Look, I’m going to level with you.
I didn’t completely forget Mr. Robot exists. I knew it exists. I follow the show and half the cast on social media; I’m signed up to their emails. Rami Malek spent the last two years starring in one of the most talked-about films of the last decade and won an Oscar for his efforts and in every conversation with or about him, the show that put him on everyone’s radar has been mentioned. It’s been off the air two years, but it’s never gone away.
So, I hadn’t ‘forgotten’ the show.
But I had definitely placed it on a a shelf inside my mind, knowing I wouldn’t be using it again for a while. And since I am British and sometimes our series can have years, plural, between seasons being released, I just made peace with the fact Mr. Robot would be back … eventually. In my defence, we are operating in Trump years now. It’s been two entire years since the show was last on the air but that’s like … a century in Trump time. Can you even list all the shit that’s happened since October 2017?
On that train of thought, I’m sure it’s a wild coincidence that a show about how society is so screwed up it might be a simulation or we all might be time travellers has returned for its final season just as Trump might get impeached, Brexit might get cancelled and this Worst Timeline might finally be collapsing in on itself, but with this show? Who knows.
I reviewed season three (go read them!) so I won’t go into too much detail here, but let’s pick out the important points of where we left things;
Season 3 ended with the return of Vera, Shayla’s killer, leaving us all hanging as he encountered Darlene on a darkened city street.
Trenton, Mobley, and Cisco are dead, killed in Whiterose’s sweeping clean-up/frame job and left looking like the ‘terrorists’ behind the 5/9 attacks that deleted banking data and plunged the USA into a financial apocalypse.
Grant, Whiterose’ second in command, confidante and lover also left us. Grant took his own life after Whiterose gave him the chance to make decisions and Grant, apparently, made all the wrong ones. (I will never, ever be over Grant, you hear me? Never!). While I’m here, mercurial assassin Leon remains at large and is likely still lethally loyal to Whiterose and Whiterose alone.
Whiterose’s project resembles the Large Hadron Collider, is being shipped from New Jersey to the Congo, and may be able to manipulate time and/or reality. Season 3 more than any other, played on the idea of what might be happening with the project, but its true purpose remains elusive.
Irving, Dark Army hench-maniac is still … he’s just out there, guys. I mean, that’s scary.
Dom, the ever-suffering fed, saw her boss and betrayer Santiago brutally murdered, only to be forced to take his place as the Dark Army’s mole on the inside of the FBI.
Tyrell …. Oh, Tyrell. Initially framed and set up as the instigator of 5/9, Whiterose rebranded and released him with a story he’d been a hostage of the Dark Army. Tyrell was keen to return to his life, but we didn’t get to see him learn the horrific news of Joanna’s murder and his son’s adoption into care.
Angela … poor Angela. Angela was manipulated and lied to by just about everyone but none more so than Whiterose, who conned the poor girl into helping pull off the deadly cyber-bombing which claimed thousands of lives across the United States. Angela was plunged into a nervous breakdown upon realising what she had done only to be rescued by, of all people, Philip Price who revealed himself to be her biological father.
It’s on that particularly painful scene that we reenter the universe of Mr. Robot, with Price laying it all bare for Angela while she weeps over what she’s hearing. Angela bounces back from her breakdown with urgency and purpose, declaring that Whiterose’s ‘Project’ does work, and Angela knows how to stop it. She is adamant she will do exactly that, then it’s Price’s turn to freak out, tell her he’s trying to protect her, but can’t keep her safe if she goes after Whiterose.
Angela, gloriously, throws some of his own words from a few years ago right back at him and then dismisses him without a second glance. It was, so briefly, such a shining moment of power and excellence that this poor, broken woman has earned. Price walks away slowly, defeated, and Angela doesn’t even hear the masked Dark Army assassins walk up behind her.
Inside the mansion, Whiterose calls Price. The old man rants impotently, slowly realising how deeply through the looking glass he has fallen while Whiterose blithely dismisses any threats Price is even considering making.
Whiterose ends the call and we bounce over to her stunning supervillain mansion. For the first time, we see Whiterose wearing her clothes but not her glorious wig, in case you were wondering how she’s coping with Grant’s death. It is strange to see her so …undone. Or at least, undone by her high standards.
Grant’s replacement is a young woman who, not unlike Grant, recognises the threat Elliot poses to their whole mission but stops short of Grant’s suggestion of, you know, murdering the best hacker in the entire world before their hacking-based plan is complete. Whiterose accepts the new girl’s suggestion that they give Elliot’s leash a tug, remind him who is in charge and as Whiterose suggests Elliot enjoy his ‘last’ Christmas, the camera pans and fades and we’re back in New York City.
It is indeed Christmastime in the city and Hey! Jake Busey! Is ‘Freddie’, at his law firm’s Christmas party and receiving a package with a memory stick, a phone and note that see him quietly flee back to his own office. Freddie, turns out, is a paedophile and we see someone has recorded his unspeakably horrible Skype chat with a girl who looks all of eleven years old. Damn, Elliot! Back at it again with those social justice hacks!
Freddie takes a call from ‘Mr. Robot’ (we hear Slater’s voice) who demands Freddie open an email and click a link, and it’s a fun detail that in the wake of two deadly cyber-attacks, Freddie is willing to do absolutely anything except clicking a link in an email. Robot secures backups of Freddie Busey’s entire email inbox and sends him to Grand Central for the next part of his instructions. Through pans across the bustling New York streets and the occasional dip into news stories on TV, we learn that the 5/9 reversal has triggered an economic boom. The newly released Tyrell has been given credit for the ‘e-coin’ programme, which disturbingly, is still going despite the economic recovery — and he’s been made the hero who recovered all the data. Good for Tyrell! I imagine seeing him again will be heartbreaking because now he knows what happened to Joanna.
Freddie, who has gotten himself into some cocaine, and it shooows, arrives in Grand Central where Robot is nearby, watching and giving him instructions on what ticket to buy, what platform to head to. Two Dark Army dudes turn up so they have to be shaken off by dropping money for a busker prompting them to check in case anything else was thrown away. There’s a neat moment when Robot explains he’s watching Freddie on the station CCTV even as we watch Robot trailing behind Freddie. Then we cut to the train Freddie has been directed to board, where Elliot is sitting and has been the whole time. Elliot and Robot, it would appear, are really starting to integrate in the right kind of way. Elliot is realising Robot isn’t so much a different person but an extension of himself. Oh, this is interesting.
Freddie boards the train and there’s an add for a clearly ‘Mr. Robot’ type show on NBC. Oh, Esmail, you rascal. Freddie approaches Elliot, who calmly asks for the USB, talking down a gun-wielding Freddie without so much as missing a beat. Remember Elliot who balked at the very notion of violence?
While Freddie panics his way through the five stages of Shitting Himself, Elliot gets what he needs from the USB; Turns out Freddie is one of the attorneys for ‘Mr. Zhang’, Whiterose’s public persona. Freddie knows who the Dark Army are and panics further, while Elliot calmly figures out the Dark Army does business via Cyprus Bank. A sickly looking Freddie gives up the name ‘John Garcin’ and something about how he does it makes me … curious. Elliot notices the DA guys approaching and it turns out Freddie has a Bluetooth passcard they’ve managed to trace. Elliot books and sends Freddie the other way, almost certainly to his death because who is going to miss giant, gangling, platinum-haired Jake Busey going anywhere? Freddie makes it outside and Elliot calls him on the old-fashioned flip phone they’re using to communicate. Elliot needs Garcin’s address, and Freddie realises that Elliot can’t protect him and has just casually, you know, completely doomed him just to get the information Freddie has. Now we see panicky Elliot return, as Freddie asks that the incriminating video not be sent to his kids, then quickly kills himself.
We cut right to Tyrell back at work at E-Company for what looks like it might be his first day. His calendar is absolutely rammed and the staff is eager to tell him how much of a hero he is, though Tyrell is barely keeping from breaking down completely and as soon as he can be, is left alone. He looks hollow.
Over at Dom’s mother’s place, Dom … oh baby. Is drunk, and/or high, super paranoid, hiding out in the attic and terrified of even the most innocuous noises. She’s recording every car registration that passes, and then hears someone walking around outside of her space. She fetches her gun and goes all commando-mode to find the intruder, but just ends up nearly shooting a handy man. Dom’s mother is oblivious to the depths of Dom’s paranoia and we learn through conversation Dom is living back at home, just sort of hanging out and being broken and sad. Poor, poor Dom.
Okay. Where is Darlene?
Where is my girl?
Robot and Elliot’s new hideout is the old Allsafe building — smart, as it gives them near-endless computing power. Freddie died before he gave them Garcin’s address, so their only next step is the Cyprus Bank. Robot wants them to do things the right way, slowly and carefully without drawing attention but Elliot, concerned Whiterose moves the project to the Congo in a week, wants to dive right in and strike at their heart. They argue, though it’s a far gentler debate than their historic screaming matches and occasional bursts of (Elliot’s self-inflicted) violence, about whether Elliot is too hung up on Whiterose to remain objective. Elliot doesn’t give a fuck about Robot’s concerns, states as much and then they finally check the phone and respond to Darlene.
Back at Elliot’s apartment, Darlene turns up and oh! Oh, no. She is not well. She’s high as hell, skinny and strung out and ranting about seeing Angela. In another neat moment, Elliot walks away from the conversation and sits nearby, letting Robot/Dad deal with Darlene. Elliot is more cold and detached than we’ve ever seen him but Darlene’s endless ranting and conviction breaks through enough that he gets in her face, and coldly calmly declares that Angela is dead. He insists it’s not their fault and Darlene has to stop feeling guilty about it. Darlene leaves and Robot breaks my entire heart by asking why Elliot doesn’t just show her the photo Whiterose sent Elliot. The one of Angela’s dead body.
Robot thinks it would at least help Darlene move on but Elliot says it would break his heart and Rami Malek’s face reminds us why he won that Oscar when his entire body language makes it clear he’s talking about himself. While Elliot readies a bag for the next mission, Robot addresses the audience the way Elliot used to, highlighting the fact Elliot doesn’t talk to ‘us’ anymore, is withdrawing from all of us since Angela died. He compares Elliot’s shut-down emotional state to the fakeness of modern Christmas, promising to give us the insights Elliot no longer does.
Elliot has tracked John Garcin to an E-Corp owned, Kubrickian-decorated apartment building. Elliot and Robot get up to Garcin’s apartment, find the door already open and just wander inside. Remember how I said Freddie said the name in a funny sort of way? Yeah. The apartment is a trap, a dummy apartment about as real as an Ikea setpiece. Elliot figures out he’s been lured into a trap just as two goons arrive to fetch him out of the apartment, with the building valet watching it happen with a calmness like he’s thinking about his E-Corp funded heated-pool or some shit.
At Dom’s mother’s place, mum has invited a lovely taxidermist named Janice (Ashlie Atkinson) to dinner and is adorably trying to set them up on a date. It becomes less adorable when Dom is alone with Janice, who reveals in short succession that she is a Dark Army plant, here to ensure Dom attends an interview about Santiago’s death the following day. Janice threatens horrible things and Dom very convincingly promises to strangle the bitch to death. Janice laughs it off, pointing out that far more will just follow. Dom realises there are strange vans parked in front of every house.
At Angela’s old apartment, the gorgeous one she painted over in black, a coked-out Darlene is throwing a party and overhears two guys having the most inane, and yet brilliantly on-brand conversation about the (dumb, dumb, stupid) Flat Earth theory. The gist is generally that if we haven’t seen something we can’t know it exists; reality is subjective. Yes, we see you Esmail.
Darlene wanders through the party and I haven’t said yet but the film-noirish lighting throughout the whole episode is just gorgeous. Darlene finds a pair of nasty women in Angela’s bedroom going through her shit, and it’s enough for Darlene to end the party and throw everybody out. Given the … general state of things, there’s no way Darlene is safe and unobserved, right? She clears the apartment and returns to the bedroom, sobbing and exhausted, living in what even she must clearly know is a tomb.
Back at his own apartment, Elliot is being restrained by goons as a third man (Esmail cameo alert!) cooks up a needle full of heroin. Elliot speaks to Whiterose, who he assumes is listening. Rami Malek runs an absolute gamut of emotions, from cool threats to gently pleading to abject begging, and finally screaming for his life as the third goon approaches with a needleful overdose. Unlike so many times before when there’s some last-minute save or relief, no one comes to his aid. Elliot is injected — “Goodbye, friend” — and left to die, managing to pull his landline phone to the ground, though nowhere close to reaching it. He hallucinates his parents, himself as a boy, watching him die and lamenting that he got too reckless.
Elliot’s life literally flashes before his eyes, a rundown of moments from the past three seasons and then as Elliot takes his last breath, the credits roll …
… And then we snap back to Elliot as goons return and revive him, Philip Price walking in behind them to welcome Elliot back.
I didn’t realise how much I had missed this show until I actually had it back and for anyone concerned the long absence may have done any harm, I think it’s safe to say that’s not the case.
Esmail kept it relatively low key for the final season opener, avoiding spectacle and fanfare in favour of something taut and subtle that felt closer to the shows noir roots than any previous offering. Even the aesthetics, from the hazy golden lighting over everything, the dark and rainy New York streets, Garcin’s Art Deco apartment lobby (with those Kubrickian details on the door or the wall marbles, because — Esmail) seemed to reflect classic influences in a more overt way than we’ve seen in a while.
The story perfectly checked in with all the key players, setting up where they are and giving enough clues about where they might head to make it clear this will not be a dull final season. It’s hard to decide who’s faring the worst in the wake of Season 3. Dom and Darlene are both in total freefall, with Dom being watched while Darlene is apparently being left to her own devices. It’s safe to say Vern will have had some role to play in her current condition. He didn’t reappear last year for nothing.
Elliot, even before he was jumped and almost killed, is clearly struggling as badly as they are, he’s just handling it differently. Dom drinks, Darlene gets high and Elliot has his mission; they’re all addicts, all left traumatised and broken by this thing they’ve been dragged into.
If one thing is for certain, this won’t be an easy ride. Opening the season with the brutal and almost offhand death of Angela was a bold and controversial choice. Angela, however deep into this whole mess she got, has remained at all times an innocent who didn’t deserve any measure of the heartache she endured. To see her killed off makes it clear that no one else in the cast can possibly be safe. Brace yourselves for things to get painful.
I’m not … entirely decided on how I feel about the other implications of Angela’s death. On the one hand, she has always felt like she might be destined to die. People have long argued Darlene is, but Darlene is going to be the only survivor left standing; I’m convinced of that now. Angela was never meant to make it out, but I know I was hoping for something better. Her sudden, abrupt death after Price’s single attempt to appeal to her felt … dangerously close to Fridging. Dangerously. That said the show has been flirting with the idea of time-travel or reality-altering or whatever might be going on for so long that I simply have to believe there was a point to Angela’s death, or there is a way it … wasn’t real, or can be undone.
Okay. I don’t normally come back to add something but it’s taken a few hours for my theorising brain to dust off and get up and running, and you guys: How much of this episode felt like reality to you? Because I don’t know how much of it did for me. Is there any possibility this is already an alternate reality or timeline, that Whiterose has already activated the Project and everything Elliot experienced, up until the very strange, peculiar Kubrickian apartment building, was a simulation?
Some of this episode was cold, hard reality, like Tyrell and his emotionless grief, Dom and her terrifying experiences, but much of the rest is just sort of off-kilter. The lighting in several of Elliot and Darlene’s scenes is golden and soft and appears to be largely in-camera, leaving great swathes of the frame murky and hard to define. Then you have the strange … headlong way Elliot seems to rush into an obvious trap. Even accounting for grief and trauma he seems compelled forwards, as if he doesn’t have much control over his own narrative. Then there’s the even more Kubrickian apartment building, with the strange, complicit valet, the random man in the lobby who apparently vanishes as Elliot is dragged away, screaming. The apartment building almost felt like a … save point in a game, or a loading screen, or the waiting room between … whatever else there is besides this.
Was the overdose just a murder attempt? They didn’t leave the needle or kit, did you notice? Did we see Elliot die? Or wake up somewhere else?
Next week, Tyrell and Elliot reunite and Vera returns to raise hell. See you there.