This Mr. Robot review contains spoilers.
Mr. Robot Season 4 Episode 12
Love it or hate it, Mr. Robot will go down in history as one of the signature prestige dramas of the decade. A story about a hacktivist attempting to remake America by battling the darkest and most harmful aspects of capitalism and Big Tech was groundbreaking in 2015, but has only gone on to feel timelier and more relevant in the years that have passed (for us) since.
Yet, despite its larger anti-capitalist screeds, Robin Hood-esque philosophy and generally labyrinthine plots, the heart of this show has always been Elliot Alderson, a broken, anxious hacker and drug addict who’s struggling to exist in the world even as he attempts to use his hacker group fsociety to save it. His mental health struggles – including the dissociative identity disorder that gives rise to his titular “Mr. Robot” alter ego – are many and varied, and as the show continues, we learn that Christian Slater isn’t the only personality that’s living in Elliot’s head.
But creator Sam Esmail has always been as interested in the mechanics of telling a story as much as the story itself. Over the course of its four-season run, Mr. Robot is a study in misdirection, unreliable narrators, red herrings, and narrative fake-outs. It regularly breaks the fourth wall to address the audience directly, and has framed entire episodes around gimmicky ideas like an hour that unfolds in real time or includes virtually zero dialogue.
So, while having the entire series turn out to be hiding one last twist of truly epic proportions is a deeply bold decision, it does have a certain degree of precedent behind it. We’ve watched seasons in which primary characters turned out to exist only in the minds of others, or that crafted imaginary realities to paper over darker truths. Mr. Robot has repeatedly asked us to question the nature of the world around us – whether that’s through including clips of real-life news snippets to pad out its fictional universe or the revealing that certain characters weren’t precisely who we’d always believed them to be.
At times, this show could be nothing sort of exhausting. But even at its most frustrating, Mr. Robot has always been impossible to look away from.
Part of that is due to the tremendous cast at its center – far more than just star Rami Malek have deserved Emmys over the years – but it’s also because it’s a show that takes real risks. Some of them don’t always work. (I’m still not sure what the point of pretending Elliot wasn’t in prison was, other than to prove the show could do it. And the shock death of Angela Moss in its first was probably this season’s worst decision. Fight me.) But when they do, the show is nothing short of a revelation.
Happily, I’m here to tell you that the series finale is the latter, not the former. That Mr. Robot generally sticks its wild, crazy landing in its final two hours is a testament both to the characters and the universe that Esmail has built, and to the gutsy vision the story has never shied away from. Now that it’s over, I can confess – I was fully ready for this to make no sense, and to spend the bulk of this review complaining about what might have been, or things I’d have done differently.
Instead, I’ll say this: I’ve rarely been this happy to be wrong. This is a beautiful ending. It provides closure for the Elliot we knew, something that feels like cohesion for his (apparently, many personalities) and hope for a new future for the Elliot we never met.
Mr. Robot walks an impossibly fine line throughout this finale – between fantasy and reality, hope and despair, control and faith. It gives us a glimpse at the world Whiterose believed her machine could create, only to reveal that it’s a virtual prison for the real Elliot, one that gives him his heart’s desire in Angela’s resurrection, even as it takes away the sister whose love made him whole. It repeatedly shows us the worst parts of the Elliot we know – we watch the scene in which he kills his alter ego twice and much of the episode is based on his attempt to “steal” a life that isn’t his – even as it ends with something like acceptance that he can only ever be part of a larger whole.
Is it a gut punch to realize that the “Elliot Alderson” we’ve spent four years with isn’t actually Elliot at all? Heck yes. But it’s also a tremendously gutsy decision – and one for which the bulk of the clues were there all along, particularly if we acknowledge that the series’ unreliable narrator trope didn’t actually end once we realized Elliot was lying about being in prison (hindsight really is 20/20, I guess). Of course, he was always “the other one”. Who else could it have been, really?
There are things about season 4 that were less than great. Though it contained strong individual installments, it often felt like it wasn’t going anywhere, narratively speaking. Its forward momentum often stalled as the show chose to wander through flashbacks, therapy sessions and episodes that felt more like romcoms or holiday-themed-specials than part of the larger story. The final sequence at the Washington Township nuclear power plant didn’t land as well as I expect the show likely intended it to. Angela’s death really did just turn out to be a fridging meant to drive story for the men of the show. The seasons-long mystery of Whiterose’s strange machine was never really resolved in a way that felt satisfactory. And, if we’re honest, the idea that Darlene would never mention that “our” Elliot wasn’t Elliot at all is…well, it’s a stretch. To put it mildly.
But the series’ final ten minutes, in which Elliot – or, as we should now call him, the Mastermind – acknowledges the audience for the first time all season as he slots himself into the bizarre little family of personalities that the real Elliot has made is genuinely beautiful, from both an emotional and a narrative perspective.
As is his last monologue, in which both our Elliot and the series itself, admits that maybe this was never a story about changing the world, so much as one about changing ourselves, and living that change through the choices we make. It’s as much of a call to action as any of Mr. Robot’s screeds against the one percent, and feels much more immediate and necessary at the same time. Maybe we can’t all be elite hackers. But we can stand up for each other. For the things that are right. For the world we want to see.
The series’ final sequence, which sees Elliot’s family of Alderson’s personalities watch a movie together as a metaphor for – at least partially – reintegrating his consciousnesses, ends with a long shot through the projector lens, as snippets from the past four seasons blurrily speed by. That it is not immediately apparent that we are rising up through the real Elliot’s mind is oddly perfect, as is the decision for the series’ final shot to be one of Darlene, greeting the emergence of the real Elliot, at long last. It is both an ending and a beginning, closure and a fresh start. It is the conclusion I never would have predicted for this show, but, now having seen it, one that I couldn’t imagine as anything else.
Goodbye, friend. And thank you.