Wednesday, September 21, 2016

REVIEW: 'Mr. Robot' - Answers Just Lead to More Confusion for Elliot in 'eps2.9_pyth0n-pt2.p7z'

USA's Mr. Robot - Episode 2.12 "eps2.9_pyth0n-pt2.p7z"

fsociety is in too deep. An old friend reveals all to Elliot.

The first season of Mr. Robot ended with the show valuing character over plot. The finale focused on the immediate aftermath of the Five/Nine hack and the conflict brewing between Elliot and Mr. Robot. It wasn't about the execution of the thing fsociety was working all season to achieve. It was an effective way to close out the season because of its extreme focus on Elliot and the reveal of just how unreliable his reality actually is. This season has expanded in its focus a considerable amount. It ran for 12 episodes instead of 10. Supporting characters like Angela, Dom, Darlene and Joanna had to carry their own subplots. Elliot was in jail for the first half of the year. It was a lot of story to cover. It was certainly an ambitious setup for the season. Going into this finale, the show had a lot of answers that it needed to deliver. Part 1 embraced the surreal nature of this universe while part 2 needed to provide solid resolutions to some of the biggest mysteries of the season. So, the show simply couldn't follow the same formula it did in Season 1.

This finale does provide plenty of answers as well. Stage 2 is the hacking of an Evil Corp building to effectively destroy all the paper filings that the Five/Nine hack couldn't eliminate from the system. Tyrell really is alive and not just a new figment of Elliot's imagination. Darlene survived the shootout but Cisco did not. Dom reveals that she has known about Elliot and the hierarchy of fsociety for at least three months now. Joanna learns that Scott Knowles is responsible for all of the gifts she has been sent this season. All of these are important answers that the show set up to be revealed in this finale. It's satisfying that the audience received clarity on all of these stories. And yet, so much of this episode is underwhelming. It's a bit anti-climatic. It's not as rousing or moving as past episodes have been. It's just the plot moving forward - oftentimes in cryptic ways that leave the characters and the audience even more confused. Sometimes when the plot is too overwhelming the show suffers. That appears to be the case in this final episode of the year.

All of this could be an even greater criticism of the season as a whole. The experimentation that makes Mr. Robot unique is also the thing that fuels its weaker and more confusing elements. This was by no one means a bad season of the show. In the early going, the episodes ran too long for no other reason than they could. Elliot spent too much time in isolation questioning his mental health and battling Mr. Robot. It was a relief when an episode didn't feature Elliot at all because the rest of the ensemble were much more active as characters. Dom's story was engaging to watch and she proved to be a vital new addition to the show. And yet, Joanna's story stalled early on and never quite caught on in a way that proved invaluable to the main plot. This season was a huge risk on the show's part. Sam Esmail certainly went for it. Every episode included at least one sequence that showed just how creative, inventive and genius this show is capable of being. But it sure had a lot of disparate parts that don't completely come together in the end.

The reveal that Dom has known about Elliot and how prominent he is in fsociety for awhile now is cool and surprising. But it also plays as a shocking twist that happens to throw the audience out of whack. It proves that she has known as much as we have this season. In fact, she's able to provide some more definitive answers with other mysteries as well. Trenton and Mobley are actually missing while Romero was just killed by a stray bullet from his neighbor and not the Dark Army. Those mysteries led to so much paranoia on Darlene's part. She was freaking out because it felt like the world was caving in on her and she was next on the Dark Army's hit list. She's still alive though. And now, she knows exactly how much the FBI knows about her operation. She tries playing it cool but it's not enough to fool Dom. Dom has been a pretty impressive agent this season. She's been able to see patterns in subtle ways that other agents have not. She is the sole face of the investigation. But it's also odd to now have the knowledge that she has known about Elliot this whole time. It's a weird reveal. It almost happens too slowly. She and her superior tease it out before she shows Darlene the truth. And then, the camera just lingers on Darlene's face looking at this surprising information for too long as the audience is left wondering what game-changing news has just been discovered. It's a big moment of plot and not character which is a slight disservice to both Darlene and Dom. Though it should create an interesting dynamic between the two in the third season.

Meanwhile, the mystery of what happened to Tyrell simply lasted way too long. He appeared throughout the season in flashbacks and fantasy sequences. But Elliot and the audience didn't know if he was alive or dead until this finale. There had to be a reason for prolonging such a mystery. Here, it's largely so he can reveal details about Stage 2 while further propping up just how crippling Elliot's mental condition really is. The show builds up the mystery of whether Tyrell is really there or not. It's the exact same kind of mystery that was present with Mr. Robot in the first season. It's not all that surprising that the show ultimately decides to do the opposite of what it previously did. Mr. Robot was revealed to be a figment of Elliot's imagination who is capable of taking over his body whenever he feels like it for his master plan to change the world. Meanwhile, Tyrell really is alive. He has become a true convert to the cause. He has fallen in love with Elliot. He has seen the light and it feels so good. He's mystified as to why Elliot is lashing out right now and destroying everything he has helped build. That sets up for an epic confrontation scene that is easily the highlight of this finale.

Elliot wants to believe he is in control. He's been on a quest this entire season to become better after learning the truth about Mr. Robot. And yet, the truth is Mr. Robot will always be hiding something from Elliot. It's a way of compartmentalizing the master plan. Mr. Robot rationalizes it all by saying Elliot's mind can't handle it all at once. He is only giving small pieces of the full story over time. On the one hand, it makes for a satisfying story engine over the course of the series. Mr. Robot knows all while Elliot and the audience are just slowly piecing it all together. But it can also be incredibly frustrating. Elliot wants to believe that Mr. Robot and Tyrell aren't real. It's just another trick his mind is playing on him. He was able to create a fake reality in order to shield his life from the audience. Elliot is capable of being in control. But when it comes to Mr. Robot, it's clear that that has never been the case. Mr. Robot is still the only other person within Elliot. Tyrell is real and is willing to shoot Elliot to keep him from disrupting the plan. It's a great moment. Elliot believes he's in power once more only to be proven wrong.

And yet, it's clearly something the other partners were predicting to happen. It's fascinating to start the episode with Tyrell and Mr. Robot's initial conversation as seen from Tyrell's perspective. He sees Elliot as a mastermind and visionary capable of seeing a changed world and inspiring others to do the same. It must be so erratic for Tyrell and the Dark Army to deal with Elliot's seemingly wild mood and personality shifts. One moment he's completely rational and discussing the big plan. The next he's clueless to what's going on and has a moral conscience. It's something they've clearly planned to deal with. The show doesn't try to suggest that Elliot dies at the end of this season after Tyrell shoots him. Angela gets a phone call from Tyrell that basically confirms Elliot's already been treated and will need to see a friendly face upon waking up. Despite the erratic nature of the overall season, this has been a terrific year for Angela. The audience doesn't learn what Whiterose told her to convince her to fully commit to the cause. But it has clearly worked because she's helping the plan go according to schedule. She is barely seen in this finale. But when she pops up, it's with purpose and is genuinely surprising. Again, things are a little too uncertain for the future. This season ultimately proves that Elliot will never have full control of his life and that may have deadly consequences throughout the whole world. But a number of other characters have rose in importance in some seriously fantastic ways to watch.

Some more thoughts:
  • "eps2.9_pyth0n-pt2.p7z" was written by Sam Esmail and directed by Sam Esmail.
  • Just like the last finale, the season closes with a tag scene after the credits. This one reveals that Trenton and Mobley are living under new identities somewhere far away from New York. It too is a continuous shot. Trenton reveals that she has found a way to potentially reverse everything the Five/Nine hack did. But then, Leon shows up which can't be a good sign for them at all.
  • This has always been a very meta show. Elliot literally talks to the audience. But the FBI agent telling Darlene that she "isn't in a USA show. This isn't Burn Notice. There are no blue skies" was a bit too meta and ridiculous.
  • Scott Knowles was an important character in the first season. But he wasn't so much in the second. He just had two brief appearances before the big reveal here. It's understandable why he would do this to Joanna. It's just not the most satisfying answer to this mystery.
  • Joanna asking her new boy toy to frame Scott for his own wife's murder as a way of vengeance for all the gifts he has sent her this season was a good enough payoff for that story. But again, Joanna was way too detached from everything of real importance this season.
  • In case you somehow missed it, Rami Malek won an Emmy on Sunday night for his stellar work on the show. It's such a deserving victory too. Now, it's time to speculate if anyone from this season will be able to join him on the list of nominations next year. I would like to see Portia Doubleday, Grace Gummer and Carly Chaikin make the cut. But that seems almost impossible if they all go for supporting.
  • Will Sam Esmail reign it in a little more in the third season? Will it go back to only being 10 episodes instead of 12? Those questions are unclear at the moment. What is certain is that the show will be back for its third season in 2017.