Wednesday, December 13, 2017

REVIEW: 'Mr. Robot' - Elliot Reaches Out to Mr. Robot in Order to Save Darlene in 'shutdown -r'

USA's Mr. Robot - Episode 3.10 "shutdown -r"

Elliot tries to save Darlene but sh*t doesn't go as planned. Mr. Robot needs to step up or step back. Angela considers the price.

The second season of Mr. Robot ended on a scene of Trenton and Mobley discussing a potential way to undo the infamous FiveNine hack. It was an idea quickly compromised by Leon interrupting that conversation. But it introduced themes of remorse, redemption and action for the third season. This season lingered on the ideas of needing to reset the world after the horrible things that have been done. It's a story that has featured a lot of foreshadowing about the potential of time travel being introduced into this story. That seemed particularly ridiculous. And yet, the show would keep making references to Back to the Future. Or having Angela constantly rewinding the devastation of the E Corp bombings. Or propping up all of this conversation about being able to decrypt the files so that the FiveNine hack never occurred. That proved to be a driving force of this season's story. Of course, it took a long time for the narrative to catch up to that moment with Trent and Mobley. That proved that even that sequence was out of place in time. The audience just didn't know that at the time. This is frequently a narrative that plays with audience expectations. It has always been asking us to look deeper for the clues. It's never hiding things. It's been misleading and withheld information from us. But it's always presented us with just enough to guess what was truly going on. This season does ultimately end with some pretty major revelations for the characters. And yet, they are all deeply personal and reflect on their own damaged personas at the moment. They are all craving to take back what they did. But the path keeps moving forward for all of them.

This season also featured Elliot and Mr. Robot at war with one another. They weren't openly communicating like they were in the past. This allowed Mr. Robot to be a more independent and interesting character this season. He was allowed more freedom than his relationship with Elliot. He could appear in scenes without Elliot at all. But it proved to be quite destructive for both of them as well. There was the sense at first that the gun shot wound is what severed this connection between them. A physical ailment has brought about this radical change in their relationship. But the connection was always there. There just needed to be the desire to communicate openly with one another. Barriers still exist. Even when they are desperate to let someone in, they are unsure of how to actually reach out. It's so tragic to watch. They are both working on the same mystery. They are trying to understand how their grand mission has been corrupted by the Dark Army. They are trying to fix what they broke because they have far more noble ideals in this world. But it still took something personal for the two of them to actually mend this bond and trust each other once more.

It's all built around the idea that Elliot and Mr. Robot are parts of one another. Mr. Robot is simply an extension of Elliot's own personality. It's the physical embodiment of these feelings of rage and anger towards the system. Elliot could never just escape this life and live a normal existence because he felt this calling to be active and change the world. He felt that even when Mr. Robot wasn't around. And now, there's the powerful moment where Elliot realizes that he has an influence on Mr. Robot as well. He needs confirmation that Mr. Robot didn't know about the E Corp bombings. He didn't and adds that he would have tried to find another way to be successful with the mission. That's such a key moment. It proves that Elliot's goodness is a part of Mr. Robot as well. They are complimentary beings. This connection is significant. Finding a way to reverse the hack probably won't reset the world to what it was. But it's a personal mission for Elliot. He is trying to do this in order to feel good about what he has done. Most of this season he's been walking around the chaos of this city not letting it distract from his mission. And now, he's choosing to be an active participant in its restoration. He's trying to reset the world to how it was. Things are different now because he knows who the top one percent of the top one percent who control the world are. He has targets to go after in Philip Price and Whiterose. That's a passionate and personal mission for him.

But all of this is still a story of personal remorse about the damage that has been done. All of that is most heartbreaking when it comes to Angela's story. The audience is aware that Whiterose only made the attack against E Corp in order to put Price in his place. It was a petty moment that proved just how controlling Whiterose really is. She needs to be the one in charge of making the decisions. Even when she's tasked others with important missions, she's always watching and controlling from above. And in Angela's case, she was simply a pawn. Angela felt special because she was shown the secret project. It's still a project shrouded in secrecy. Elliot is able to find a way to transport whatever Whiterose wants to the Congo as quickly as possible. That's what keeps him alive. But there's no further confirmation on whether or not Whiterose is truly trying to create time travel. Here, Price says that he knows what she is up to as well and simply treats it as some kind of elaborate delusion. It's a fantasy that will never come to fruition. Angela was simply conned into believing it because she had a role to play in this story. Now that she has served her purpose, she can be cast aside. She is no longer special. Angela has to reckon with that. It's a moment of self-reflection further defined by Price revealing himself to be Angela's biological father. That's a twist that makes sense when looking back at how he has always been interested in her career. It could have been sexual but there was never a moment where he forced something like that to happen. And now, it's revealed to be a dynamic of paternal love. He was trying to protect Angela but could only do so by coming out to her. And now, she needs to find a way to keep on living despite the monstrosity she is responsible for.

It is also particularly destructive to see what happens to Dom in this finale. The Dark Army having a mole within the FBI has never been all that engaging or special. It was simply a plot device that has been utilized in so many conspiracy-based narratives. It was a twist that made Santiago more unique and necessary to the story. But it also makes him disposable in this finale. He's been struggling to keep his cover for awhile now. Here, he is forced into taking Dom prisoner as well for this fateful event out at the barn with Elliot and Darlene. But he's the one who actually dies out there. He dies so that Dom can replace him as the mole within the FBI. That's an action that immediately resonates in a deeply personal way. No, the audience has never met one of Dom's family members who are threatened here. But that doesn't matter either. Dom says that she will never be turned into betraying her country. And then, Irving plants an ax deep into Santiago. It's a moment that reveals all the rage that has been boiling under the surface with Irving. He keeps hitting him over and over again. Santiago is dead but Irving still needs this kind of release. But it's a more destructive moment for Dom. This is life as she knows it coming to an end. She is still a rising star in the FBI. She is still alive. But now, the Dark Army owns her. Yes, she is able to provide the access Elliot needs in order to reverse the FiveNine hack. That is now completely irrelevant to the Dark Army. Elliot can do that for himself. It's purely to make himself feel good. That's selfish in a way that can still benefit the world. But this entire story is still building to that moment where Dom lashes out at Darlene for how horrible she is. It's her lashing out because she needs someone to blame. Darlene is an easy target even though she's not the source of her frustrations. But it will just make all of this much more personal and tragic moving forward because the show has spent the last two seasons building Dom up as a character in this world.

All of this is so devastating and destructive but the finale ends on a message of hope. Memories are a powerful motivator in this world. But this episode once again confirms just how unreliable Elliot's own memory truly is. For three seasons, it's been a core part of his backstory that his father pushed him out of a window when he was a kid. And now, Darlene tells Elliot that that story isn't true. Instead, Elliot was the one who threw a tantrum and jumped out of the window. That's the truth as Darlene knows it. In that moment, Elliot's whole perception of the world changes. The animosity he's felt for his father led to the manifestation of Mr. Robot. The two are forever linked. But now, he has to let go of that anger. He needs to have a sit down with Mr. Robot and just acknowledge that the two of them work better as a team because they are the same person. Instead of trying to be controlling of each other, they have to accept that the world has the potential of improving with them working side by side. The show allows Elliot to have this moment of hopefulness. He's surrounded by doubts. Doubts that the capitalist system that controls the world is never going to change. The people in charge will always survive. That reversing the hack won't ultimately change anything. But it does bring the story back in a full circle way as well. It restores this world of 2015 to how it was. The economy may never bounce back but Elliot has given the world the tools to make it a possibility. But Elliot's personal troubles will only be getting more complicated. That's marked by the return of a threat who hasn't been seen since before the hack - Fernando Vera. Elliot has acceptance in some parts of his life. He's willing to have more human connection in his world. But his past actions still have the potential of coming back to really destroy him as well.

Some more thoughts:
  • "shutdown -r" was written by Sam Esmail and directed by Sam Esmail.
  • I'll be honest in saying that I did not recognize Vera at all. The camera movement definitely signaled that a big and shocking return was about to occur. But I definitely needed to look it up in order to truly know what had happened in that final post-credits scene. Most of the focus is on Darlene - which probably confirms she'll interact with him a lot as well. And this return is exciting. I just didn't recognize Vera at first because he hasn't appeared since the first season and Elliot Villar isn't as recognizable a face.
  • I'll also be honest in saying that it basically took me a long time before I realized that Tyrell wasn't in this finale at all. The Wellicks have basically become unnecessary in this world. Tyrell became more mystery than character in Season 2 while Joanna's story was pointless. Her death played as a way to just cut that story altogether. Meanwhile, Tyrell had more focus this season. But none of it really returned him to his Season 1 glory. It's not noticeable at all when he doesn't appear in an episode.
  • That final moment between Irving and Grant basically plays as Bobby Cannavale only having a one-year contract with this show and it being unclear whether or not he'll return in Season 4. Irving was a fantastic addition to this season because he brought more focus to the Dark Army. Plus, it was such a specific and really compelling performance from Cannavale. It would be an okay goodbye for him as well in saying that Irving is done with the Dark Army after all this. He's earned it.
  • Without the great performances, Whiterose and the Dark Army's plan wouldn't make any sense at all. There's just no reason to actually care about the mystery of it. There's basically been too much build up for it to have a satisfying payoff. And yet, Whiterose is now Elliot's target. That will be compelling. It will ensure that Leon remains in the crosshairs of this story as well. More Leon would be a terrific idea.
  • Ratings and buzz has died down on this show over the years. It was such a breakout show in its first season but lost a lot of that in its second. This year was very creatively strong. But the ratings were lower than they've ever been. USA renewed the show for a fourth season this morning. So, the drama will return with more episodes. It'll just be intriguing to see how much is actually left in this narrative.