mr. robot shutdown review

(We’re going to kickstart our weekly discussion of USA’s Mr. Robot season 3 by answering one simple question: who had the biggest mental breakdown in this week’s episode?)

Long after the final credits rolled for “Shutdown,” the lyrics of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang” echoed in my head. “Bang bang/ He shot me down / bang bang / I hit the ground / Bang bang /that awful sound /bang bang / my baby shot me down.” I say Nancy Sinatra (sorry, Cher fans) even though the version of “Bang Bang” that was played in this episode was the Chinese version of the song, because it perfectly captures the haunting, quietly tragic mood of “Shutdown.”

The gripping third season ended not with a bang, but not quite a whimper either. That’s not to say “Shutdown” was a bad episode — far from it. It was a deftly paced and surprisingly subdued season finale for Mr. Robot, a show that writer/creator Sam Esmail has built up to regularly shock and upend audience expectations. But there were few complex machinations in the season 3 finale. “Shutdown” hinged on vulnerable character confessions and moments of clarity, as well as a few shocks of visceral brutality that Mr. Robot has become known for. Instead of an explosive follow-up to an adrenaline-packed and plot-heavy season, Esmail went for a different surprise: that of humble introspection.. And damn it, Esmail did it again.

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This Week’s Breakdown: Dom

“Music played and people sang /Just for me the church bells rang…”

Dom was introduced as a slightly pitiful character — and now her arc gets an equally pitiful and bitter ending. Grace Gummer has had a relatively thankless role up until now, playing the stoic ace FBI agent always kept on the outskirts of the action, so it was long time coming that she had her due. And she plays Dom’s raw, aching vulnerability so well. There was a glimpse of that lonely-heart vulnerability in last week’s penultimate episode, but I couldn’t tell whether she was trying to play Darlene too. But here it’s out in the open, and it’s heart-wrenching.

Dom gets the biggest revelation of her life when she discovers that her superior, Santiago, is the Dark Army mole. The unflagging FBI agent that she is, she barely lets it rankle her — it’s only when she’s being led to an execution block by Santiago and Irving outside of Tyrell’s old farmhouse that we finally see her cold countenance be shattered. Irving (Bobby Cannavale, once again stealing the show with his casual menace) calmly reassures Dom as she breaks down crying, resolute in her principles but horrified at facing her imminent death. “Look at the sky,” he says soothingly. “Try to enjoy the fresh air.” And in a classic Mr. Robot moment of shocking violence, we cut from a blue, nearly cloudless sky to Irving hurling an axe at Santiago’s chest, the blood splattering on Dom’s face. It’s a ghastly moment, made even more so because this is where Dom and Irving both crack. Irving screams, for the first time since we’ve met this odd and apathetic salesman, and Dom weeps as she agrees to be the new FBI mole.

I wonder if this will be the last we see of Dom — a compromised agent, spitting venomously at Darlene. The Dark Army is ostensibly no longer a major player in Elliot’s life anymore, having achieved what they wanted. Perhaps Dom will fade into memory as the ghostly apparition she has always appeared to be — on the fringes, on the edge of Darlene’s mind as another life she has ruined.

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Compromised

“Seasons came and changed the time / When I grew up, I called him mine…”

Christian Slater may have received his third Golden Globe nod this year, but it’s Rami Malek who proves time and again why he is the star of this show. The Globes has long overlooked Rami Malek’s frantic, unhinged performance, and it was in full, desperate display in this episode. Elliot is in flight-or-fight mode for the entirety of the episode, frightened that his actions have put Darlene right in the crosshairs of the Dark Army. He panics, trashing fsociety’s arcade, in hopes that it would draw out Mr. Robot. But his pleas for help fall on deaf ears, and the flurry of emotions that flash across Malek’s face as he goes from panicked, despondent, to guilty, is a sight to behold. “This is on me,” he repeats to himself, slumping to the floor.

But this all leads up to the first scene shared between Malek and Slater all season. While keeping the two actors separately hasn’t hurt the series — it’s only served the heighten the isolation and narrow POVs that season 3 has been going for — it is comforting to bask in Malek and Slater’s crackling chemistry again. Though Mr. Robot frequently plays with Elliot’s dissociative identity disorder as a plot device, with Mr. Robot himself never developing beyond the disaffected, wrathful maverick, the compromise between them is real climax of this episode. The scene between them on the ferris wheel is one of many shots that echo the first season — the subway where they first met, the station where they frequently met — which feed into Esmail’s frequent hints of a return to the beginning, a restart. They may not be able to return to the wary friendship they first had, but Elliot can finally accept that Mr. Robot is a pivotal part of himself, and vice versa. It’s a moment of self-acceptance that happens quietly, but it speaks volumes.

mr robot shutdown

Bang Bang

“He didn’t even say goodbye / He didn’t take the time to lie…”

Detained by Irving, Elliot and Mr. Robot are brought to Tyrell’s barn (Tyrell noticeably absent from this episode) to join the captive Darlena and Dom, watched by Santiago and Leon. It’s a mundane, naturalistic place to hold the climax of the episode, but it works to amplify the extreme emotions and actions of each character. If you were to block out what happened in this episode — apart from Irving’s attack against Santiago — nothing much really happens. People yell at each other, have tense conversations, Whiterose takes a bath. But it just works.

The episode hinged on character-driven betrayals and compromises. Elliot and Mr. Robot. Dom and Darlene. Irving and Grant. Angela and Philip Price. Whiterose and Grant.

It all plays out in one tense scene, the episode skillfully cutting between the barn and Philip Price’s mansion, where Angela is being held. Tensions rise to a boiling point in the barn as Leon’s gun settles against Darlene’s head, Elliot desperately yelling that he can cut a deal with the Dark Army, finally promising to send their assets to the Congo — a plan Whiterose had been working on for months. Meanwhile, Angela coldly addresses Philip outside his mansion, refusing to listen to his explanations until he drops the bomb: he’s her father. The back-and-forth is one of Mr. Robot‘s most understated scenes, but the swelling electronic synths compounded by eerie strings make it another brilliant moment for the books. It ends in sudden silence, when Leon everyone in the barn except Darlene, Dom, Elliot, and Grant, and Angela staring in disbelief at Philip. As the strings slowly swell again, Grant receives a call from Whiterose bidding him a tearful goodbye as Angela finally breaks down crying, horrified at the lives she helped take.

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Live With What You Did

“He wore black and I wore white / He would always win the fight…”

The only winners here are the Dark Army, who promise to leave Elliot and co. alone now that they’ve received what they wanted all along. Elliot and Darlene are left with their empty promises of undoing the hack. But Esmail’s hints of a better parallel world were all for naught. They can never bring things back to how they were before. The only action that can be taken for everyone is what Philip Price tells Angela when she foolishly asks for retribution: “Live with what you did.” Those hints that Esmail kept planting of a better world were little more than clues at Elliot’s own self-determination — not some fantastical twist of parallel dimensions. Those Back to the Future hints were no more than a clue at Elliot and his father’s increasingly murky relationship. It’s a damning revelation, one that indicts the viewers who hope that we live in “the darkest timeline” and that things can snap back to better times.

But Elliot is determined, and maybe in denial. He may have made peace with himself, but he will be at peace with the world — resolving to go after the top 1% of the top 1% that had been revealed to Mr. Robot to control everything.

While Elliot plots, Darlene is faced with reality, in the form of a college-educated prostitute who tells her that the only way to fix the “crony capitalism” of the world is an act of God. That’s when Darlene is suddenly faced with a familiar character now calling himself “a brave traveler who has finally come home.” It’s the drug kingpin who Elliot helped imprison and bust out of prison — only to find that he had killed Shayla. He’s back, and more threatening than ever — offering an enticing hint at where the upcoming season 4 will go.

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