BY FRANCES ROBERTS
Mr Robot concludes its first season with a teasingly inconclusive but satisfying finale. Bring on season two…
This review contains spoilers.
Three days is a long time in cyber-hacking. Since we last saw our unreliable narrator, the global economy has been brought to the brink of collapse. Not that Elliot remembers how, why, or indeed, whether he’s responsible.
After the Darlene and Tyler Dad-en revelations of previous episodes, I doubted whether Mr. Robot had saved enough mysteries for its upcoming second season. Trust in creator Sam Esmail, is the lesson learnt. After this teasingly inconclusive finale, written and directed by Esmail, it’s clear that there are more than enough question marks dangling for Mr. Robot’s return.
Zero Day may not have given many decisive answers, but it did provide a satisfying sense that everything on this show is done for a reason. The finale revealed the deeper significance of past events that seemed throwaway at first, all of which points towards the sure and capable hand guiding Mr Robot, which is really all TV audiences ask for from mystery storytelling.
Take the skater boys filming themselves on the pier in episode two. What looked like background dressing at the time provided us with our first glimpse of what the rest of the world saw when Elliot was talking to Mr Robot. The second arrived in that internet café, when the show finally lifted the veil on Elliot’s scenes with his imaginary dad and gave us a rare glimpse from a perspective other than Elliot’s own.
Bringing back the adulterous husband blackmailed in episode one was another surprising (and timely, what with the nod to Ashley Madison) move. Thanks to multiple writers and twenty-plus episode seasons, you could say that TV audiences aren’t accustomed to economy in storytelling. Characters are routinely introduced and thrown away in the space of a single episode, never to be mentioned again. Not in Mr Robot. Actions have consequences, and it’s the job of the viewer to pay attention to every little thing.
Such as that trip to the vet with Flipper, which seemed to be a non-sequitur at first. Now we know it’s how Michael/Lenny was able to identify Elliot, introducing yet another pair of snapping jaws to the pack of wolves currently chasing him, a pack that so far comprises Wellick, the cyber-crime division of the FBI, Evil Corps, the still-at-large Vera, and chief of all, his own destructive mental illness .
The season one finale leaves Elliot in his most vulnerable position yet. It could be any number of foes, real or imaginary, knocking at that door.
The genuine cliff-hanger though, came with the beep of a watch in that mysterious meeting of the wealthy and powerful. Whose time is up now? Should all that talk of Nero fiddling while Rome burned pay off with a literal explosion, it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen Whiterose blow something up…
See what I mean? There’s plenty of mystery left to chew over until next season, not least the fate of Tyrell Wellick. (About that, seeing as nothing is an accident on this show, just for fun let’s throw into the ring the theory that Wellick was one of the masked fSociety supporters who knocked into Elliot when he was talking to Joanna. Could he also have been the one wearing the mask in that viral victory video?)
Still the most stylish show on TV, especially now that Hannibal has breathed what looks like its last, Mr. Robot gave us some tremendous visuals in its season one finale. In addition to the show’s now-trademark off-centre framing, which lends a sense of disquieting isolation to conversations between characters, the Times Square scenes had a magnificent sense of scale. The irony of staging Mr Robot’s “kingdom of bullshit” speech in a mecca to advertising and consumerism won’t have been lost on anyone (nor the slightly harder to resolve irony of a show like this airing on an NBCUniversal channel owned by multi-billion dollar corporation, Comcast).
Michael Cristofer’s brilliantly imperious Philip Price (a fitting name for a man dripping with wealth) was framed like a king addressing his subjects inside that moodily lit press conference. Higher than a king, there was more than a bit of the modern-day devil about him in those scenes with Angela (whose name, probably not coincidentally, brings to mind the heavenly host). Slater’s character wasn’t the only one with a killer speech this episode. Price’s “People did this” monologue was every bit as memorable in dialogue and delivery.
The Evil Corp scenes too, in that monolithic headquarters, seemed designed to draw visual parallels between corporations, palaces and cathedrals, places the wealthy have historically gathered to rule over the poor.
Esmail’s cinematographer, Tod Campbell, has done terrific work all season using negative space, mirroring and low angles to manipulate and distort our perspective.
Perspective is one of Mr. Robot’s favourite toys. Whether or not you think fSociety is saving or destroying the world--the two warring positions of the episode--very much depends on your own.
There's also a terrifying third option, as suggested by that mysterious coda: none of it matters. The power of the cabal running things is so absolute and inevitable that fSociety’s hack is just a fleabite on the haunch of a lion. Perhaps the world is no more saved or destroyed than it ever was.