Mr. Robot: “shutdown -r” Review


Hello Friend: Redux.

Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.

The way Mr. Robot thrillingly drew everything back to the start in tonight’s Season 3 finale, you’d think it was the actual endgame for the series. I mean, it makes sense. Elliot was out to utterly undo the Five/Nine hack (not that he could ever bring back the thousands who died in the bombings), Angela learned that Phillip Price was her freakin’ dad (a twist that deftly borrowed from another sci-fi classic, The Empire Strikes Back, and not Back to the Future), and Elliot learned that his father never pushed him out a window at all. All of this had the markings for a series finale.

Of course, there was still Dom being under the Dark Army’s terrifying thumb now and Elliot being beholden to Whiterose and her crazy Congo scheme. There were still issues to deal with and evil plots to thwart, but the rest of the story had all the hallmarks of a final episode. The Rules of a Part 3, as stated in Scream 3 – namely “Whatever you think you know about the past, forget it” – came alive here, giving “shutdown -r” a nice feeling of closure. As if, perhaps, mastermind Sam Esmail wasn’t sure about a Season 4. Mr. Robot is uniquely and wonderfully crafted, and mostly critically acclaimed, but it’s never quite been a ratings smash. There was an undercurrent of uncertainty this season, especially given its “back to basics” approach to storytelling that leaned more into the suspense of Season 1 than the “smoke and mirrors” of Season 2.

Fortunately, it was announced this morning ahead of the premiere that Mr. Robot will be back for Season 4. And also fortunately, that news only makes the final beats of “shutdown -r” feel a little weird, what with the episode taking us back to the very beginnings of the show. But it makes sense. The Ferris Wheel. The way Elliot and Mr. R sat back to back on the subway bench. The two of them were coming together for the first time as a true team – part delusion/part Venn Diagram/all mystery. It was easy enough to assume that Mr. Robot was just a mental split Elliot created long ago, stemming from the window incident. But we just learned that it wasn’t a push at all – it was a jump. And you know what? Thank goodness. Because I’ve always had difficulty reconciling the man Christian Slater was/has been in the flashbacks most of the time and the guy he was during that one scene of anger that resulted in Elliot getting hurt. It never clicked for me. Now I feel vindicated for having my doubts.

The revealed truth doesn’t quite make sense either. That Elliot lost control, had a violent fit, swung his bat around, and threatened to jump. What was really going on there? It might be tied into the much bigger mystery of the show. The nagging feeling that Mr. Robot is more than just a mental split. “Only you know why I’m here,” he said to Elliot at the end, hinting that perhaps there’s much more to his presence, and mission, than just angry splintered hacktivism.

Which brings me to Whiterose’s “ridiculous fantasy.” THE PLOT THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED. The thing a lot of characters on the show seem to talk around. Time travel. The goal Whiterose is trying to accomplish and the kooky pitch she used to bring Angela over to her side. The idea of actually going back in time to right past wrongs. Save people’s lives. Phillip gave Angela an earful about it this week while revealing his real relationship to her – Whiterose’s “delusional plan.” It’s the one giant thread that still needs to be snipped on this series and the main reason the show had to come back for another season. Elliot and Mr. Robot are now at peace with one another, and in full acknowledgment of their blended capabilities and faults, but the sci-fi element the show keeps dodging needs to take hold. Like the way Lost finally, and awesomely, lost its mind in its fourth and fifth seasons and dove into time hopping.

Back in my review of Season 3’s premiere, I wrote that the show was finally taking big swings at time travel and that it looked like a bunch of internet theories were about to be proven correct. But then Season 3 just continued the tradition of denial and obfuscation and nothing came of it. That’s not a real complaint though because this season, as a whole, was great and really re-energized the story by grounding the tension and simplifying the goals. This was a much more straight-forward season that, graciously, contained fewer twists and turns overall, but the ones that were there were made more impactful by the elbow room.

“shutdown -r” was a modest episode story-wise, but an absolute demon when it came to intensity and stakes. Lives were on the line – lives of main characters. Elliot, Darlene, and Dom were in danger of being eliminated and while it was unlikely that any of them would die, the episode still created, and basked in, a vibe of powerful, stalking danger. Sure, it was much easier to predict that Irving would kill a demanding stooge like Santiago over Dom, but it was still an amazing moment. Plus, Irving went so psychotically overboard with his axe-swinging that it didn’t matter, in the bloody end, that the series had shown its hand a little bit.

From the way the episode started out with the white CD on the floor (that we didn’t know at the time contained the undoing of the hack) to Dom’s stunning verbal assault on Darlene to Elliot learning that Mr. Robot was actually the one who created the…encryption…keys (I’m not going to pretend I know what any of this means) to the M83 song at the end, this was a bang up finale.

And what was Fernando Vera doing back in that post-credits scene? Remember the drug dealer from Season 1 who killed Shayla after he’d forced Elliot to get him our of prison (because Elliot put him in prison)? He was that “brave traveler” at the end. More Season 1 goodness returning.

The Verdict

Mr. Robot’s Season 3 finale probably could have sufficed as a series-ender if the show wasn’t granted another season, but oh-so-much would have still been left on the table. “shutdown -r” certainly followed many of the rules of an endgame (for a Trilogy, since this was the 3rd season) given all the “back to the start” twists it brought into play – secret family members, false memories, etc – but it also worked as the jumping off point for a fourth season adventure that could/should embrace the sci-fi the show’s been teasing. As Irving said, holding Gore Vidal’s “Death Likes It Hot,” you gotta have a “wow!” ending.

Editors’ Choice


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