A good time to pause and reflect on Mr. Robot

The end of the season of a good show can be like a new year, only now your life has factually changed in an annoying way, and not just in some pretend way. Tonight starts the first night in which there will be no more Mr. Robot to watch til next summer. So before the finale wraps up, it is important for us all to pause and reflect on what we have learned from these eleven hours of Mr. Robot.

Not a whole lot, actually. Through season 2 we have watched Elliot and co. wade further into the chaos they threw up on the world since the hack. But for most of the season that chaos is really just kind of confused anxiety that each experiences. Elliott, Angela, Mobely, Trenton, Darlene, and Cisco, Dom. For much of the season the engineers of 5/9 have been just as confused about its details and inner-workings as the audience. Ambiguous implications hang around them but it’s almost funny how inept they turn out to be at dealing with all of it, as Cisco points out to Darlene. This season has been a neat little exercise the show has employed to increase a sort of existential desperation for Mr. Robot to get to some goddamn answers.

Sam Esmail (Writer, Director) has just been playin’ with us. Behind every knocked-on door another red herring, or another answer that ended up being the least urgent, or Darlene. He’s had us in limbo, one that we all knew about while it was happening, but couldn’t do anything about. The audience have been groomed to occupy the murky kind of stasis the characters occupy.

The impressive thing this show is pulling off is how tightly it has kept itself wound, and does actually seem to wind tighter with each installment. It at least the seems as if some kind of intricate clock design is being perfected behind the scenes. For another show the continual flow of new questions would seem like stalling, in the tradition of Lost where everyone goes home unsatisfied, kind of a sensationalistic stringing along of viewers. But there is no doubt that this show is trying to get somewhere, wants to get somewhere, as much as the audience does.

This episode in particular is a good case study. Elliot frames the episode — wading purposefully into the depths of his identity to get to the bottom of things. The Angela/White Rose scene was at the center to the penultimate episode, and it is meant to ground it. The conversation, and the sequence leading up to it, gives a taste for what this show will attempt with “stage 2”. While Elliot grapples with literally the most basic questions (like am I actually awake?), Angela is finally getting some validation in her life and so this scene provides a bit a of relief. She’s been undervalued and lectured at every turn, and now the leader of an underground rebellion army is marveling at her existence.

White Rose has been compelling enough of a character, that to hear just snippets of explanations is still intriguing, even on top of all the other intrigue. And a it’s saying something at this point, if a character as enigmatic and unrevealing as White Rose can still captivate just through vague suggestion. The paths of Angela and Elliot mesh together, and the scenes of Dom, Price and Joanna act as footnotes for what’s coming.

Mr. Robot is not just “good”, or “better” than some other show in the same genre or something. It’s stranger and more fluid. Players weaves through subways and in and out of cabs, all knowing they have some very urgent place to be, but not any clue how to get there, like the Alice’s rabbit. It has an aesthetic, characters that serve the story (and not the other way around), and has used music with deftness usually only known to accomplished filmmakers.

The music of this episode informs how we are to think about events going forward. Every song in the selected from the original Back to the Future soundtrack, not BTF2. By choosing to riff on the first one with “Earth Angel”, the song in which Marty is watching as his father makes a pivotal choice to either back down or push off some douche from his date. I can’t tell why BTF1 and not 2 music was used here. Possibly because this episode somehow corresponds to Marty’s journey and “fix the past”, which is what Elliot may be beginning to do by discovering the truth of those three missing days. Possibly because they will use the BTF2 soundtrack in the finale. Maybe the usage is more tangential but, because of the emphasis on the references to BTF1, Mr. Robot is either setting itself up to have a “reconciliation” sequence or a mockery of a “reconciliation” sequence.

A “reconciliation” sequence would be something like Tyrell isn’t dead, White Rose and Elliott are going to redistribute all the debt because elliott didn’t delete the key to the 5/9 encryption hack, and White Rose plucked Mobely and Trenton up from the streets to help her. A mockery of this would deliberately have lead us to feeling optimistic about a happy ending for the characters in this season, only to tear of the bandaid that they are all fucked somehow. For instance, Tyrell being another facet of Elliot’s psyche is a real possibility. The main reason being that people with disorders like Elliot’s can have dozens, even hundreds, of different alternate personalities — and Esmail does like having his story deeply rooted in real world authenticity. Besides for this reason it would be a “ha-ha got u” development and would echo the major revelation of season 1.

I would rather not have Tyrell put back in to play like this because: a) It is hard enough to keep track of Mr. Robot’s activities; b) I like Tyrell, he is kind of an awesome foil to Elliot and his business expertise is interesting — and if he dies I would rather it be later in the story.

Personally I think there will be more elements of the reconciliatory kind of developments in this next episode than sort-of “troll the audience” elements (maybe the last scene of the season will be Elliott and Angela sit down and watch BTF2, o joy) because of Angela’s genuine embrace of whatever White Rose showed her. Also, since Sam Esmail seems to have no hesitation about playing the long game, as he has proven with season 2, I think Mr. Robot will inject some optimism (at least in regards to the “stage 2” storyline), and proceed to dismantle that optimism in interesting ways over the subsequent season.

It has been a good ride this season, a lot of things to chew on and striking sights and sounds. But every episode this season has left me with more questions than the last, so for the love of god give us some answers.

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