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Mr. Robot Series-Finale Recap: Hello, Elliot

Mr. Robot

Series Finale
Season 4 Episodes 12 and 13
Editor’s Rating 5 stars

Mr. Robot

Series Finale
Season 4 Episodes 12 and 13
Editor’s Rating 5 stars
Photo: USA

Since the beginning of Mr. Robot, Elliot has always wanted to save the world. He wanted to redistribute power from the corrupt few to the impoverished many, to rid the world of bad elites who do nothing more than control the masses by hoarding wealth, to stomp out abusers of all stripes in any position of power. His actions led him to form a revolutionary army. He has purposefully and inadvertently sparked acts of domestic and global terrorism. He has landed in jail. He has watched many of his friends and peers die at the hands of violent criminals. He himself has almost died multiple times. He has traveled to the fringes of his own sanity, itself a form of hell, and returned shattered and worse for wear. But he ostensibly did it for the good of mankind. He did it because, when you strip away all the ideology and rhetoric, it’s the right thing to do.

Yet Elliot’s motives aren’t exclusively altruistic. In fact, they are partly, and understandably, selfish. He wants to rewrite history for himself. He wants to alter the world’s landscape so that he can move through it without fear or shame. He sought to spare Elliot Alderson the exorbitant evils of the world when he had already endured private, intimate evils most people have never experienced. It was an act of mercy all along.

This emotional subtext provides indelible gravitas to Mr. Robot’s final twist, one that Sam Esmail casually and confidently reveals without too much fanfare, but that still appropriately destabilizes the show’s reality. It’s arguably the best plot move the series has made since the OG Mr. Robot–isn’t-real twist in the first season because it’s entirely obvious in retrospect and yet has never called attention to itself during the series’ four-season run. I suspect many Redditors have guessed it ahead of time, but its potential predictability doesn’t detract from its power. In fact, it only underscores its necessity and amplifies its core optimism.

The two-part Mr. Robot series finale sends Elliot into the alternate reality introduced in the final 20 minutes of “eXit,” and brings back his fourth-wall-breaking voiceover. I wasn’t wild about the way Esmail introduced this world, which felt too overtly artificial and forced. Though I stand by my initial reaction, I’ll now admit that Esmail was purposefully courting my exact response, illustrated by how Elliot (our Elliot, not alt-Elliot) receives this reality. He wakes up in an abandoned lot where the Washington Township nuclear plant is supposed to be and instead finds advertisements for a new community center. He leaves the area and walks through his old stomping ground with a mixture of awe and confusion, much like Marty McFly exploring Hill Valley circa 1955 in Back to the Future. His father is still alive and runs the Mr. Robot computer repair store. He visits his mom, who is a loving, doting parent who still lives in his childhood home. He realizes he’s marrying Angela and visits her happy parents, Philip Price and Emily Moss (Julia Crockett, reprising her guest role from the third season), who are eager to embrace their future son-in-law. This is the world that Elliot so desperately craved, one in which he’s well adjusted and surrounded by happy people whom he loves and who love him.

It must be said that the first part of the series finale features some of the series’ best comedy, so much so that I wonder if Esmail was holding back his funny side this entire time. Rami Malek has rarely been funnier as he moves through this new reality completely bewildered by its surreal familiarity. When he finally lands at his own apartment and starts looking through his alternate version’s belongings — which include a copy of The Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams, and a social media presence featuring a Facebook post of him posing among friends captioned with, “I just ate five hot dogs. No regrets” — he realizes something’s amok. (“Based on this, he doesn’t have crippling social anxiety or paranoia,” Elliot’s voiceover hilariously intones.) He finally hacks into a hidden portal that reveals alternate Elliot’s sketches of an anarchist hacker alter ego that heads a revolutionary group called fsociety. When alternate Elliot returns to the apartment, our Elliot says the only thing he can really say to address the elephant in the room: “I know this is fucked up.”

Esmail briefly explores a perverse premise that would be a bleak but funny conclusion to Mr. Robot: What if Elliot’s entire reality was just the fantasies of a really basic guy? The scene when Elliot confronts alternate Elliot in the apartment scans as Esmail’s mild shot at meta commentary about TV writing: Alternate Elliot, a put-together extrovert who experiences professional and personal success, occasionally dreams of being a superhero, in this case a cybersecurity expert by day and vigilante hacker by night. It sounds like a more exciting life than the one he leads anyway. But when push comes to shove, he doesn’t actually want to be that guy. That guy is angry. He has no life. He’s alone. He’s not normal. Watching Elliot receive this news is both devastating and grimly humorous. Elliot would give anything to take this guy’s place, to live in this world, but instead his entire life has been the bored daydreams of that same guy. Oh, sweet, sweet irony.

Just then, the world gives Elliot the opportunity to take his alternate self’s place. When another earthquake tremor hits, which happens because the place cannot support two Elliots, alternate Elliot smacks his head on the counter and starts to bleed out on the floor. Just then, our Elliot receives a call from alternate Angela, praising his thoughtful gift and anticipating their impending nuptials. Elliot initially tries to explain what’s happening, but Angela pushes him to let himself be happy for once, not to overthink everything and just embrace a new life. So, obviously, Elliot snuffs out alternate Elliot after realizing he’s still breathing and begging for help. He had no other choice after all.

Except in part two, Elliot comes to learn that this mythical reality isn’t Whiterose’s creation, but rather it’s his. Mr. Robot finally returns to try to knock some sense into Elliot one last time. He tries to make him realize that killing this reality’s Elliot and taking his place is neither moral nor practical, but Elliot just accuses him of exploiting their codependency and wanting him to never be happy. It’s only when he arrives at Coney Island to take his wedding party photos that he realizes that there is no wedding party. (In fact, it’s populated by people in fsociety masks.) There is no wedding. None of what Elliot has experienced in his brief time in this world is “real” in any sense of the word. Mr. Robot gently explains that it’s just a recursive fantasy loop he constructed to “keep him occupied.” But who’s him?

Well, it turns out it’s the Real Elliot. The Elliot that we know and love has never been the real Elliot Alderson, but just another personality sprung from his Dissociative Identity Disorder. Esmail includes two different explanations for this — a short one from Mr. Robot and a much longer one from Krista, or rather a construction of Krista from the other personalities — and while one might describe that as a redundant creative choice, it ends up being a necessary exegesis. It’s clear that Esmail feels the need to justify such a disruption of the show’s reality, hence the multiple interstitial scenes dating back to the first season that serve as explainer tissue, the “clues” Esmail planted from the beginning.

It’s entertaining to briefly revisit these scenes in a different context, but the twist works less because it fits into the plot and more because it makes emotional sense. Elliot Alderson suffers from DID as a response to abuse inflicted upon him in his childhood. Hence, the multiple personalities he created to both protect him from the trauma — Mr. Robot and Young Elliot — as well as to blame himself for his pain — the Mother, a persecutor, and, well, us, the audience, a group of voyeurs who witnessed it all. But Alderson created Our Elliot to shoulder all of his roughest emotions, to hide him from his own past, and to change the world to provide him a better future. It’s why he locked him away in this safe fantasy where he’s happy and has a good job and loving parents and is about to marry the girl next door. Our Elliot took control of the wheel to live in the harsh light of the real world, and, more importantly, reshape it for Real Elliot’s safe return.

But what happens when you don’t want to cede control? Now that the Deus Group has been dismantled, all the money has been redistributed to the masses, Whiterose and her machine are dead, and the Washington Township nuclear meltdown has been averted, Our Elliot’s work is complete. Yet, he still can’t let go, even though he’s only a part of him. When Elliot finally wakes up from the fantasy in the hospital, Darlene is by his side confirming that everything that happened was real, but that she also knows he isn’t the brother she grew up with. She was willing to embrace this darker version of Elliot because, well, they were spending time together and they were close again. Why give that up just because he’s not the one whom she knows and loves?

It’s ultimately Darlene that pushes Our Elliot to finally recede into the background, to allow Real Elliot to finally emerge from his cocoon. It’s a lovely series finale metaphor: The Elliot we’ve watched over the past five years is merely a transitional figure, someone whose place in the world is finite. It’s a bittersweet good-bye, but Esmail emphasizes the hope underneath Our Elliot’s true nature. It’s not just that he made the world a better place for his host personality, it’s that he has accepted his own self as a valid human being. Esmail pushes through the intrinsic corniness of “just be yourself” as a life mantra by emphasizing its sheer difficulty. Our Elliot’s final monologue insists that the world incentivizes disassociation and self-erasure at almost every turn, that shame is some of the most powerful currency society offers. But the true act of courage lies in simply showing up as yourself and insisting that the world adapt to you instead of the other way around. Our Elliot might be only a small part of the Real Elliot, but he was the part that stayed, to ensure that he and the world changed for the better, to insist that both were safe, to demand that both improve.

It’s why that final scene, inspired by the famous Stargate sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey, crests the profound emotional heights that Esmail always aspired to reach. Elliot enters an empty movie theater and sits next to the other personalities. He insists that “we” let go as well, as it’s the only way it’ll work. The camera slowly pans up and moves into the flickering projection light. As M83’s “Outro” rises to its crescendo, we watch flashes of Our Elliot’s life over the past year, but they’re only glimpses of that time, and we’re moving too quickly to grab a real look. While these moments were important and profound for a time, they pale in comparison to the real work that’s about to begin, the act of being a fully present human being moving through the world, always struggling, but never backing down. As the white light finally crystallizes into an iris, wet with fresh tears, the lyrics to “Outro” reverberate back into Elliot’s past and forward into his unknown future.

I’m the king of my own land 

Facing tempests of dust, I’ll fight until the end 

Creatures of my dreams raise up and dance with me! 

Now and forever, I’m your king!

Then, suddenly, Elliot is reborn, and the first thing he sees is the compassionate face of his sister. Hello, Elliot. Goodbye, friend.

Orphan Code

• The Stargate sequence is not the only homage that Esmail includes during his final Mr. Robot outing. As Our Elliot panics and the fantasy world starts to glitch out, he sees Mr. Robot’s/Christian Slater’s face on everybody walking the boardwalk, à la Being John Malkovich. Later, he can be seen crawling away from an open grave, much like Dan Hedaya’s character in Blood Simple. Finally, the Krista-explains-it-all scene can’t help but recall the Architect scene from The Matrix sequels.

• Esmail thankfully doesn’t overdo it with the series-finale nostalgia, but we do catch glimpses of “beloved” characters in the fantasy world. Portia Doubleday makes an appearance as Angela; Michael Cristofer returns as her cheesy father who likes making whiskey sours; Grace Gummer emerges as a traffic cop who busts Our Elliot with the dead body of “Real Elliot” in a box; and Martin Wallström makes one last appearance as Tyrell Wellick, who helps shake Elliot out of his delusion.

• Final music corner: Part one opens with Styx’s “Mr. Roboto,” which absolutely had to make an appearance before the show ended; Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas” plays as Our Elliot performs a “complete wipedown,” which is fitting because Brel once characterized the song as about “the cowardice of men”; and, finally, Perfume Genius’ “Queen” plays during the re-staging of Elliot and Angela’s meeting in the arcade from the first season. At the time, it was considered a hallucination from Our Elliot’s morphine withdrawal. Now, we know it was him dipping his toes into Real Elliot’s fantasy.

• “Hello, friend. God, that’s always been lame, hasn’t it? Sorry I never came up with a better name for you,” Our Elliot says in his last bit of voiceover. At this point, I’m willing to let it slide.

Mr. Robot Series-Finale Recap: Hello, Elliot