“All this over a little pipsqueak in a hoodie.”
All hail Michael Cristofer. A Pulitzer Prize–winning dramatist, Cristofer has had a prolific career as a playwright, screenwriter, director, and actor of screen and stage, and he has spent much of this past decade employing his talents in television. He garnered acclaim as Truxton Spangler in the short-lived AMC series Rubicon, following it up with stints on Smash, Ray Donovan, and American Horror Story: Coven. But since 2015, Cristofer’s role as Phillip Price on Mr. Robot has played to all of his performance strengths: steely-eyed intimidation, casual warmth, sagacious confidence, and unexpected good humor. He’s like a grandfather who can scare or hug you depending on his mood.
In the beginning of the series, Price was a much more malevolent figure, a power-hungry CEO with ties to Whiterose and friends in high places. Though he was instrumental in bailing out E Corp and securing China’s annexation of the Congo, Price soon faced punishment for insubordination, mainly the destruction of E Corp’s records via Stage 2 and the brainwashing of his daughter, Angela. Later, when he finally came clean to Angela and broke Whiterose’s spell, he inadvertently triggered her death at the hands of the Dark Army. Now, with nothing left to lose, he teams up with Elliot to bring down Whiterose, partially to ensure Angela didn’t die in vain.
Unfortunately, it was unlikely that Price himself would make it out alive. When he arrives to the Deus Group meeting and sees only Whiterose and Dark Army soldiers in attendance, he knows his time is up. He knows that Whiterose has figured out his alliance with Elliot and that they’re planning something, even if she doesn’t know what. Cristofer projects a weary acceptance of his fate combined with a smug fury at how his death has been orchestrated. Yet he refuses to go down without first getting in a few potshots and stalling for enough time so Elliot and Darlene can complete the Deus Group hack and wipe out their bank accounts.
Of course, that plan hits a snag when Mr. Robot shows up to the meeting place instead of Elliot, which panics Darlene considerably. Still reeling from the revelation of his father’s sexual abuse, Elliot isn’t in the best mental state to take down a shadowy cabal of one-percenters. Yet, when Mr. Robot surprisingly lands Whiterose on the phone, and she tries to pull the same con job she used on Angela, about rewriting the past and eliminating all pain, it’s Elliot who finally responds. He intimately knows the kinds of manipulation techniques that authority figures use to achieve their ends. So much of Elliot’s fraught, divided personality has been weaponized against himself that he knows the signs. From that point on, Elliot takes the driver’s seat and Mr. Robot recedes into the background.
Director Sam Esmail and credited writer Kyle Bradstreet execute the hack scenes pretty well considering that much of it hinges on visually unfriendly Command Prompt screens and confirmation messages like “Authentication succeeded” and “Account found” and “100 of 100 Deus Accounts Verified.” Yet the actual mechanics of the hack are dynamic. Darlene heads to the real Deus Group meeting place, Cipriani on Broadway, while Elliot stays behind to monitor Price and Whiterose. When Darlene realizes she can’t break into Cipriani, she improvises a new plan: Make a new fsociety video, complete with Monopoly-Man-meets-Guy-Fawkes mask, dox the Deus Group’s files, and blow up the location of their meeting, sending them all out onto the New York streets. There, she can hack their phones all at once while Elliot phishes a cell tower near Whiterose’s location. With Max Quayle’s pulp score and the crosscutting between Elliot on his laptop and Darlene on his phone, it’s treated like another heist movie, a well that Mr. Robot has gone to more than a couple times this season. At one point, Mr. Robot even says in voiceover, “Why do we have cut these things so goddamn close?”
Yet the moment they pull off the hack is glorious. Following up last week’s badass moment with Dom killing off Janice and her Dark Army goons, Mr. Robot once again indulges in some good old-fashioned good-guy triumph. Except that Bradstreet doesn’t provide Elliot or Darlene with the moment’s emotional satisfaction, as they’re separated from each other, contending with their own personal struggles, and still, technically, on the run. Instead, he puts that in the hands of Price, who unabashedly rubs Elliot’s success in Whiterose’s face. Cristofer gets plenty of screen time in his final episode to scowl and snark, but his moment arrives when he rips into the lengthy monologues that arrive at the episode’s end. His mixture of satisfied glee and genuine relief are a sight to behold, and better yet, Price’s words ring true. Whiterose’s attempts to manipulate Angela ultimately failed because her loved ones worked together to bring down the Deus Group and end their reign of terror. Whiterose still guns Price down on the street in unadulterated rage and with flagrant disregard to the public at large. But Price dies with a smile on his face, knowing that his sacrifice had a positive outcome, and that his daughter’s legacy will remain intact.
But while Elliot can sleep soundly knowing that Whiterose has been neutralized — at least that’s what we see in the final scene where she, having finally shed her Zhang persona, waits for the authorities to take her away — there’s still another loose end that needs to be tied. The episode’s opening scene confirms that that “flashback” featuring a supposedly young Elliot and his mother actually takes place during the present day. Mr. Robot meets them and tells them that Elliot isn’t ready and that they need to help him through this. The mother worries about losing their “poor boy” forever, but Mr. Robot assures her that he’s “woken up” because Darlene has spoken to him. The key to showing Elliot “what he’s done” lies with her.
Esmail and company have been super cagey with this final twist, which I assume they’ll keep close to the chest for as long as possible. While the type of circular dialogue and obfuscating language employed in the first scene represent Mr. Robot at its worst, they do present one last mystery for Elliot. There’s still “the other one” out there.
• Darlene gets the idea to resurrect fsociety by seeing a billboard for Shift + Control, some type of Christmas TV event broadcast on NBC that features a hacker in the fsociety mask. Have Elliot’s exploits already been adapted for the TV market?
• The back of Donald Trump’s head can be seen at the Deus Group meeting, so maybe he loses all of his money in Mr. Robot’s alternate timeline as well.
• Another shoutout to Michael Cristofer, who gets the episode’s best, most triumphant line: “Well, if it’s what I think it is, we’re all broke.”