Spoilers below for the Mr. Robot season finale.
It’s long been unclear what, exactly, the baffling second season of Mr. Robot was building up to. For most of its run, there was no unifying factor in the plot, nothing drawing the core cast together and giving them something to run toward. Story elements were tossed hither and thither, broken up by odd aesthetic diversions that, though sometimes wonderful, further wore away the narrative coherence. That said, there was an overall tone of apocalyptic dread that resonated throughout the season, leading one to reasonably assume last night’s finale would be explosive and climactic. Instead, we got a series of garbled messages and fizzling revelations. Let’s go through them one by one, shall we?
Leading up to the episode, it seemed like its driving force was going to be the unveiling and execution of the mysterious Stage Two that we’d heard the Dark Army chatter about so much all season. We knew nothing about it, but with a name like that, one could expect that it would be a sequel — perhaps even a topper — to last season’s Earth-cracking 5/9 hack. That operation had led to some arresting visuals: rioting in the streets, lines at ATMs, news reports about how the world was coming down around our ears. What excitement could we expect when we finally figured out what the next wave of attack would be?
The answer is … basically none. After Tyrell takes Elliot to a nondescript warehouse that functions as Stage Two’s headquarters, he clues our hero in on what the plan is: They’re going to blow up a building containing a bunch of paper hard copies of E Corp’s real-estate transactions. That’s it. One is left feeling like a viewer of Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, asking yourself why a Death Star battle had been replaced with trade negotiations. Sure, messing with a ton of mortgages would suck for people, but it doesn’t exactly make for exciting television.
And even if it would have, we wouldn’t know, because we never got to see it executed. Instead, Elliot decided he wanted no part of the plan and started trying to undo it before it could begin. Tyrell, overcome with emotion, threatens his co-conspirator with a gun, demanding that he execute the plan. Elliot becomes convinced Tyrell isn’t real, so he taunts him, only to find himself shot in the gut. Dun-dun-dunnnn!
It’s a dull twist, since we know the show is never going to kill Elliot off. (What, they’re gonna throw away all those potential future Emmys?) He’s gonna be fine! Not only that, it’s entirely possible that this was all some kind of hallucination. After all, remember how Elliot would hallucinate about himself bleeding after he’d hallucinate Mr. Robot “shooting” him during his hallucination of living at his mom’s house? I’m not saying that’s necessarily the direction Sam Esmail will take us in, but why spend so much time in the first episode of the season establishing that bloodshed can be imagined, then expect us to take the last episode’s wounding at face value?
We also got the revelation that Dom DiPierro and the FBI have actually been aware of Elliot’s involvement in fsociety and 5/9 for a long while now. Huh? Why have Dom and Santiago seemed so lost and confused when it comes to their ongoing investigation if they already had that information? I can see not necessarily acting on it (she wants to be a patient little python, after all), but wouldn’t she be at least thinking and talking about it? Y’know, like, constantly? What FBI agent doesn’t talk about the crime boss she’s tracking down?
Plus, the reveal felt like it came way past its due date. Much like the twist about Elliot’s stay in prison, it was a clever idea that would have benefited greatly from arriving much sooner. One can easily imagine the slow pan over Dom’s criminal-network diagram acting as the final shot to, say, a sixth or seventh episode in a season. It’d be a terrific way to raise the stakes for some rising action in the home stretch. But as a cliffhanger, it lands with a thud. Of course they were going to eventually figure out Elliot’s behind it all. We’re really supposed to be shocked by that and dwell on it for nearly a year? Better to let it lead us to a climax, not act as a climax in and of itself. (That said, Santiago’s extended riff on how Darlene isn’t in a USA Network show was a true delight.)
But the biggest surprise came in the apartment of everyone’s favorite self-actualized junior executive, Angela Moss. After the shooting, she gets a call from Tyrell — a character she’s barely interacted with up to this point. He gives her a rough sense of what happened, and instead of being confused about who’s calling and tearily freaking out about her childhood friend, she calmly receives the information and tells Tyrell that she wants to be the first thing Elliot sees when he wakes up. Then they both say they love Elliot.
So … uh … is Angela the secret mastermind behind Stage Two? It seems more likely that she’s merely been brainwashed by Whiterose after the two had their 28-minute conversation in the suburbs last week, but that happened literally hours before the shooting. Are we supposed to believe Angela was briefed on everything, introduced to Tyrell, and prepared for contingencies including the possible death of her beloved Elliot, all in the course of a day? And is Tyrell sexually attracted to Elliot? The whole sequence is an abrupt left turn, one that feels rushed and confused. And not Twin Peaks confused; more soap-opera-with-one-too-many-twists confused.
Indeed, as if all of the above weren’t enough, we had been thrown for yet another loop when we found out earlier in the episode that Joanna’s gifts had been coming from Scott Knowles, not Tyrell. She confronts him about them and they have an agonizingly drawn-out conversation about how he wanted to see her suffer, followed by some emasculating taunting and woman-beating violence. After that, Joanna and her boy toy plan their revenge against Scott. Like so much of the Joanna plotline this season, it felt woefully unnecessary. It’s great to see the very talented Stephanie Corneliussen, but she was done a disservice by getting scenes that always felt like a muddy mystery.
And then there’s the episode’s final mystery: that post-credits scene. Apparently, Trenton and Mobley escaped certain death and have started Saul Goodman–esque new lives in some sunny, unnamed locale. Okay, fine so far. But then we hear them rambling about something Trenton “discovered” which could “undo this whole thing, put everything back the way it was.” Sure, that’s foreshadowing, but it feels so thematically off. Hasn’t most of this season largely been about how you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube? Doesn’t this bit of dialogue foreshadow a total refutation of that concept? If so, what was the point of dwelling on it for a whole season?
In the final seconds, we get a narrative punch line that had a fraction of the weight that its placement implied it should have: the sudden appearance of Joey Bada$$’s Leon in the presence of Trenton and Mobley. He pops up, interrupts their break-time talk, and asks, “Do you have the time?” It’s likely a reference to the ever-punctual Whiterose (though I prefer to think it’s a callback to the mid-season sequence where Elliot fantasizes about a peaceful life while an instrumental version of Green Day’s “Basket Case” plays), which means … wait, what does it mean? It’s hard to imagine where Sam Esmail is steering his jangly ship. Here’s hoping he figures out how to navigate it away from the choppy waters that stung its hull and doused its denizens for the past 11 episodes.