'Mr. Robot' - The 5 Things We Learned In The Season 2 Finale

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. 

Mr Robot Season 2 Finale Recap

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.

Mr Robot Season 2 Finale Recap

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!

Mr Robot Season 2 Finale Recap

Joanna’s Torment

All this time it had seemed that Joanna had some sort of motive beyond just Tyrell himself. That maybe she was the brains of the operation, but Tyrell was the tool. That may still be true, in fact. She certainly seems more commanding than he ever was. But this season, all the gifts she's received, and the phone calls from silent mystery men, and the man she has on the side, have meant something much more fundamental than any plans she has for their future. Because of course the future can't be theirs if Tyrell isn't around. Her story this season has been the simplest of all. A love lost, and the unwillingness to accept it.

Now, she's right not to accept it, but as it turns out, she was wrong to based that impulse on the phone calls—the gifts are a little more ambiguous, I think. The whole time, it was Scott, the CTO of E Corp, making those calls. Distraught after losing his wife, he decided to make Joanna feel the same pain he felt. And it wasn't just losing her that got to him, either. As he tells Joanna, that same day he also got his promotion to CTO, and went with his wife for their first sonogram. It was his best day, and then his worst day. And he wanted Joanna to live in that pain the same way.

Mr Robot Season 2 Finale Recap

That it turned out not to be Tyrell is a surprise in itself, but it also clarified Joanna's real motivation over the course of the season. Her love for her husband stretching to believe even the least likely ideas that would hint he's still alive. Of course, this being Joanna, she still finds a way to turn the revelation into something sinister, provoking Scott in a moment of high emotion to strangle and beat her face, all with the purpose of framing him. It turns out, in fact, that she's been planning this all along. Her boy toy was a caterer at the party where Scott's wife died, she would convince him to lie and say he saw Scott coming down from the roof. That it turned out Scott was the one calling her? A great gift, after all. It all goes back to the depth of her love for him and their marriage. The big question now is, what happens when she and Tyrell are reunited?

Mr Robot Season 2 Finale Recap

Darlene’s Breaking Point

Darlene is alive. Cisco is dead. This was predictable, and a relief, but also tragic. Darlene never got into this envisioning people would be killed. Now, there she sits in an interrogation room, face-to-face with Dom and Santiago, Cisco's blood all over her jacket, backed into a real corner. This being Darlene, she remains obstinate. Dom merely speaks, and already Darlene goes into a rehearsed spiel invoking the Fifth Amendment. When Santiago pushes her, saying she's subject to the Patriot Act—and makes a reference to this not being a "blue skies" USA show like Burn Notice—she remains steadfast. Santiago stays, leaving Dom to try on her own, but Darlene is too smart for her in a certain way. That is, she sees right through Dom.

Darlene has lost much. She has lost her "one true love," as she somewhat melodramatically states. She's killed someone. She's learned her has been keeping his plans from her—not realizing that he probably didn't even know himself, or maybe that doesn't matter. She's not "special." She's wrong, of course. The definition of special is hardly ironclad. Elliot is special by virtue of his talent, I suppose, but what Darlene sees in him probably has more to do with the fact that his mental illness removes reasonable barriers of good judgment. He reaches further, but as we come to see, without much thought to the real consequences.

Mr Robot Season 2 Finale Recap

So Elliot is special. Sure. Is Darlene not? Dom says she is. But again, we're talking about distinctions without difference here. She's extremely talented, determined, and loving. More than those things, she's able to adjust to new realities with relative ease. The weight of her actions bears down on her, but the world outside provides opportunity to transcend. In that sense, she's hardly different from Elliot. She's no less, certainly.

She's not going to break, either. Not with the technique's Dom is using. Darlene gets the good cop routine. It's fake, and Darlene doesn't have time for fake. Even Dom's mountain of physical evidence isn't enough. So Dom take another tact, one that Santiago disagrees with, but she forces his hand. Dom walks Darlene through the FBI office, past all the people who have been hunting her, into a boardroom with whiteboards on every wall. There, before Darlene's eyes, is the whole shebang. Everyone. Dom waited, she says, for something to happen and everyone to scurry, in order to piece it all together. It turns out Romero's death was simply an accident, a stray bullet from the next apartment. But that death caused them all to batten down, which is ultimately what led Dom to them. And now she's got it all. Every face connected with fsociety—though I believe Trenton wasn't on there—with all their individual links to one another, and all coming to the two central figures: Elliot and Tyrell.

If this isn't Darlene's breaking point, I'm not sure what is.

Mr Robot Season 2 Finale Recap

Tyrell’s Revelation

Tyrell is back and acting stranger than ever. But before that, we get a flashback to that meeting we saw last year between him and Mr. Robot, only this time we see it as it really was, with Elliot instead of his father. It's actually quite fascinating to see. Elliot is so self-assured. Like he's playing the cool hero in a movie. Hell, that's probably exactly how he views himself in Mr. Robot mode. The scene wasn't really about Elliot, though. Tyrell is uniquely unhinged, and it seems that between his daddy issues—the guy recites William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow" to remind himself to be better than his father—and his bizarre psychological condition, he's especially susceptible to Elliot-as-Mr.-Robot's grandiosity.

What he gathers from Elliot's plan is nothing less than godliness. He has seen in Elliot the truth of revelation. Elliot is his prophet, and so the immorality of their plan takes one supremely moral dimension in his mind. This is why he's been able to live in hiding, and have no contact with his wife, and even do the unthinkable in this very episode. The most curious thing about Tyrell remains "the plan." What does he see happening? What does he see for the future result? And what place does he see for himself in that future? Whatever it is, he believes he's glimpsed the face of God, and he's willing to go to any length for the light to shine on him.

Mr Robot Season 2 Finale Recap

Elliot’s Defeat

So it's come to this. Elliot lying on the floor, bleeding out, dying. This whole season, Elliot has been playing games with himself in order to regain control of his mind. Everything he's tried has failed in the end, but finally we come to see the real result of his wrestling Mr. Robot: Elliot no longer trusts himself. That is his downfall. His defeat.

Elliot follows Tyrell into the abandoned building they've apparently been using this whole time to ready Stage 2. The only trouble is, Elliot still doesn't know what the hell Stage 2 is. What he does know is that everybody else, Tyrell, the Dark Army, all of them are in cahoots, and all of them believe Elliot is the ringleader. Some ringleader. Tyrell shows him the completed plan on a computer. Crucially, the computer is hooked up to UPSes to prevent the brownouts from affecting it. On the screen are blueprints and some code, but Elliot still doesn't understand. It's beyond him.

Mr Robot Season 2 Finale Recap

Finally, as Tyrell begins describing what's going to happen, it floods back to Elliot. They've arranged all of E Corp's backup paper records to be transported to one building in the middle of New York. A tall, imposing, Brutalist structure with no windows. And now, with all the paper records finally in one place, they're going to use code to set off a chain of events that will blow the building up, presumably putting the final nail in E Corp's coffin. But it would also be incredibly damaging. People would die. This is too much for Elliot.

Why was Mr. Robot lying to him this whole time? He said he was protecting Elliot, but how is this protection at all? The way it seems, Mr. Robot was protecting the plan from Elliot. He's too human. He cares too much about people. He would not let this plan pass if he was under his full capacities. Mr. Robot was the side of himself he devised to allow him to do these extraordinary and terrible things. And now, in a final move, Mr. Robot has been distracting Elliot while Tyrell begins implementing the hack.

Mr Robot Season 2 Finale Recap

Elliot won't let that happen, taking over the computer, and dismantling the backdoor that would allow Stage 2 to go into action. That's when Tyrell pulls a gun on him. The gun, in fact, that Elliot had taken from the popcorn machine. He had told Tyrell to use it to stop anyone who might get in the way. That person has turned out to be Elliot himself, and Tyrell intends to follow the directive. In that moment, Elliot begins to doubt his own mind. He believes with full force that Tyrell is just another component of himself. Another Mr. Robot. And why shouldn't he be? But then he shoots, and Elliot feels the pain, unlike when Mr. Robot shot him in the season premiere. The blood begins pouring and he drops to the floor. Mr. Robot begins flickering in and out as Elliot falls unconscious. In the end it was his lack of trust in his own mind that brought him to this place. For all the control he thought he could have, the fact that he needed to wrestle at all was more dangerous than anything. Mr. Robot has won. For now.

Mr Robot Season 2 Finale Recap

Everyone’s Future

What's in store at this point is anyone's guess. I have to imagine, based on the power going out in the city during the final scene, that Stage 2 is going to happen and the building will be destroyed. What spirals out from there is beyond my imagination. But what's clear is that Angela is now heavily involved. She receives a call, and it's from Tyrell. She knew the call was going to happen, and what's more, she knew it would be about Elliot having been shot. "I love him," Tyrell says. "I do, too," Angela replies. We have entered into something new here, and when Elliot wakes up next season, it will once again be to a new reality.

Meanwhile, after the credits we got an extra scene with Mobley and Trenton outside a Fry's, where they now work. Trenton has discovered something. Something potentially big. It might be a way to reverse all the damage they did, she says. Is that even possible? What would that look like. And then someone interrupts them. Leon! Oh boy, next season is going to be interesting.

Mr Robot Season 2 Finale Recap

Stray Thoughts

  • Some more excellent music in this episode, including Kraftwerk's "Hall of Mirrors." This season has featured great soundtrack choices all around, and Mac Quayle's score has been equally brilliant.
  • Dom knew about the movie the mask was from! She was clearly a weird kid.
  • 6,000 FBI agents seems like a lot for just one case, even one this size. Money to burn, Director Comey?
  • Is there a Stage 3 once Stage 2 is complete? Is that what next season will be about, or are we onto something completely different? I'm eager to see how Sam and his team surprise us next year.