Mr Robot: Season 2 Finale Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
If I had to characterise Mr Robot’s second season in one word, it would be ‘descent’. Cynics might say that’s a good descriptor for the show’s quality, and there’s definitely a fair argument that this season worked far less effectively than the laser-focused first season. But ‘descent’, in this case, feels like an adequate descriptor for both the show’s characters and tone. Season two began pretty bleakly, but from there just about every character has been plunged into the kind of darkness and moral murkiness that would have been hard to envisage a few episodes back. Take Elliot, who began the season thinking he was keeping Mr Robot in check, but came into the finale having descended into a state of total psychological panic, the barriers between him and his alter ago blurring and sharpening randomly. Or Angela, whose quest to take down E Corp from within led to last week’s bizarre meeting with Whiterose which left her abandoning her quest and signing up with the Dark Army. The list could go on.
So it’s not much of a surprise, in many ways, that season two ends on a note of near-total hopelessness and enormous uncertainty. Put simply, it’s not a satisfying finale – the moments of gratification and catharsis that are typical of a season finale are mostly absent. To loop back to that idea of descent, pyth0n-pt2 continues that plunge into darkness, but instead of putting it to a stop, it illustrates just how further that plunge can go. That should make for a frustrating finale, and in some respects, it does, with Mr Robot’s habit of playing coy with its mysteries reaching its apex here. It’s easy to come off this finale and feel cheated – to feel a sense that this show has swerved at the last minute from tangible answers just to show the audience that it can. Yet while it’s impossible to ignore the frustrations here, pyth0n-pt2 is often a dazzlingly clever, nail-biting finale that puts the show in a really, really intriguing place for season three. That’s a mess of contradictions, but what else is there to expect from Mr Robot at this point?
Though there were few concrete answers to the innumerable questions this season (and, considering the missing three days following the 5/9 hack are still shrouded in mystery, last season too) posed, pyth0n-pt2 did offer its own kind of closure where it could, even if that closure almost universally felt temporary – the show pressing the pause button rather than stop. However, that kind of temporary closure worked very well in some cases. For instance, there’s the big reveal to close out the FBI storyline for this year that Dom and her colleagues have nailed down the perpetrators behind the 5/9 hack including Elliot and Tyrell, and are merely waiting for an opportune moment to arrest them. As big season-ending reveals go, this was excellent, because it hit the sweet spot of paying off this year’s battle between law enforcement and fsociety while setting up a fascinating new dynamic for next season. It’s a great reveal because it cleverly meddles with audience sympathies to the point where the meaning of the reveal is really just up to the way each viewer has connected to each character.
Despite the fact that she’s been working against fsociety and Elliot constantly this year, Mr Robot has done a lot to make Dom a truly likeable character – one of the few people to root for thanks to her altruistic motive and downtrodden social status, and a performance by Grace Gummer that’s mixed an affable pluckiness with a deep sadness hidden beneath. This reveal is an unquestionable victory for her – a confirmation that she’s been in control of matters all along, and is a long way towards realising her goals. Therefore, if you’ve particularly resonated with Dom, then it’s easy to feel a bit of catharsis that she’s triumphed over the obstructive bureaucracy to gain real results. Yet it’s also a twist that puts Elliot in bigger danger than we’ve ever seen him before just as he’s at his most vulnerable and completely undermining fsociety as a continuing influence, placing Elliot into a perilous position come season three with the net already tightening around him The reveal is executed well in of itself, but it’s the conflicted feelings it engenders as it taps into sympathy established for both sides that really make this one of pyth0n-pt2’s truly effective plotline endings.
The other big ending, of course, comes in Elliot’s story, although ‘ending’ is definitely a misnomer here. Elliot, thanks to the shadowy activities of his alter ego, is at the epicentre of Mr Robot’s many mysteries, so you would perhaps expect his story to be full of conclusive reveals this week to clear up some of the murkiness that surrounds his side of the narrative. Python-pt2 plays fair in a couple of cases, one of which is a straight answer of the nature of Stage 2: a collaborative effort between the Dark Army, Whiterose, Tyrell and Mr Robot to blow up the building where E Corp are keeping their paper files to completely knock out their database for good. Given the outlandish theories circulating about time travel, alternate realities or apocalypse events, Stage 2 being a basic escalation of the hack to violence seems a little prosaic, but that’s probably for the best – Mr Robot has become so much more surreal and disorientating recently that a grounded answer to the Stage 2 mystery feels refreshing in its straightforwardness.
And speaking of outlandish fan theories, the prevailing concept that Tyrell, or at least the Tyrell who showed up last week was another manifestation of Elliot’s subconscious, was thankfully put to bed here about as definitively as the show could manage. The confirmation that Tyrell is real is the emotional peak of pyth0n-pt2, and it’s a moment that’s startling in its bluntness and simplicity after all the ambiguity of the scenes beforehand. The confrontation with Tyrell, like the Stage 2 reveal, boils down to something simple and powerful – it’s a means to snap Elliot back into the real world by reminding him of the tangible outside threats he faces after a season where he’s been preoccupied by a never-ending mental battle, and the final reminder that Elliot’s belief that he and Mr Robot are totally separate is a delusion. That’s a bleak way to end an emotional arc that’s been the darkest element of this season by quite some way, but it’s, in some way, a progressive one – for the first time, Elliot has been provided with an undeniable outside confirmation of the truth about Mr Robot that can’t be bargained away, and punished for his delusion that he could ever draw a line between his personalities. Given how season 2 went in circles as Elliot sought to deny that truth again and again, it’s a a relief just to have a full stop to that stage of his emotional arc, because hopefully now Mr Robot can really push ahead with a more proactive role for Elliot. Pyth0n-pt2 takes us to the natural endpoint of Elliot’s delusions, so what’s beyond that could really be new, exciting territory for the character.
Elsewhere, though, pyth0n-pt2’s future-gazing can become maddeningly cryptic. The final conversation between Angela and Tyrell, hinting at Angela’s new involvement with the Dark Army and Stage 2, is intriguing on a surface level in that it’s really followed through on last week’s promise that Angela’s mission has drastically changed. However, peer a bit deeper, and there’s not a lot of substance behind this reveal. There’s so much context removed from Angela’s motivations and even Tyrell’s bond with Elliot (which has grown hugely since season 1, apparently) that it’s hard to grasp onto anything tangible in the here and now, and that tactic of keeping all the key information under wraps just adds questions onto an already unwieldy pile. A good tease should provide a legitimate indicator of what’s to come, creating anticipation through a promise of something clear and exciting, but Mr Robot is so keen on playing tricks with its audience that it forgets to actually allow the moment to make any sense. Coming off the back of last week’s cryptic scene with Angela and the lawyer, it feels as if Angela has been reduced to a total cypher of a character with her defining motivations and characteristics stripped away and replaced with an unrecognisably creepy, dissonant new outlook – the change is so drastic that it’s not just difficult, but near-impossible to see just what could cause it. It’s the wrong kind of disorientating, creating confusion at the completely unintelligible events playing out – a ‘huh?’ rather than a ‘wow!’. It’s a moment that’s emblematic of Mr Robot’s tendency to be overly reliant on storytelling tricks, sacrificing satisfying drama for a demonstration of how clever it can be in upending viewer expectations.
Equally, the post-credits scene runs into this problem, albeit to a lesser extent. Last season’s post-credits scene with Philip Price and Whiterose was definitely a curveball, but it progressed naturally from previous events and clearly mapped out a story to play out in the next year. Pyth0n-pt2, however, just throws a lot of things at the wall with its stinger – we get the re-introduction of Trenton and Mobley in what looks like witness protection, vague hints of something that could undo the hack, and the arrival of Leon, Elliot’s Seinfeld-loving Dark Army pal from prison. Separately, those are all interesting ideas, especially the reset concept, but chucked together with no indication of how they relate in a two-minute scene, it’s a bit of a garbled tease, especially given how isolated it is from the events of the rest of the episode. I’m interested to see how Trenton and Mobley fit in as characters who are now looking from the outside in on the complete chaos of fsociety, but the episode’s choice to throw those two huge, potentially competing presences (it’s hard to see what stake Leon, a Dark Army employee, would have in resetting the hack) in at the same time dulls the impact of that intrigue because there’s no clear idea of just how these characters are going to fit back into the narrative at all here.
And, while it may seem churlish, there’s the questions that the episode doesn’t even address. There’s Whiterose and her plan with the Washington Township plant, the mystery of what transpired in those 28 minutes between Angela and Whiterose last week, the continuing mystery of the 3 days between 5/9 and the season one finale and Philip Price’s ongoing attempts at global domination through E Corp – all huge, pressing mysteries that are barely given a look-in. Mr Robot is a show predicated on mystery, so it’d be a bit much to expect lots of answers on mysteries that are clearly central aspects of the show’s mythology, but to not even have any kind of development or hints regarding them leaves this season finale feeling incomplete as a legitimate end to this chapter of the show. The choice to leave all these mysteries untouched heading into season three speaks volumes about the frustrating lack of significance season two seems to actually have towards the overarching narrative of the show. Sure, a lot of things happened in this finale, but it only deals with a partial amount of the show’s mysteries, of which it only answers a partial amount of questions, while a large amount of the story is left running in place to be picked up in season three. That leaves this finale as a false conclusion that’s really just set up for the big events to come in the undetermined future, and considering how season two lacked the emotional crescendo of the Mr Robot reveal in the first place, it can’t help but feel like just another middle chapter rather than a significant point in the ongoing story – a mid-season episode with a couple of big reveals.
Season two of Mr Robot has been polarising, to say the least, and it’s easy to see why. It lacked the drive and momentum of season one, as well as its clear focus on a set of themes with character arcs that all worked to service the same core. It didn’t build in the same way season one did to a shocking denouement, and it dragged its feet for an interminable amount of episodes with the same story at times. Plot threads were introduced then discarded rapidly, and the show became obsessed with frustrating cliffhangers where a key piece of information was removed from the audience’s perspective. And, as mentioned above, it culminated in a curate’s egg of a finale that hit big in some places yet left so much to the imagination that it robbed the viewer of any sense of finality. Yet I found much to enjoy in these 12 episodes, from the welcome expansion of the ensemble cast to the fascinating experiments like the sitcom episode, and when the season decided to gun the accelerator, it was thrilling and tense in a way few other shows can manage. Mr Robot might have lost some of its prestige sheen in its sophomore outing, but there’s still enough of the imagination, boldness and sharp insight into our troubled times that made this show so successful in that first point. As long as the show can channel its near-boundless ambition into a more streamlined narrative next year, then there’s no doubt about it: Mr Robot is here to stay.