December 23, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Finale Review: “Mr. Robot”


“I understand why you’re confused,” said the figure who wasn’t Elliot Alderson’s therapist Krista (Gloria Reuben) to the figure who wasn’t Elliot (Rami Malek) toward the end of the finale of Sam Esmail’s series MR ROBOT.  And, well, yeah.

This year, we’ve had reason to be reminded how tough endings are to achieve in a satisfying way.  The Avengers: Endgame brought its 10-year saga fairly smoothly into port, but both Game of Thrones and The Rise of Skywalker, to one extent or another, bungled their long-awaited conclusions, and even Watchmen had trouble navigating the end of a mere 9-episode run.  Mr Robot always promised to be particularly tricky, partly because trickiness was built into its DNA.

Esmail consistently insisted through the 4 seasons of Mr Robot that he wasn’t interested in mind games and puzzles for their own sake, only as a necessity for him to express the complexities of character.  But his addiction to the form was clear, and his finale was quite literally a mind game within a mind game.  The alternate universe that was introduced at the end of the penultimate episode, one where there was an Elliot who held down a steady job, had a good relationship with his parents, and was about to marry Angela (Portia Doubleday), occupied a reality that was shaky from the start (as indicated, again very literally, by the earthquake-like shudders that periodically rocked it).  Was it a genuine reset of the world created by Whiterose’s (B.D. Wong) fabled machine, or a Matrix-like reality created by Elliot’s mind at the point of death when the machine blew up around him?

Neither, as it turned out.  The Elliot we knew–Our Elliot–had created this alternate reality, but as a place to store the actual Elliot Alderson’s consciousness.  As non-Krista explained to Our Elliot, he was just another of the split personalities that Real Elliot had created as protection from his troubled childhood, except that Our Elliot had decided to take over more or less permanently.  We the viewers (who were somehow also one of Real Elliot’s personalities) had never even met Real Elliot.

This gave rise to a multitude of questions, some of which were explained by Real Elliot’s real sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin) in an exhaustive rush of exposition.  Yes, the events we’d watched for the past 4 seasons were real:  ECorp existed, as did fSociety, and yes, the hacks and deaths we’d witnessed had actually happened.  None of that explained, though, how Real Elliot had Our Elliot’s genius-level hacking skills, or why this Darlene was so different from the version of her we’d been following throughout Mr Robot, just to note a couple of glaring holes.

This final season of Mr Robot was, in its way, a return to the wild big-swing auteurship of its spectacular Season 1.  Esmail, who was given a creative freedom that USA Network has never accorded any other series creator, delivered an episode almost entirely without dialogue, another presented for the most part as a staged play, and one that was a twisted version of a rom-com, complete with the lovers’ rush to meet as a plane was about to take off.  (He was also permitted enough f-bombs for an entire season of HBO Sunday nights.)  After the halting reversals of Seasons 2 and 3, it was invigorating to see Esmail taking big risks again.

What Season 4 lacked was the driving momentum of Season 1, that furious push to overthrow ECorp and change the world.  Whiterose was little more than an abstraction in the final season, and the hacks and heists seemed to be going through the motions.  Individual episodes were brilliant, but the whole felt like less than its parts.  As we approached the therapeutic finale and Our Elliot decided to cooperate with Real Elliot’s other personalities to integrate him back into functional humanity (with an extravagant visual nod to 2001, because Sam Esmail), it all felt oddly mushy, because none of the Elliots had really dealt with their underlying problems.  It’s odd to think of something in Mr Robot as “contrived,” because it was all so deliberately artificial from the start, but the more the series attempted a This Is Us-like warmth, the faker it seemed.

All of this may sound unduly negative, because Mr Robot was often a delight to watch–tense, imaginative and sometimes surprisingly funny. Esmail directed all of the season’s episodes (while also directing every episode of Amazon’s superb Homecoming), and his mastery of the camera and soundtrack were sensational.  Malek did everything in his power to make the various forms of Elliot into more than a construct, and there was marvelous supporting work from Chaikin, Grace Gummer, Christian Slater, Wong and Michael Cristofer.  Even with an ending that felt more imposed than organic, at its best, Mr Robot was breathtaking, and even when it wasn’t quite at that level, it was always essential to watch.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."