BY ALAN SEPINWALL
Thoughts on tonight's penultimate "Mr. Robot" coming up just as soon as I take a jewelry class...
"This is happening, isn't it? You knew all along, didn't you?" -Elliot
Given the very fluid nature of Elliot's reality, and what an admittedly unreliable narrator he's been to his own story, tonight's episode could have very easily opened up by rolling back some or all of last week's revelations. Maybe Darlene was just kidding about being Elliot's sister! Maybe Mr. Robot photoshopped himself into Elliot's family snapshots! Maybe the meeting in the car between Tyrell and Mr. Robot was actually between Darlene and Whiterose, but the show was just screwing us!
But while it's been fun to guess at which aspects of the show are real and which have existed only inside Elliot's head, there comes a point where the series has to commit to certain truths or risk the whole enterprise becoming nothing more than a parlor trick. If everything can be surprising, then nothing is.
Fortunately, this one only reinforces everything last week told us. Mr. Robot really does look like Elliot's father, whom we meet in the flesh in a 1994 flashback at the eponymous store. And he really did die not long after taking young Elliot to "Pulp Fiction." He's Tyler Durden, but a more personal Durden, because he's Elliot's coping mechanism for a childhood trauma he never got over.
The risk in this kind of guessing game is that the audience figures out the truth way ahead of time, but only if you are building everything around the surprise that comes at the moment of revelation. (For example, see the Edward James Olmos season of "Dexter," where viewers recognized what was going on within an episode or two, then had to endure the show acting like it was getting over on them for months.) But Sam Esmail never particularly tried to keep this secret hidden. In the very first episode, Elliot is wondering if anything that happened when he met Mr. Robot was real, and here he recognizes that we in the audience likely knew this all along. There may be some viewers who didn't guess it (or didn't read other people's guesses), and they may have been stunned by Darlene asking, "Elliot, who are you talking to?" But what makes this effective isn't us realizing Mr. Robot isn't real, but Elliot finally understanding that this has all taken place inside his head. The show is Rami Malek, and Rami Malek is the show, and Elliot's reaction to learning that he has crafted this entire other persona and used him to form fsociety was more powerful than any simple "gotcha!" moment could have been. (For that matter, the Darlene reveal last week worked so well not just because it was surprising, but because it told us so much about these two characters.)
I'm not sure how the business with Tyrell and Mr. Robot is tracking at this point, though. Last week suggested that he knows what fsociety has been up to, and has somehow become so entranced by that knowledge that it sent him down this current self-destructive path. Here, though, he has no idea what the plan or goal is until Elliot takes him to the arcade and explains how they're going to erase all of Evil Corp's financial data. But we still have next week's season finale to explain all that, to find out if Angela takes the Evil Corp job — and how, if at all, that affects fsociety's plan — and to see if Mr. Robot is able to keep his promise about staying with Elliot always, or if Christian Slater only committed to doing one season of the show.
Many shows built around mysteries struggle when it's time to explain themselves. So far, "Mr. Robot" is doing a great job of turning over its cards without making it feel like the game has ended.
What did everybody else think? And what are you hoping to see in the season finale?