Mr. Robot: Unpacking and Unhacking




Categories: Carly Chaikin, Christian Slater, Martin Wallstrom, Michael Cristofer, Mr. Robot, Portia Doubleday, Rami Malek, Sam Esmail, Stephanie Corneliussen, USA

Mr. Robot: Unpacking and Unhacking

“We’ll celebrate when we’re home.” – Jack Shephard, Lost, S03E22

 

The polarizing, mystifying, and intense second season of Mr. Robot has come to a somewhat unsatisfying end. And, while there’s still a lot to love about this show, as it is still one of the most ambitious programs on TV, I can’t help but criticize what went down in the final hour, as well as the lead up to the end.

 

We came into the finale (which I’m classifying as the last two episodes, as they were supposed to be aired together) with a lot of questions, almost like we were watching Lost. There were so many mysteries to uncover: is Tyrell alive? Is Darlene dead? What’s stage two? What’s going on with Angela? Will the prison ever come back into relevance? Who’s sending Joanna those gifts? What’s going on in The Congo?

While many of these questions did indeed get answered, a lot of them almost felt like anticlimax – the answer staring us right in the face the entire time, or the truth being revealed to be irrelevant. In a lot of ways, the second season widened the plot of Mr. Robot so enormously that there was no way they could sufficiently close all of the open doors. A lot had to be left out of the finale, and with the plot taking center stage a little more over the characters, this felt a little more like stage-setting for season three than for a satisfying ending to season two.

 

Let’s begin with the top story of the night: Tyrell Wellick. Throughout all of season, we’d barely seen Tyrell – he was in flashbacks, he was on TV, and he was mentioned quite a lot, but the main mystery of season two remained: where is Tyrell? Is he even alive? As it turned out, Tyrell has been sitting in a warehouse with the Mr. Robot side of Elliot’s personality, quietly setting up “Stage Two,” a plan to blow up a paper mill in order to erase all E-corp records once and for all. As said earlier, this felt almost like an anti-climax. The most wanted man in America still walks around in a fresh suit and tie, essentially just hacking in a room alone for nearly a year? Though it was nice to see that Tyrell is not just a figment of Elliot’s imagination, it had almost no payoff to have Tyrell simply shoot Elliot non-fatally in order to continue their plan. Sure, it made sense given the inner-war between Elliot and Mr. Robot, but sense aside, the buildup was not quite worth the payoff here. It’s good to have an interesting character like Tyrell back in the mix, but for being a season-long mystery, this wasn’t particularly rewarding.

Moreover, the big reveal of what “Stage Two” was, felt kinda lame for being another major plot point of this season. As it turns out, stage two was very similar to stage one, only this time around it could actually kill real people, albeit only those working at the paper factory. This wasn’t exactly a revelation, and though it’d be nice to see Elliot’s master plans come to fruition as they did in season one, the whole of “stage two” is nothing if not underwhelming.

I think the major problem with all of this being the major Elliot plot in the finale is that we’ve been over this. The first four episodes of the second season dealt entirely with Elliot’s internal war with Mr. Robot for control. After an extended sequence that began to drag, we realized that in fact, the two halves of Elliot’s mind are at a stalemate, and that one cannot fully have control over the other. This realization is somewhat squandered if it’s true that the Mr. Robot side of Elliot has been hacking with Tyrell for the last few months. If the major conflict for our main character is with himself, it’s hard to take anything in the show at face value, making the unreliable narrator so unreliable that the show itself begins to lack magnitude when it shows us something important. It’s a fine line between nonsense and fascinating.

 

Another plot with a rather unsatisfying conclusion was that of Joanna Wellick, Tyrell’s sociopath wife. In the finale, she learns that in fact, Scott Knowles, last seen in the first episode of this season, was the one sending her gifts and breathing over the phone. There’s no problem with this inherently as Scott does have an ax to grind with the Wellick family, but he’s also a largely irrelevant character. And, as it turns out, so too is Joanna! Since she hasn’t tied into any other important plot line, be it the dark army, Tyrell and Elliot’s plans, or the FBI, I really can’t see how Joanna actually plays into the larger plot of this show. She’s an interesting character, but certainly not enough to warrant such large amounts of screen time that eventually amount to a feud with a fourth-string villain. Whereas other supporting characters like Phillip Price or the remaining Fsociety members have major impact on the overall plot, it seems like Joanna exists largely on her own. Whether she gets the better of Scott Knowles or loses horribly, it’s hard to see what the impact on the rest of the plot would be.

 

The season finale also left us with a lot of plainly unanswered questions. Phillip Price and Whiterose are obviously major players in the grand scheme of things, but with each of them only getting one scene a piece, nothing new about their plans have been revealed, and neither was given a fitting note to close out the season on. Similarly, Angela, the character with the most movement throughout the season, (as well as the most confusion) never really got any closure. She was convinced by Whiterose to give up her hunt for the Washington Township scandal and apparently is in contact with Tyrell, but nothing about her has been at all explained in the finale. We’ve seen her evolution from good to evil, but nothing about it has been very explained other than her want to be appreciated. We also have yet to find out why Phillip Price liked her so much, or why he chose her as a pet project. She’s still an interesting character, but where her motivation actually lies is still a mystery.

 

I won’t give everything in the finale a bad review, however. Darlene and Dominque, two characters I’ve never been particularly high on, ended up being the strong point of the finale, almost echoing the end of the fifth season of Justified. Just as Ava agreed to be an informant for Raylen, Darlene seems like she’s primed to start working with the FBI, namely with Dominque. Darlene seeing the Wire type board of all the major players between Fsociety, Dark Army, and Ecorp was a powerful moment, and also a moment that can bring quite a lot of conflict to season three. Will Darlene be playing against the rest of our characters from here on in?

 

As I’ve said, if there’s one thing I appreciate about Mr. Robot, it’s ambition. No other show on television except for The Leftovers is willing to take risks like Robot. Anything goes, be it unreliable narrators, David Lynch type sequences that may or may not be dreams, or just general darkness. That alone warrants me watching the rest of Mr. Robot, however more seasons it decides to take on. However, with great ambition comes great responsibility, and unlike at the end of the first season, the show wasn’t quite able to handle everything it set up. Plots didn’t pay off, characters didn’t tie in, and high concept theories were squandered. This isn’t writing off the show – Sam Esmail and co. still have a unique vision with an equally as unique world, but for those of us hoping for the next Breaking Bad quality show, Mr. Robot is probably not filling that void.

 

Despite my disappointment in the finale, I’m definitely excited to see where this show goes. The Whiterose and Phillip Price conflict is still as ridiculous as it is compelling, the character of Elliot always drives interest forward, and especially after the post-credits scene, I’m excited to see how the remnants of Fsociety end up dealing with the Dark Army knowing all and acting as pro/antagonists to the rest of the cast. I’m happy to have a break from Robot, but by the time it returns next year, I’ll be happy to dive right back in and pick up where we left off.

 

Goodbye, friends.

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