Mr. Robot Season-Finale Recap: The Hall of Mirrors

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Jeremy Holm as Mr. Sutherland. Photo: Michael Parmelee/USA Network
Mr. Robot
Show
Mr. Robot
Episode Title
eps2.9_pyth0n-pt2.p7z
Season
2
Episode
12
Editor’s Rating
2/5

"You only see what's in front of you, not what's above you," Mr. Robot tells Tyrell in the flashback that opens "eps2.9_pyth0n-pt2.p7z." The line is meant to contrast Tyrell's shortsightedness with Elliot's long approach and that Tyrell will always play second fiddle to Elliot, even if they both become gods. But the line also functions as an critique of Mr. Robot's uneven second season, the idea that the series' relentless pursuit of forward momentum — more story, more intrigue, more twists, more, more, more — has missed the forest for the trees.

Though the action-packed second half of the season was stellar when it focused almost exclusively on how paranoia infects a person's psyche, the action itself relied upon the audience's knowledge of the characters and story. It didn't serve to pull the rug out from under us or pose more questions. It just twisted the knife.

But the two-part finale, which concluded tonight, forgoes any semblance of poetry or tension in favor of opening more doors, establishing more plot, and keeping plenty of options open for next season. The first part relied on stellar performances and a compelling, albeit derivative-as-all-hell dream logic that at least stabbed at something different, but "eps2.9_pyth0n-pt2.p7z" is just unfocused, poorly structured, and most of all, dull. It's the weakest episode of the season by a wide margin.

What actually happens? We learn Cisco was killed in the shooting and that Darlene was taken into FBI custody. DiPierro spends most of the episode struggling to get through to Darlene by first relating to her, then by scaring her with the mountain of evidence against FSociety, and then impressing her with the FBI map that lays out all the principals in the Five/Nine attack. Next, there's Joanna's meeting with Scott Knowles, CTO of E Corp, who turns out to be the guy sending her all the gifts that were supposedly from Tyrell. Why did he do this? Because he wanted her to feel the pain he felt after Tyrell strangled his pregnant wife, though he's racked by guilt and apologies. What does Joanna do? She calls Scott a pussy, mocks his dead wife and their "fetus corpse," and provokes him to beat her bloody. Finally, Elliot learns the true meaning of Stage Two: Mr. Robot and Tyrell plan blow up an E Corp facility that's storing the paper records needed to rebuild their database, and with it, the bloodline of the nation's private property.

Let's get one of these three out of the way: Joanna's story, like her involvement this entire season, primarily functions as a distraction from every other event. A pointless digression that tries to pin its emotional weight on a character with whom we're barely familiar, it functions to (1) reveal that Tyrell wasn't the person behind her gifts and (2) give Joanna a reason to stick around next season. It's bewildering that Esmail would spend as much time as he does on this story line, complete with an endless monologue about dead children, when there are other more compelling matters, like, say, the show's protagonist. Though it's possible Esmail is trying to delay audience gratification by relying on oblique side characters, he simply isn't a capable enough writer to pull off such a difficult gambit.

The most successful story is Darlene's face-off against DiPierro, mostly because Esmail mines the most tension out of their interactions. The episode gets a lot of mileage out of drawing a comparison between the two characters as lonely, goal-obsessed people who struggle with the meaningless of their existence. (If they're not special, then what are they?) Darlene rebuffs DiPierro's advances by telling her that they're nothing alike, but DiPierro understands that the only way into her heart is through flattery. Hence, the slow-motion walk to the FBI's strategy room, where she sees a wall filled with maps and lines that point to her, Elliot, Tyrell, Angela, and everyone else connected to the Five/Nine attack. Darlene whines that she isn't special, but she's at the center of a manhunt to bring down cyber terrorists. "You've gotta be fucking kidding me," Darlene says. We hear fear in her voice, and just a little bit of awe.

Then there are Elliot, Mr. Robot, and Tyrell, three peas in a splintered pod, struggling with various degrees of (mis)information. Elliot wonders aloud if all we ever perceive is a garbled reality, a fuzzy picture we'll never really decipher, which isn't an inaccurate observation given all he learns. In short, Elliot collaborated with the Dark Army to plan an attack that would level an E Corp building and kill a lot of people, all for some vaguely defined goals devised by the manic side of his brain. The confrontation between Elliot, Mr. Robot, and Tyrell should have been the emotional fulcrum of the episode, a moment of clarity for Elliot where he realizes the extent of his unconscious actions, but because Esmail basically limits their story to three scenes, it never comes together organically. This race-to-the-finish approach limits the emotional effect of Elliot's revelations about Mr. Robot: He operates against their best interests and embracing him only pushed him to work underground. All we're left with is Elliot's foolish belief that Tyrell is another illusion, and the subsequent bullet in his gut after he's proven wrong.

Either Esmail was trying to briefly fake us out with the possibility that Tyrell wasn't real — which doesn't make sense creatively or within the reality of Mr. Robot — or he was attempting to illustrate the consequences of Elliot having full control over his own life. Whichever it was, he completely missed the mark. Esmail's choice to push Elliot to the side makes little to no sense, beyond the simple fact that there wasn't enough story left to retain focus on him. Despite how far Mr. Robot has come by developing of FSociety, bringing the FBI into the fold, and introducing corporate intrigue within E Corp, its primary reason for existence is still Elliot, an alienated kid desperate to remake the world in his own image. When you keep shoving Elliot out of center or trapping him in an endless internal battle with a one-note character like Mr. Robot, it breeds inconsistency and weak conflict.

For better or worse, Esmail keeps plenty of avenues clear for next season. Darlene is possibly working with the FBI. Angela has apparently been warped by Whiterose and now communicates with Tyrell. As seen in a post-credits sequence, Mobley and Trenton are alive out West and scheming to get everything back to normal. Elliot's alive, but possibly in a coma. Stage Two hasn't been derailed. But what does this mean in the long run? The plot engine keeps on chugging, but its emotional impact is nullified by the show's many wrong turns. If this season demonstrates anything, it's that Mr. Robot is at its best when it's pared down, when it keeps the focus narrow and not spread out among too many characters and too many vaguely defined plot threads. The closing sequence proves that Esmail wants to keep posing questions that are designed not to have answers. They just lie there.

In the end, "eps2.9_pyth0n-pt2.p7z" is an especially frustrating finale because we know Mr. Robot can be good. Great, even. But when it gets caught up in its own head, it fails to see what's in front and what's above.

Orphan Code:

  • At least the soundtrack is good. Kraftwerk's "The Hall of Mirrors" off of Trans-Europe Express plays over the credits. Esmail likely chose the song for its on-the-nose lyrics: "The young man stepped into the hall of mirrors / Where he discovered a reflection of himself" and "Sometimes he saw his real face / And sometimes a stranger at his place."
  • Oh, and Kenny Rogers's "We've Got Tonight" plays over the end credits into the final scene with Mobley and Trenton.
  • This episode also features some of Esmail's most strained writing, including that Burn Notice analogy the FBI agent makes and Darlene's "conniving cunts" rant.
  • Joanna's fling has a Tom Cruise poster?
  • The poem that Tyrell's father used to repeat was written by William Carlos Williams: "so much depends / upon / a red wheel / barrow / glazed with rain / water / beside the white chicken." Depending on your perspective, it could be powerful or meaningless. Sounds like Mr. Robot.