Posted on Thursday, September 22nd, 2016 by Corey Atad
I strongly suspect Mr. Robot’s second season finale is going to be divisive. The episode itself was actually quite straightforward—hardly the mindtrip we got last week, which sent some viewers into a tizzy over whether the show might just be too much for them. The trouble the Mr. Robot has run into, rather, is that its first season was merely the beginning of something larger, and now that we’re piecing together that larger story, the smaller moments can come across as less consequential. This is what drives complaints that “nothing is happening” on the show, or that it’s too self-indulgent, or even that it’s lost sight of the plot.
Mad Men used to receive similar complaints, season after season, especially in the home stretch. “It’s the final season, so why are we wasting time on a boring, mysterious waitress instead of Peggy or Joan?” It’s an understandable feeling, and while it may be critically valid, it displays a lack of self-criticism, or self-awareness, at least. It’s easy to look at a series like Mad Men or Mr. Robot through a plot lens, but perhaps not on level with how the show views itself. These are shows where things do happen, what we’re really doing is tracing the emotional and psychological journeys of their characters.
Mr. Robot set itself up for the disappointment with a first season so precisely crafted to deliver plot and psychological exploration in high measure. It had a beginning, middle, and end. It started somewhere, set a clear target, and reached target. Season two easily could have been similar. Now that the world has been changed, the crew sets a new goal, there are new complications, and by the end they reach the goal—or maybe they don’t, but either way there is some kind of catharsis in the plot. That’s not what Sam Esmail decided to do.
Looking back upon season two as a whole, the whole is still difficult to discern. Where did we start, and how did we end up here? Have we moved forward, or just laterally? Or have we actually moved backward? That we’re even left to question this is inherently anticlimactic, but move past the simple demands of plot and it’s clear that Esmail is after a different sort of drama. In a season that began with the statement, “control is an illusion,” the finale made a point of stressing that, illusion or not, control has limits. It’s a circuitous point made in an equally circuitous season that still managed to spin outward, revealing new depth in the characters, new elements of the reality, and new emotional directions the show can delve into, all in new and unexpected ways.
But enough generalities. Let’s get to the episode at hand, what it says about the season we just watched, and what it portends for the show’s future. And as always, BEWARE SPOILERS!