucial element. That has been one of Elliot's goals from the beginning, and we eventually learn that the ultimate villain Whiterose has a similar goal in mind. In the eyes of both hero and villain, the world needs to be set right. So they try to force change onto the world. For Elliot, it was the Five/Nine hack meant to kill Evil Corp and free the world from debt. For Whiterose, it was using a Large Hadron Collider type device to generate a new and better world from the ashes of the old. Neither succeed, but their failures got them to their goal nonetheless. Because if you think about it, Elliot has radically changed the world by the end of the series. He exposed and dethroned the evil organization that had controlled everything from behind the scenes for decades. His revolution led E Corp to seize control of American currency, which allowed fsociety to later redistribute the Deus Group's collective wealth to people across the globe. With the demise of Evil Corp, the Dark Army and the Deus Group, the malevolent hand that guides the world in favor of the few has been removed. In a way, Elliot did create an alternate reality distinctly different from that of own our world, where we have yet to slay such giants.

Finally, there's the fun metafictional side of the show that I thoroughly enjoy. Having a hero with such a sketchy relationship with reality allowed the people behind the show to do a lot of deliciously creative ideas, blurring the lines between the real and unreal. Elliot is absentmindedly weaving his fantasy narrative out of the very real things that are happening around him, making him the cyberpunk superhero out to save humanity from Evil Corp and The Dark Army. The fact that it's always been like a dark interpretation of Ferris Bueller has always lent Mr. Robot a different kind of magic than you see in a lot of other serious shows It's one of the things that made this finale so moving. Though we have reached the end, the nature of the narrative is such that we are technically just meeting our protagonist for the first time, whose story is just about to begin. This playful indulgence of cinematic postmodern storytelling is just one of the multitude of reasons why this show is unique and why I love it so much.

What else can I say. My hat is off to Sam Esmail, Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Martin Wallstrom, Grace Gummer, Mac Quayle, Tod Campbell, and everyone else involved in bringing this excellent series to life. It is truly one of the best, most maddening and enthralling things I've ever seen.

I appreciate everyone who read and enjoyed my reviews for Mr. Robot. Thank you, friends.

Ones and zeroes:

* “Outro” by M83, whereas "Intro" played during the previous season finale. Nice bit of synchronicity.

* You might be wondering, are there any flaws to this episode? Well, yes, but none that take away from what it accomplished. For instance, hero or not, you'd think Elliot would be in some form of federal custody after he committed a whole bunch of crimes to bring down the Deus Group and the Dark Army. Would he really be left in some random room in a hospital with no guards around? Would Darlene be allowed to be there with him? Wouldn't she also be in trouble for committing numerous cyber crimes? Another thing is Whiterose and the Dark Army's entire agenda. Since we know she never actually had insight into a parallel universe, how exactly did she convince Angela and all of her other followers that her machine could access one? Was she just that persuasive?

* As for the season itself, I think the flaws are largely subjective. I thought Esmail needed at least two more seasons to wrap everything up. Though I think season four is about as good as it can get, I could also see how many of the plot elements in this final season could have been extended. The discovery and defeat of the Deus Group, Elliot's relationship with Olivia Cortez, Vera's plot to enslave Elliot to his will, the alliance between Elliot/Mr. Robot and Price, the Dark Army going rogue and openly attacking the public and law enforcement and the "parallel world" are all things I might have liked to see them take further, but I can see how Esmail might have taken a more practical view of things. It's more prudent to wrap things up with the ending in sight rather than disrupt the narrative by going too far down any one of these rabbit holes. Usually having so many plot developments in one season, let alone a final season, can lead to a huge mess (looking at you, Game of Thrones), but I was amazed at how nicely everything flowed in this season and how organic it all ultimately felt.

* The last scene probably has the show's most beautiful tributes to other movies, which is saying something considering how this series has been jammed with pop culture references both subtle and overt. As the alternate personalities gather in a theater to watch the movie that is Elliot Alderson's life, the film projector light makes a stargate out of scenes from the entire series before panning out to reveal a close-up of Elliot's opening eye. A homage to the climatic sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey morphs into a homage to the opening shot of Bladerunner.

* This is really the only episode that explores Elliot Alderson's Dissociative Identity Disorder. I was a fan of split personality stories long before this series ever crossed my radar. It was drawing a lot of inspiration from Fight Club in the beginning, as far as the plot and the characters of Elliot/Mr. Robot go, but the actual dynamic that we see in the end is more reminiscent of movies like Raising Cain, Identity or Split: several split personalities within the mind of one severely damaged man, but all overshadowed by a single dominant alter ego.

* I always imagined Mr. Robot's finale would be akin to that of Breaking Bad, where pretty much everything is wrapped up in a nice little bow, but it ended up reminding me more of the series finale of Lost. It's more concerned with paying off emotional, psychological and thematic elements than it is with answering every lingering question or even making total sense. The last big twist is that the random late-stage parallel reality is actually just a purgatory-type virtual reality. As a result of that, we get a scene where a character has to clarify for a full minute that everything that happened in the story wasn't just someone's dream or fantasy; though I imagine the number of people who still insist that it was all a fantasy won't be nearly as great for this show as it was for Lost. And one of the last shots of the show is a closeup of a man's eye.

* The concept of "the monster" cropped back up with these last two episodes. I always thought it was a reference to The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover, where Grover spends the whole book wondering who or what the monster is going to be. Only to arrive at the end and realize that the monster is him. Back in season one, I thought it was a hint that Elliot and Mr. Robot (the monster, at the time) were one and the same. Now we know that "Elliot" was his own monster.

* In the fantasy world, we see several ads for a TV show called Heroes: Evil Never Prevails. Obviously it's meant to highlight the utopian nature of the fantasy world, but is it also supposed to be the same as the other Heroes show.

* In hindsight, it's interesting how The Mastermind seems to have been editing, or rewriting the code, the fantasy world he created as his journey progressed. By the time we get a good look at it, he has already taken into account Elliot's attempt to rehabilitate E Corp from the inside, the fact that Price is Angela's father, that he and Tyrell are birds of a feather, the good intentions behind Whiterose's actions, and the Washington Township Power Plant that nearly burned a hole into the earth.

* I'm pretty sure Elliot was in the same hospital he ended up in back in season one after Mr. Robot pushed him off the boardwalk. Again, you'd figure they would have had him in a slightly more regulated facility after what he was just involved in.

* Most Obvious Symbolism: "Elliot" hiding the real Elliot's (seemingly) dead body inside a Self-Storage box and taking his place. This one was pretty easy.

* Edit: It's not touched on at all in the show, but Elliot Alderson has almost certainly earned a place in the history books by the end of this series. Can you imagine what an unbelievable historical figure he would be? A vigilante computer hacker driven by multiple personalities to launch a revolutionary movement that causes the biggest economic collapse the world has ever seen, leading to a near total reliance on digital currency. Only for he, his grungy sister and their hacker group to be framed as evil terrorists by the world's most diabolical terrorist, who is also the leader of a secret organization of super wealthy and powerful men that rule society from the shadows. Who our hacker and his grungy sister then exposed in the eyes of the world, bringing them down and using the new digital currency system to give their hoarded fortune back to the people. Then the diabolical terrorist became a rampaging fugitive and nearly caused a nuclear meltdown (and possibly could have ended the world as we know it) as her final act, only to be thwarted by the hacker, who at the very least saved the entire North American east coast by winning and then losing an old computer game. Then probably gets pardoned for his crimes and spends the next few years in a mental care facility. So many edgy kids would write essays about his life.

Quotes:

Elliot: (narration) Now all that’s left is a full wipe-down.
Usually, a full wipe-down is how Elliot refers to getting rid of the evidence of his hacks. Incredibly disturbing to hear him use it in the context of covering up a murder, even if it wasn't real.

Elliot: This is the best strategy for us.
Mr. Robot: Strategy? So, what, you’re just gonna take his place? Is that what this is? It’s not that easy.
Elliot: Why not? I look exactly like him.
Mr. Robot: Trust me when I tell you this. You are not him.

Elliot: I’m the real Elliot Alderson.
Mr. Robot: You are no more Elliot Alderson than I am. You’re just like me, only a part of him. And if you don’t let go, he’ll never get back to living his own life.
Elliot: What life? I killed him. Remember?
Mr. Robot: You can’t kill him. No matter how hard you try.
“Elliot”: This doesn’t make any fucking sense. If I’m not Elliot, who the fuck am I?
Mr. Robot: You already know.

“Elliot”/The Mastermind: It’s my life! It always will be.

“Elliot”/The Mastermind: Is this real? Please tell me this isn’t a dream.

Darlene Alderson: Guess it’s official. You saved the world, Elliot Alderson.

“Elliot”/The Mastermind: Hello, friend. God, that's always been lame, hasn't it? Sorry I never came up with a better name for you. Then again, I don't even have a name. Just a guy trying to play God without permission.

Mr. Robot: We’ll always be part of him, kiddo.

“Elliot”/The Mastermind: This whole time, I thought changing the world was something you did, an act you performed, something you fought for. I don't know if that's true anymore. What if changing the world was just about being here, by showing up no matter how many times we get told we don't belong, by staying true even when we're shamed into being false, by being true to ourselves even when we're told we're too different. And if we all held onto that, if we refuse to budge and fall in line, if we stood our ground for long enough, just maybe... The world can't help but change around us. Even though we'll be gone, it's like Mr. Robot said. We'll always be a part of Elliot Alderson. And we'll be the best part, because we're the part that always showed up. We're the part that stayed. We're the part that changed him. And who wouldn't be proud of that?

Darlene: Hello, Elliot.

This was the first show I reviewed for Doux Reviews. Hard to believe it's already over. It was a hell of a ride. Five out of five prisons of the mind.

6 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Logan, big big congratulations on actually finishing an entire series. It's a huge accomplishment -- especially for a show as complicated as this one.

Logan Cox said...

Thank you, Billie. It was quite the undertaking, but I knew what I was getting into.

As always, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to write for your site.

Billie Doux said...

Logan, we're lucky to have you. Stay forever. :)

NomadUK said...

Well done. Loved the series; one of the best things ever put on television.

Logan Cox said...

NomadUK, I agree 100%. This show was absolutely golden, a perfect examination of the maddening, confusing time we are living in. I already miss the hell out of it.

magritte said...

Well, I've come to the end of this journey and enjoyed sharing it with you Logan. But great as it was, I am not sorry to see the show end because it tied up its story so coherently. I like it when a show knows how it wants to conclude well in advance and executes its ending in a convincing way. I much prefer that to the soap opera model of television show where they just keep spinning more plotlines until they run out of steam. I was surprised how positive the ending was given how dark the journey has been. The only thing that seemed a little odd to me was Dom being shuffled off to Budapest. Honestly, I was expecting her plane to blow up.

Maybe it was because the recap before whoami included the episode where Eliot was trapped in a fantasy land with his family by Mr. Robot, but I never thought for an instant that we were in Whiterose's alternate reality. I also felt the fact that it almost perfectly echoed the very first episode with Tyrrell Wellick visiting Allsafe was a clue to when this fantasy world was constructed. I don't think any of the fsociety members appeared in the fantasy world.

In a way, it's a shame we never learned if Whiterose's machine could work, but it seems like too big a science fiction leap for a show that's pretty well-grounded in current technology. And though the "Many Worlds Interpretation" is a perfectly valid way of looking at quantum mechanics it's simply bizarre and crazy to think you could somehow build a machine to select a reality that would be exactly the way you wanted it. Far more likely is that it would just be different and strange in random ways, like the alternate world in the Man in the High Castle.