After four seasons of being intrigued, befuddled, and frustrated by the character and his purpose within Mr. Robot, I’m basically ready to declare that Tyrell Wellick was something of a giant misstep for the series. Introduced as an American Psycho–esque foil for Elliot, Wellick played a semi-important role in the series’ first season when he and Mr. Robot pulled the trigger on Five/Nine. Since then, he has lingered in the background, coming into focus whenever the story demanded it. As the terroristic face of fsociety, his shadow loomed heavily over the events of season two, though he was in hiding for most of it. He then becomes a Dark Army puppet/stooge for most of season three, sitting on the sidelines while his family falls apart, his connection to Elliot’s revolution frays, and his role within the series minimizes.
I’m sure that many people would disagree with this assessment. After all, Tyrell’s actions and behavior are just mysterious enough for people to invest quite a bit of speculation into what they mean. But I believe the character fell victim to a common TV trap: Other members of the series’ large ensemble were too compelling to ignore. In order to service Darlene, Angela, Price, Dom, and Whiterose, someone had to fall by the wayside. Tyrell simply became more and more of an afterthought as the series progressed, a good idea that never really materialized beyond its initial stages. Though his love and commitment to Elliot continued to burn bright (after all, they were going to become gods together), his utility decreased rapidly.
“Not Found,” the best episode of this final season so far, sends off Tyrell on the highest note possible. Credited writer Kyle Bradstreet crafts a “Pine Barrens”–esque episode in which Tyrell kills a Dark Army soldier who has bugged Elliot’s apartment, forcing him, Elliot, and Mr. Robot to drive the soldier’s van upstate to dispose of the evidence. They stop at a gas station to pick up gas and a lighter, but after they pay for their items, as well as get held up by a chatty clerk who’s convinced she recognizes Tyrell, they go outside to find the van missing. With no cell reception for miles, the three are forced to venture through the woods to get to a nearby town that may be 30 minutes or 30 miles away. They walk in circles, hear spooky animal noises, and eventually turn on each other.
While “Not Found” can’t hold a candle to its Sopranos forbearer, its simple plotting ultimately helps cleanly clarify Tyrell’s character and his motivations. As with much of this series, Sam Esmail’s complex plot moves inevitably mask very basic characterizations. Case in point: Tyrell loves Elliot, believes so strongly in his worldview, and ultimately wishes that he could be him. His monologue in the woods about their different fashion choices works surprisingly well because it highlights a simple truth: Elliot doesn’t give a fuck, which gives him power, while Tyrell desperately gives a fuck, which only makes him weak in the eyes of those he wants to impress. Elliot can constantly surprise people because his hunched demeanor and his laidback Millennial hacktivist wardrobe don’t demand an audience. Tyrell gives himself away as someone with too much to prove just by showing up in a $6,000 suit. “My entire life I’ve been an outsider,” he tells Elliot, “worried about what other people think of me, how I can make them happy, because I needed their approval, their acceptance. But you never cared.”
This being Mr. Robot, the subtext is punishingly clear, i.e., Tyrell and Elliot are more alike than they both think. Elliot also shares those anxieties, but as he tells Tyrell, he’s better at hiding them. Tyrell may have been a stick in the mud for Elliot’s initial revolution, but he’s also the only person who stuck by his side even if it cost him everything. It’s why Elliot can’t leave him in the woods to freeze to death. It’s why Tyrell can’t let Elliot’s seemingly inevitable death at the hands of the Dark Army be in vain. For better or worse, they started this thing together. They need to see it through.
Bradstreet and Esmail wonderfully capture the bone-deep melancholy of the Christmas season in this episode, specifically how it can bring disparate, lonely people together, and how it can force confessions from people who wouldn’t otherwise share anything. While Elliot and Tyrell trudge through the woods to an unknown future, Darlene decides to go after him, despite the fact that she’s furious with Elliot. When she tries to steal a car, a drunken Santa (Jon Glaser) stops her and threatens to call the cops. Once it becomes clear to both of them that Tobias can’t operate a vehicle let alone speak coherently, Darlene agrees to drive him home in exchange for borrowing his car to go find her uncommunicative, potentially suicidal brother.
On the road, Tobias tells Darlene he plays Santa for the children’s cancer ward at Sloan Kettering and drinks afterwards to cope with the tragedy of it all. (“Some of them are so small. It’s as if they were born to die,” he mutters.) He mentions a buddy named Jimmy who has fallen on hard times, a wife who has suffered an accident, and then pulls out a bottle of booze and some Percocet, all of which convinces Darlene that Tobias will kill himself that night. Once they arrive, however, Tobias hilariously informs her, all through slurred speech, that he’s fine. He was referencing Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life. His wife threw out her back putting up Christmas decorations and the Percocet is for her. It’s Darlene who’s falling apart and projecting her own depression on anyone around her.
Meanwhile, Dom is holed up at home, sadly getting off to interrogation footage of Darlene in what has to be the most depressing masturbation scene this side of Mulholland Drive. In a fit of loneliness, she invites an old cybersex chat buddy over for casual sex, only to learn that she’s a Dark Army agent who demands she give up control while drowning her in a bathtub. It turns out that she’s dreaming the whole time. Her subconscious is trying to tell her not to fight against the forces that control you. It’s time to submit or more people might die at your hand.
The Dom storyline is just okay, but the other two feature Mr. Robot at its best. If the final season wants to clarify the series’ emotional bandwidth, what better way to do that than to construct parallel two-handers? (Well, one two-hander and another three-hander, but who’s counting?) Darlene pours her heart out to a drunk stranger she just met who tells her that she can’t care for other people at the expense of herself. She wants to save Elliot because he’s the only person she has left, but it’ll be no use if she loses herself in the process.
Darlene doesn’t lose a brother that night, but in a way, Elliot does. Elliot and Tyrell find the van with the Dark Army soldier still inside. He shoots at them before killing himself, but one of the bullets hits Tyrell in the gut. Elliot demands they get him to a hospital, but Tyrell decides to go for a walk instead. He knows they’re too far away for help. With his wife dead and his infant son in an unknown location, he knows he has little to live for. But he still wants Elliot to take down Whiterose so his death isn’t for naught. As Tyrell woozily wanders through the woods, he finds a mysterious glow from which that spooky sound has emanated the entire night. Right before the screen goes white, he stares directly into it, catching a glimpse of something we’ll never see. Maybe it’s the sublime that he’s been searching for his whole life. Maybe for one brief moment, he finally became larger than himself.
• Dom’s cybersex partner’s username is happyhardonhenry806, which is maybe a little too on the nose, but sex-chat usernames might not be a bastion of creativity.
• All the credit to Jon Glaser for a stellar guest turn. Him drunkenly dismantling Darlene’s concern for Tobias was the episode highlight. His reference to It’s a Wonderful Life is one thing, but then he tops it by quoting Steinbeck’s “Goodbye is short and final,” which Darlene reads as a suicidal gesture. “Read a book!” he yells at her in frustration.
• Music Corner: Some interesting choices this week. Joey’s top-20 single “Concrete Blonde” plays on the radio as Darlene drives Tobias home. Plus, the Motels’ “Total Control” comes up on Dom’s Slow Jams playlist.