This review contains spoilers.
2.12 Python Pt. 2
Midway through Python Pt. 2, the finale of Mr Robot season two, Joanna Wellick gets exactly what she wants. It’s not to be reunited with her missing husband Tyrell and it’s not even vengeance against the people who ‘disappeared’ them (though she’ll still achieve that undoubtedly). It’s the experience of dying.
She goes to Scott Knowles house, the home where “Tyrell’s” phone calls have been originating and confronts the Evil Corp CTO about his ongoing torment of her. He tells her that he just wanted her to feel a fraction of the pain that he felt when his wife, whom he reveals was pregnant, was murdered by Tyrell.
To that news, Joanna calmly responds: “You pussy. You piece of shit. I hope you rot in hell like your wife. I’m glad she’s dead.” So Scott chokes her and then punches her in the head over and over and over again until she’s gasping for breath and covered in blood.
Scott relents and calls 911 and as Joanna lays on the ground trying to will herself back to life you can almost see the smallest traces of a smile on her face. This man who hates her with every fibre of his being has finally accomplished something that the men who loved her couldn’t, he let her taste death.
In a perverse way, I’m happy for Joanna. A masochist always recognises a fellow pain-craver. She got exactly what she wanted from Python Pt. 2. I wish I did too. I noted in my review last week that Mr Robot in its second season has adopted a strategy of becoming less and less clear each episode. The show is so fundamentally and stylistically good that it’s had me craving that feeling of disorientation. For 11 episodes, Mr Robot’s hands have been around our neck, choking away our need for answers and clarity. And then in its final hour, it relents and gives us what we never thought we could get: clarity. Don’t stop now! I was so close to seeing God!
Overall, Python Pt. 2 is an excellent episode of television and an above-average finale. Still, I find myself disappointed with how much it lets up on its mindfuckery of us, the viewer. On its face, that statement seems pretty absurd. By almost any other TV show’s standard, Python Pt. 2 is incredibly oblique and secretive. There are cliffhangers galore. The FBI knows Elliot orchestrated the 5/9 attacks! Elliot lies dying on a warehouse floor! The Dark Army is nowhere to be seen! Mobley and Trenton are off in hiding, planning a fix to the 5/9 hacks!
By Mr Robot standards, however, Python Pt. 2 might as well be the Breaking Bad series finale for how neat and tidily it wraps everything up. Consider the following. The episode’s climax involves Elliot finally taking a stand against his own hallucinations. He insists that Tyrell Wellick is really dead and is now part of the Mr Robot contingent against him in his mind. And Elliot is proven wrong. What he’s seeing is real after all and Tyrell shoots Elliot to prevent him from sabotaging Stage 2 – the demolition of Evil Corp’s headquarters. All season, Mr Robot has pondered “what is reality?” And in Elliot’s final moments (of the episode, not his life obviously), Mr Robot answers “This. This is reality” with a bullet buried into Elliot’s gut.
In some ways this is both fundamentally good storytelling and a relief. So much of narrative art is asking questions and then answering them. But part of me still vainly hoped that Mr Robot season two would be the Chosen One for TV-watching masochists like me – the show bold enough to declare “fuck you and your answers. Now here’s a ten-year old girl asking you if you’ve ever cried during sex.”
That wasn’t to be. I’ll have to make my peace with it, however, because otherwise Python Pt. 2 is a strong episode. If there are going to be answers, they might as well be satisfying and Python Pt. 2 is able to rise to that metric.
Darlene survived the attack in the diner as it turns out though Cisco didn’t. The scenes with Dom’s interrogation of Darlene seem to take up an inordinate amount of time in the finale and are in some ways its weakest portions. Dom tries to draw the “we’re not so different, you and I” card with Darlene which fails both strategically and artistically. Dom and Darlene are actually not that similar and trying to draw that comparison reeks of a desperate last-minute storytelling technique to justify all the time afforded to them in the finale.
Dom’s final manoeuvre with Darlene, however, is perhaps the episode’s strongest moment. She leads Darlene to a separate room in the FBI headquarters while random FBI employees gawk at Darlene as though she were a celebrity (because in some ways, she is). In the second room, Dom reveals an elaborate board of suspects and evidence to Darlene that reveals they pretty much know every single person involved in the 5/9 attacks, including Elliot at the very centre.
This is a shockingly satisfying bit of anticlimax that accomplishes so much at once. For one it reaffirms Mr Robot’s troll credentials by revealing that this entire season hasn’t been a search for who’s responsible, but rather a patient wait for Elliot to implicate himself.* It’s like the twist in Ocean’s Twelve…only if it were, you know, good.
*This also leads to the excellent name of the episode. I naturally assumed that “Python” was referring to a specific type of computer coding language called “python” but instead it was the name for the FBI’s wait and see approach.
Just as importantly, however, it continues the myth of Elliot Alderson. One of the best parts of this season and maybe the show itself is the contrast between the Elliot Alderson that we see and the Elliot Alderson that everyone else sees. We spend almost all of our time with Elliot as the audience and get to see him as an earnest hero but all around him his reputation as a Keyser Soze-like uber-mensch grows. Fittingly this episode even begins with a look at Elliot from Tyrell’s perspective in a flashback in which Elliot and Tyrell plot their attack. Elliot radiates power and confidence and it makes the moment at the end of the episode when Tyrell tearfully admits to Angela that he loves Elliot all the more effective.
Characters should be consistent and characters should be themselves. The trick that Mr Robot is able to pull off increasingly well is to make Elliot Alderson everything to everybody. While Elliot has existed in a confused, fugue-like state all season from our perspective, he’s been the blank slate for every other character to project their own personalities on. To Tyrell, Elliot is a god because Tyrell wants to be a god. To Darlene, Elliot is a leader because she wants to be a leader. And to Dom, Elliot is a criminal, because she wants to be selfish.
For eleven episodes, Mr Robot the show as a blank slate too and I loved it. I got to project all of my own critical theoretical nonsense onto it: Reddit theories, Back To The Future soundtracks and apocalyptic leanings. Python Pt. 2 takes that all away from us, however, and it’s probably for the best. This isn’t the end of the world and this isn’t time travel. This is a tremendously talented young man who has gotten in way over his head.
The amount of incredible television available to us right now is staggering. The best that any one show can hope to do is to develop a concept or feeling that we can take with us through the wilderness of the rest of the TV landscape. Season two of Mr Robot wasn’t perfect but I will always remember the beautiful disorientation of watching it.
Read Alec’s review of the previous episode, Python Pt. 1, here.