Mr. Robot wraps up its third season with a finale that brings us all back to the beginning again.
The season 3 finale of Mr. Robot is called “shutdown-r,” which is the command in the Microsoft operating system that issues a reboot. Perhaps, as titles go, it’s a bit on the nose, but it also succinctly conveys the purpose of this episode, which is not to erase but to restart.
Much of season 3 has been stuffed with references to sci-fi staples like time travel and parallel dimensions. From Back to the Future and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure to Superman saving the world by flying around it fast enough to make time go backward, this season has hinted repeatedly that maybe the terrible things that happened can be undone. However, “shutdown-r” doesn’t push a reset button in the way we might have expected, though it reshuffles its key pieces in new and unexpected ways.
Season 3 has tackled some heavy themes — regret, betrayal, sorrow, the loops you can trap yourself in thanks to guilt. It’s funny, in a way, because despite all this, this has perhaps turned out to be the most oddly hopeful season of the show to date. But it isn’t because Elliot or Angela discover that time travel is real or that an alternate reality exists where their mistakes never happened. It’s that they face the truth of what they did, the consequences they caused and try to figure out a way to move forward.
Sometimes, the most radical act isn’t in the breaking of a thing, but in trying to put it back together. So much of Mr. Robot has been about dismantling — breaking systems of control, capitalism and oppression — that ending this rollercoaster season on such a haunting note of introspection, with what is on some level a massive takeback, should feel like a cop out. That it feels like an evolution instead is part of the reason this show is so great.
“Find a way to live with what you did.”
In one of the weirdest twists in a season full of them, it is Angela’s discovery that Philip Price is her father is one of the most random and the most satisfying. Sure, it explains his bizarre obsession with her that dates back to E-Corp’s original decision to hire AllSafe. But it also seems incredibly fitting that the most evil man in Mr. Robot’s universe is also the person who gives Angela — his daughter — the key to putting her life back together again.
She not only must acknowledge her culpability in the Stage 2 attacks, but accept the fact that they happened for what is, essentially, nothing. Price delivers his confession that Whiterose was only trying to get back at him for toying with her U.N. vote in his typical blasé fashion, but the emotional impact is clear. Thousands of people are dead, Angela’s mother is still gone, and she can’t reset her past.
Sure, “shutdown-r” leaves the possibility open that Whiterose’s plan is real, that time travel is possible, that the mysterious machine Elliot managed to send to the Congo will work someday. But Angela’s blind belief in Whiterose’s plan was what got her here in the first place and, for the moment at least, that seems to be behind her. Price shoots down her immediate desire for retribution in as gentle a way as he can. But he also provides a piece of fatherly advice that could be said to apply to the entire universe of Mr. Robot at large. Find a way to live with what you did. Make peace with the things you can’t change. Try to choose a better path next time and, most of all, remember.
“And with that … you can make it like 5/9 never happened.”
Elliot’s decision to undo the 5/9 hack is momentous, and not just because this event has been the singular moment around which most of the series has turned. That is important, don’t get me wrong, this realization that Trenton’s hope was accurate, that fsociety could take back what it did if it turned out that their revolution wasn’t the bright new beginning they’d all hoped for. The additional revelation that it was actually Elliot himself — by way of Mr. Robot — who built in the safeguard that to undo the hack is touching, and a much-needed moment of character exploration for him.
This season has focused heavily on Elliot and Mr. Robot’s relationship, which is to say it has focused heavily on Elliot’s relationship with himself. Season 3 kicked off by doubling down on the idea that Elliot and Robot occupy a symbiotic Jekyll and Hyde-style connection, but it ends by reminding us that was just another illusion, all along. Mr. Robot isn’t some evil genius version of Elliot’s dark side. He is Elliot, and the two of them are each a part of one another. Elliot’s earlier concerns that “even if it was him, it was me” turn out to be true, but in the best possible way. Ultimately, Mr. Robot wouldn’t have blown up those buildings, either, because he is Elliot. And the two share more than just a physical body.
The promise of a true partnership at last between these two warring pieces of Elliot’s psyche is intriguing, from a story perspective, and as a long-awaited moment of self-acceptance for this character. After all, while the tentative Ferris Wheel reconciliation between the two is an incredible — and wildly well-acted — scene, its greatest importance is what it means. After all this time, Elliot takes some real steps toward accepting the darkest pieces of himself, which means that he has to take the light ones too. (Because they’re there in Mr. Robot, even if Elliot never realized it until this moment.) Elliot is Mr. Robot, and vice versa, and all they can do is try to live with one another and all the things they have done, together.
Elliot’s vow to take down the 1% of the 1% who really control everything is thrilling, and sets up a season 4 that promises plenty of dramatic hack scenarios and face-offs with the Whiteroses and Philip Prices of the world. It will doubtless be exciting to watch. But for all of Mr. Robot’s political intrigue and armchair philosophizing, the show has been best at telling a very human story. That Season 3 has emphasized that in the midst of explosions and kidnappings and riots is the reason it’s so remarkable.
Sometimes progress means going backward. We’ve spent an entire season going back to the status quo of where we started in almost every way but one. None of us — Elliot, Darlene, Angela, even the audience who are every bit as much a part of Mr. Robot’s world as its characters — are the same people we were when we started. We’ve learned and grown. Forgiven and connected anew with one another. And we have to hope that, this time, that’s what’s going to make all the difference.
See you in season 4, folks!