Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers about the “Mr. Robot” series finale.
After a bounce-back year, “Mr. Robot” served up a finale that was weird even by the standards of “Mr. Robot.” While the series lent itself to that – living extensively, as it does, inside one character’s head – it was a reminder that while this show flamed very brightly, four seasons was too much for it to consistently sustain.
In many ways, the USA network drama was a series for our times, one that captured distrust of the elites, the perils of technology and a prevailing sense of chaos, culturally and politically. To that extent, the signature line “Please tell me you’re seeing this too” became a subtle mantra for collective disbelief over the way the world often seems to be going.
Series creator Sam Esmail took that rather literally in the two-part finale, which saw Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek, at his wide-eyed best) descend down the rabbit hole of his own sanity, first viewing an alternative life much happier than the one he knows, then coming to grips with who he really is – and more importantly, isn’t.
There was a ray of hope, ultimately, in Elliot discovering that his dissociative identity disorder had manifested itself in a way that left him – and us, the viewer and companion on this inner odyssey – relying on a fabricated personality, one that fought and struggled against allowing the real guy to take over again.
Yet the finish (which Esmail, as usual, wrote and directed) also fostered enough second-guessing over what we had seen and could trust to somewhat deflate the exercise – not the same as the “This was all a dream” conceit, but a bit closer to the old Firesign Theatre album title, “Everything you know is wrong.”
As noted, “Mr. Robot” exploded out of the gate in 2015, before sagging in the middle of its run, bogged down in its own complexity. It rallied splendidly in this final season – including the searing revelation of child abuse that Elliot endured – before succumbing to some of its old habits, basically, down the stretch.
The final three chapters did provide a chance to offer curtain calls to much of the cast, including a few who had died earlier, thanks to the parallel world in which Elliot (OK, not exactly Elliot) found himself. That included strong work by Christian Slater and Gloria Reuben, guiding him through the maze of his mind.
USA, which once showcased the series, allowed it to pass rather quietly amid declining ratings, scheduling the finale just a few days before Christmas.
Then again, in hindsight it’s amazing that a mainstream, ad-supported basic cable network gambled at all on such a scalding concept, which skewered corporate greed and consumerism and posited that a shadowy cabal was behind everything, pulling the strings and profiting handsomely.
At its creative heights, “Mr. Robot” felt as provocative and narratively ambitious as anything on television – a conspiracy-minded show for our conspiracy-theorizing times. Its introductory run almost presciently coincided with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and subsequent questions about who was manipulating the online world that increasingly dominates our lives.
“Can this really be happening?” Elliot asked, not for the first time, during the finale.
It could, it did, and now, kind of mercifully, it’s over. But a charitable soul, looking back, would choose to remember the best parts.