Mr. Robot closed out its first season on Wednesday night with a finale that did not back away from the high-stakes bet it placed at the beginning of the series: Fsociety’s planned massive cyber-attack on Evil Corp, and the rest of the country. Oh, and the rest of the world as well.
The hour began with Elliot waking up in Tyrell’s SUV, not knowing how he got there, not knowing once he stepped out of the car that three days had passed and the Fsociety hack he’d help engineer was in full, destructive swing. The episode — written and directed by show creator Sam Esmail — was a sustained nightmare, one version of how the world might come close to ending: in economic chaos that brings about immense deprivation, or the beginning of an egalitarian revolution that, for its survivors, might result in a better world. (In the terms of the world Mr. Robot chronicles, “better” means the complete destruction of capitalist society. Welcome to the new USA Network, folks.)
The havoc Elliot and his co-conspirators let loose upon the world was, as the show has consistently suggested, simple and direct in method and execution — malware that took mere hours to design but capable of erasing all financial data. The result is that people find they have no access to money; everything from ATMs not working to an inability of the massively wealthy to access their wealth.
The reactions to this ranged widely. There were those who became anarchically celebratory, such as the demonstrators wearing the Fsociety Monoploy Man masks, carrying signs with slogans like “Money Is Dead” and “Finally Awake!” (I half-expected to see the old Firesign Theatre slogans “Not Insane!” or “Shoes for Industry” pop up as well.) The anarchy was set to music on the soundtrack: the only excellent song Jim Carroll ever recorded, “People Who Died.” (This, combined with the use of Alabama Shakes’s “Sound and Color,” confirmed Mr. Robot as the current drama with the best use of pop music.)
There were also more dire reactions, such as a top Evil Corp executive putting a gun in his mouth and blowing out his brains on live TV. (This must have been the scene that prompted USA and the producers to delay the finale by a week, in the wake of the Roanoke, Virginia, TV-station murders, although the violent act in Mr. Robot had no similarity to the Roanoke tragedy other than the presence of a television camera.)
It looked as though the finale was going to come down to what it has frequently made ground-zero for the true nature of Mr. Robot: Elliot’s consciousness. Christian Slater’s Mr. Robot (“I am you,” he said to Elliot) got off one nice, long, mad speech that could easily stand as his character’s swan song — we’ll have to see what happens next season. But certainly his “We live in a kingdom of bulls–t!” rant was a worthy one in this season of farewells — we could have heard the same words coming from Jon Stewart, or David Letterman.
The end credits rolled. But Mr. Robot was not finished. In a languid postscript, Esmail had the camera execute a gliding tracking shot as we followed B.D. Wong’s White Rose into a lush, golden-hued den of the powerful, and witnessed him take his place beside E Corp’s Phillip Price (Michael Christofer, the actor-playwright who, after his roles in shows ranging from Rubicon to Ray Donovan had become TV’s most adept Avatar of Corruption.)
If the message Esmail wants us to walk away with is something like, all power is corrupt — and there’s no reason I can’t be wrong about that being Esmail’s intention — then I give a little “eh” shrug of my shoulders and look forward to next season. Because the unceasing visual pleasures of Mr. Robot, very much including the every-single-second-onscreen performance of Rami Malek as Elliot, is more than enough to outweigh any understandable season-finale overreach for a grand statement.
I prefer to see it, in the context of this excellent series, as a set-up for next season’s assault on Elliot’s consciousness that proves that a brilliant paranoid can have something real to be paranoid about.