Mr. Robot’s final episode and Where it Ranks in the TV Lexicon
Earlier this year, I made my argument that Mr. Robot deserves to be ranked in the halls of some of the greatest TV series ever made. And in the final season, Sam Esmail went to great lengths to prove that they were not going to end this series by going through the motions. Some of the greatest episodes they ever did — not just for the series, but for the entire decade — have been done this last season, as if to challenge even the high standards they’ve already established. There was ‘method not allowed’, an episode which was done almost entirely without spoken dialogue, there was ‘Proxy Authentication Required’ a literal five act drama, which started as a hostage situation between Eliot and Vera, the thug who caused so much trouble for Eliot in Season 1, involved a confrontation with Mr. Robot, and in what was the most bizarre therapy session in history had Elliot and his therapist Kirsten discuss a problem he’d been denying all his life — that his father had spent his childhood sexually molesting him. While all this was going on Elliot and Darlene managed their final confrontation with White Rose, managed to bring her down, all the while going through a body count so high, even the writers of Game of Thrones would be impressed.
But none of this would mean anything unless the final episode managed to work. In this decade alone we’ve seen the final episode cause an entire series to sink or swim. It worked like gangbusters for Breaking Bad and The Americans, it caused mass confusion when it came to Mad Men, and it absolutely sunk Game of Thrones, even though the Emmys refused to acknowledge it. And I’ll admit, I had my doubts going into the first part of the finale.
For almost the entire series, White Rose has been obsessed with the construction of ‘her machine’, something that has only been discussed in the vaguest of terms — that it would create a ‘better world’. When Eliot had his final meeting with White Rose, she seemed utterly determined to destroy this world to bring about her vision, forcing in her final act, to make Eliot bring about her dream. In the last fifteen minutes of ‘Exit’, it seemed to work as Eliot was brought to what seemed to be an alternate universe where everything was perfect. He and his father loved each other. He was the head of AllSafe which had just landed the ‘FCorp’ account headed by Tyrell Wellick. And he was finally about to marry Angela, the love of his life. The constant viewer must have had vision of the ‘flashsideways’ that to do this day has divided the world was to whether or not in ruined everything that was good about Lost. I certainly felt that way. Until the episode ended with Elliot in the same room with… Elliot.
Slowly, I began to regain confidence. It wasn’t easy through much of the first part of the series finale, where ‘our’ Elliot walked through Washington Township, his childhood home, and saw that his parents were still alive. That his mother, who had been considered a cruel woman though we never saw her other than flashbacks, was a warm and loving woman. He went to Angela’s apartment, and saw her parents — including Philip Price, now openly Angela’s father — treating him with warmth. But all through the episode, Elliot couldn’t realistically believe it, sure something was wrong. Eventually, he performed his final hack — on himself — and found out this Elliot imagined himself a vigilante hacker. Then when the two confronted each other, one of the tremors that had been shaking this world occurred, and Elliot used it as an occasion to murder the one of this world. I began to regain confidence that Esmail knew what he was doing.
It still was shaky — Elliot was determined to marry Angela, even though Mr. Robot kept trying to tell him he couldn’t do it. And I was still a little antsy when Elliot’s murder was discovered by Dom DiPerro — as a cop in this world. Even when Elliot arrived at his wedding, and Mr. Robot tried to tell him the machine hadn’t work, and that he’d kept him in a loop, I wasn’t entirely confident that Esmail was going to tie this together. I had forgotten that so much of this series had never entirely been about a dystopian vision of future — it was about Eliot Alderson.
And then, it was resolved in a way that was true to everything we’d learned about him. We knew that Elliot was dealing with DID since Season 1 — the revelation that Mr. Robot was an alternate personality of his was one of the first big reveals of this series. But now, we got a picture of just how extensive this disorder was. We knew that there was a child personality that had emerged to deal with the molestation he suffered. And that his mother had been an alternate personality as well. But the final revelation came that the man we’d spent the entire series watching was not the real Elliot. Rather, he was an alternate personality who had been developed to bring about the world that the real one could never accept.
I imagine a lot of viewers were having doubts as to whether all of this was a delusion of Elliot’s — another possibility that could’ve destroyed the series as effectively as the alternate universe. Esmail avoided this trap as well, by not having Darlene be a part of the alternate world at all. When Eliot regained consciousness in a hospital, Darlene was there, telling Elliot that everything he — and the viewer — had been through was real, and she had lived through it all. When Elliot confessed that he was an alternate personality himself, Darlene admitted she had always known. She realized when Elliot hadn’t recognized her as his sister that something was wrong, but had gone along with so much of the charade, partly to bond with Elliot and partly out of guilt for not being able to help him when he was a child.
And in the final minutes, we realized who the ‘friend’ was who the vigilante had been talking to — the Elliot he had spent the entire series trapping in his own mind. The final monologue was a bit cheesy, but it made up for the fact that we were seeing something far more important — Elliot was accepting his condition and allowing his real self to emerge into the world. Perhaps our only complaint was that we never got a clear picture of the ‘real’ Elliot Alderson, but in a way, that was right. Mr. Robot had always been the story of the Elliot we knew, not the real one. And his final sacrifice made his act of saving the world somehow less important than what he was doing now.
Mr. Robot truly nailed the ending, like Jane The Virgin did earlier this year and The Americans did the year before that. It managed to nail a truly dystopian vision, and yet somehow in the last few episodes, become a story of hope and reclamation. Maybe as horrible as things can be — and the world that Mr. Robot created could make series like The Handmaid’s Tale seem positively chipper — there is hope in the action of human beings. It can be as large as working together to bring down the ‘top one percent of the top one percent’ or as small as giving up your inner darkness so that someone whose been through so much pain can find whatever happiness he can in a broken world. Mr. Robot made clear that both of these decisions hold equal value, and that is something that is well worth learning.
And regardless what you think of the ending — and at the moment, it has a rating up there with the last episode of The Americans, so it clearly landed better — the triumphs of Mr. Robot, the way that it shifted with form, visuals and combined them with brilliant character development and writing demonstrate just how utterly banal the world of shows like Game of Thrones was when it came to deal with good and evil. The Emmys will have one more chance to make it right to a show that, with a few exceptions, it basically shafted, though already there are a group of formidable contenders, and 2020 has not even begun yet. Suffice to say, Mr. Robot was a great show. Please tell me you saw this too.
My score: 5 stars.