So. Before anything else, let’s talk about the ending to this week’s finale. Mr. Robot has always been a show that plays its cards pretty close to the chest which, added to the psychological minefield that is Elliot’s perspective, has made conclusive developments a rarity. Yet in the last few scenes of episode 12, we got a number of concrete details that set the stage for next year.
First and foremost, we know that Tyrell is alive, that he actually is Tyrell, and that despite what Elliot kept telling himself, the partnership they struck this time last year stuck. Three big details that have been looming over this entire season, leading to Tyrell inadvertently giving Elliot a much-needed reality test… by shooting him.
Next, we know that, presumably since her confrontation with White Rose last episode, Angela is now playing a key role in the plan to take down E-Corp. Yet when I say since last episode, that comes with the caveat that I’m not sure the timeframes for the different strands within the show match up as neatly as each episode’s elements occurring concurrently. Angela naturally tries to assert herself, but it didn’t sound like Tyrell was adjusting to deferring to her – it sounded like he had been doing so for a while. Maybe that’s just my take on it, but I can’t quite believe that there isn’t more to find out about that dynamic.As for that plan, for now, things look relatively straightforward. All the paper copies of records to recover what the 5/9 hack destroyed are going to one place – so they’re going to blow it up. Much like season 1, there’s a certain physical element involved again, something to give the show more direction. Yet unlike season 1, it’s not just F Society v E(vil)-Corp, and everything’s just a bit more convoluted.
So now that’s all out there, let’s rewind to the start of the season. Coming into season 2, I for one wasn’t sure what to expect. The hack had been a clear goal, one that would make things better. So if that season was one of optimism, then this was a dose of reality. At least as far as the way of the world is concerned (where psychology is concerned the opposite was true). The related ‘butterfly effect’ nature of the season has been one of the highlights. For a show as relevant as this – that needs to be as relevant as this – the pernicious, institutional way that E-Corp took advantage of the hack was an important message to send, both within and outside of the show. Clearly, it was a message that struck a chord with Trenton and Mobley, because their role for next season, it seems, is to be the ones who try to shut the party down.
But staying with E-Corp, the role it played in the second season was far more complex and varied. Before, it was rarely seen outside the Evil Corp perspective of Elliot. Yet alongside Angela’s arc, there’s also been a far expanded role for CEO Phillip Price, and getting a glimpse inside his head goes some way to explaining the company’s mentality. ‘Am I the most powerful person in the room?’ he always asks himself. And in the show’s world, the answer is almost always yes. But the fact that the power isn’t a means to a particular end, but that power is the end, is a worrying fact. The hack wiped debt records, and crippled the economy. Yet E-Corp simply took control of currency with E-Coin. If the plan for next year works, Price won’t just lie down.Michael Cristofer put in a solid performance to sell Price, but he was part of a cast that all played their roles superbly. Rami Malek took home the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama (albeit for season 1), vindicating his importance to the show, but there were brilliant portrayals everywhere; Stephanie Corneliussen took good advantage of her expanded role, BD Wong was again menacing as Whiterose & Minister Zhang (it’s interesting to wonder just who knows of the duality – does Price?), Grace Gummer entered the show and now forms a vital cog in the system. Craig Robinson’s guest role was perfect within Elliot’s prison-based delusion. And all this without mentioning much of the returning main cast, who delved further into their characters with more episodes under the belt. Really, it’s a great cast.
The one polarising aspect of the season is perhaps the extent to which Elliot’s psychological issues (issues might be an understatement) affected the action. For me, it’s an unprecedentedly ambitious portrayal, and that ambition alone affords the show space to do its thing, which it does well anyway. But at some point there’s a question of whether the inwards focus can detract a bit from the wider themes, and whether the big bait and switch can be pulled off a third time next year. The show is both a psychological drama and a techno-thriller; it balances it well, but some viewers might want more of the latter and less of the former. Saying that, the best sequence of the season came firmly grounded in reality – as Dom raced to find Darlene and Cisco, only to wind up at the scene of a drive-by hit on them. Perhaps it’s that I’m a sucker for fixed camera shots with subtle moving elements, but it was brilliantly captured and a reminder that the show has assets across the board.
I can’t say it was a perfect season – the first probably was, and this isn’t quite as good as a whole (episode by episode is another debate) – but it was pretty close, and with the closing barrage in the finale, has allayed my fears of burnout for next year, and gave every indication there’s more to come.