The very first shot of the season 3 finale of Mr. Robot frames the family picture of the Aldersons that we’re all so familiar with at this point. The photo’s always been there as a reminder of what these characters have been through. More importantly, it acts as a reminder that Elliot, Darlene, Mr. Robot, and even Angela, in her own “adoptive” kind of way, are all a family. It makes sense to frame that photo at the beginning of “Eps3.9_shutdown-r” because, more than any previous episode, the season finale explores the various pitfalls and triumphs that comes with being part of a family unit, whether you define that as being linked by blood or not.
The familial threads are pulled at almost immediately. As the Dark Army searches Elliot’s apartment for any clue of where he might be, Elliot listens silently from across the hall in Shayla’s old apartment: someone who once occupied a somewhat familial role in his life. When the Dark Army leaves, Elliot takes in his apartment. So does the camera, as Esmail, who wrote and directed the finale, uses a wide shot to take in the mess of the whole apartment. Elliot stands in the middle of that mess, literally and metaphorically. And how does he get out? By convincing the ghost of one family member — his father — to help him rescue another.
Mr. Robot and Elliot have been at odds all season long, or at least that’s been the assumption. They’ve hardly interacted, suggesting that Mr. Robot was taking more and more control of Elliot’s life. “Eps3.9_shutdown-r” flips that idea on its head, instead stating that there’s no real way for Mr. Robot and Elliot to be separated. They are, after all, the same person, which means that they have to work together in order to accomplish whatever they set out to do. It’s a storytelling device that creates tension — can these two come together for a common cause? — but it’s also a statement about reconciling with our past traumas in order to move forward with our lives.
Family is at the heart of this episode, but the tone is still in line with the paranoid political thrillers that I’ve been mentioning all season long. There’s no setting more conducive to the tension of the paranoid political thriller than a parking garage — something All The President’s Men knows all about — and that’s where this episode takes its first disturbing, though not all that shocking, turn.
As Santiago restrains Darlene with a zip tie and stashes her in the back seat of his car, Dom approaches. She’s been wary of him for some time now, even trying to take Darlene’s case through other channels. When that fails, she calmly confronts the man himself. Santiago does his best to lie his way out of another tough spot, but Dom’s having none of it, calling in their superior to back up his story. The scene starts with distance between them. Then Santiago quickly closes it. It’s incredibly disturbing, a subtle threat of violence that is surely all too familiar to many women. That threat turns into actual physicality, as Santiago punches Dom and throws her into the back seat along with Darlene.
While Santiago transports Darlene and Dom to the same secluded location where Tyrell spent weeks chopping wood, where Leon and other Dark Army operatives are waiting for them, Elliot is trying to find anything that will tell him where Darlene went. She doesn’t show up for their rendezvous at the arcade. Elliot pushes over an arcade game in frustration; the broken glass reflects a fractured image of himself. Mr. Robot is the only one he can trust now. He has no choice.
They have a chat while riding the ferris wheel on Coney Island. “I’ve been scared of you,” says Elliot — in the parking garage Santiago asks Dom if she’s scared of him now, echoing the idea that trusting people in this world is a dangerous game. When Mr. Robot says that he wouldn’t have blown up the 71 buildings and would have found another way to hit E Corp, the bridge between him and Elliot is, at least temporarily, rebuilt.
So, Mr. Robot gives him what he knows: that there’s a mole within the FBI. They search Santiago’s apartment for any clues and find another cipher on a Red Wheelbarrow BBQ flyer. There’s no need to solve it though. Irving shows up and interrupts whatever plans Elliot may have had. He’s in the Dark Army’s hands now, but perhaps that’s exactly what he wants. (Recap continues on next page)
In the middle of the woods Mr. Robot crafts one of the show’s most horrific, intense sequences yet. Every major player, save for Angela and Phillip Price, is there, sitting in the barn, or else their presence is felt. Santiago brings Darlene and Dom into the barn, where two masked Dark Army operatives and Leon are waiting for them. Then, Irving shows up with Elliot. There’s an eerie contrast in the panicked looks on the faces of Dom, Elliot, and Darlene, and the calm demeanor of everyone else. Leon scrolls through his phone, and Irving casually takes Dom away from the group.
He’s attempting to clean up the mess that Santiago brought on. Santiago tells Dom to flip and agree to be a part of the Dark Army in order to save her life, but she refuses. Irving has a more efficient, brutal way of fixing all of this. He takes off his shirt, picks up an axe, and swings it into the torso of Santiago. Dom watches as he bleeds out. “You work for the Dark Army now,” says Irving. She replies with an expletive. Irving takes a few more swings at Santiago’s lifeless body, all while talking about which family members of Dom’s he’ll kill first once they leave the woods. The Dark Army knows everything, and this is no negotiation.
As Grant arrives on the scene, to the tune of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” there’s little panic in Elliot. He thinks he holds a power position, that he can find a way out of this. Presumably, Santiago thought the same thing. With Mr. Robot on his side though, maybe Elliot does have a certain amount of power he didn’t before. We get a glimpse into the power dynamic of the Dark Army when Grant arrives and tells Irving that he can’t leave because their job isn’t done yet. Irving grabs Grant and gets in his face. “I was you, years ago,” he says, musing on Whiterose and her ability to get close to people. We’ve long known Irving was no schmuck despite his appearance, but this confirms that if there are rankings within the Dark Army, he’s high up there.
After “Eps3.9_shutdown-r” builds some truly unbearable tension with the drawn-out killing of Santiago and the intimidation of Dom, the episode kicks into another gear, leaving the more patient (but terrifying) actions of Irving behind, and using quick cuts between scenes to create some serious feelings of dread.
Essentially, Esmail rapidly cuts between Angela and Phillip Price having a conversation at the latter’s massive home — his gardener quietly prunes bushes in the background — and Elliot making one last-ditch effort to save his and Darlene’s lives. For Elliot, that means telling Whiterose, who’s watching the events unfold via security camera from her bathtub at home, that he can move her project from the Washington Township to the Congo. I’m fuzzy on the details — it has to do with the U.S. possibly going to war with Iran and a shipment across borders — but it’s exactly what Whiterose wants. So, she makes the exchange, and that means that Grant has served his purpose. “I love you,” she says before Grant hangs up the phone and shoots himself in the head.
Then there’s Angela. Perhaps no one has been through more this season than she has. Whiterose manipulated her into helping set up the cyber bombings. She just wanted her family back. The bombshell Price drops is not what she was expecting though. He says that he knew her mother. In fact, they dated many years ago, but he was cruel to her and unworthy of her love. Thus, when she revealed that she was pregnant, she also pushed Phillip out of her life, not wanting her child to be “raised by a monster.” Angela doesn’t believe Price at first, but he seems so sure in his story that she comes around. Phillip Price is her father, and that’s why he’s always shown an interest in her.
It’s a massive reveal, and yet it feels slightly out of place within this episode — perhaps because so much of the episode, and the season more generally, is about establishing a mysterious atmosphere, so this information just being laid bare feels strange. Who knows what consequences and changes this will bring about next season, but for now it’s clear that Angela is not primed for any sort of redemption arc. She’s not even close to done paying for her sins. (Recap continues on next page)
Whiterose lets Grant go. Tyrell’s family is dead. Once the crisis at the barn is over and Elliot’s deal with Whiterose works out, Dom lays into Darlene. “My life is ruined because of you.”
There’s no hope for emotional relationships here, and isn’t that partly the point of Mr. Robot? To suggest that an emotional connection in a capitalist system is a struggle? That the capitalist machine thrives on conflict? I think so. The bottom line rules all.
So what’s left then? For Elliot, it’s doing what he thinks is right. He uses Dom’s Sentinel login in an attempt to undo the 5/9 hack, but the keyloggers aren’t there. Romero didn’t put them in. Someone else did. Elliot shifts his whole perspective.
And really, that’s what the final moments of this season are all about: shifting perspectives, and the fact that we can never really trust what we’re seeing, both in real life and on our TV screens. So Romero didn’t provide the backup — Mr. Robot did. “Part of me will always be part of you,” says Elliot. The two have come to an understanding now, so Mr. Robot tells him where the extracted data is.
That’s not the biggest shift in perspective though. Rather, it’s Elliot’s entire understanding of his father that’s the biggest shift, and it happens when Darlene brings up the snowman story. Elliot tells her that their father pushed him out of his window and that Darlene must have been too young to remember that. She immediately counters him. She says she was there in the room, and that Elliot, for some reason, snapped. He started swinging a baseball bat around the room, smashing the window, threatening to jump, and then eventually doing it. It seems like the truth, and Elliot accepts it. He accepts Mr. Robot as part of him. “I jumped, I wasn’t pushed,” he tells Mr. Robot later, a mea culpa for shutting him out.
What’s next for these people? Elliot delivers the 5/9 hack fix to E Corp, Darlene is safe, Mr. Robot and Elliot seem to have overcome their differences, and Superman is on TV reversing the orbit of the planet in order to save someone he loves. That’s what they’ve all been trying to do, all season long: bring back the people they love, in one way or another.
Now, though, Elliot’s sights are set on truly taking down the 1 percent, or so he says. What does that mean exactly? We don’t know. But a post-credits sequence suggests that such a task won’t be so easy.
Darlene walks down the street with a sex worker she just met, one who says she doesn’t want to see her student debt come back when Darlene mentions the possibility of the 5/9 hack being reversed, and eventually comes to Elliot’s apartment. A car pulls up blasting music. Four guys get out of the car and approach Darlene. “Can I help you?” she asks before one man spouts an awful lot of nonsensical phrases about being a “brave traveler.” The camera turns to reveal this man, and even the most meticulous of viewers (myself included) are probably left wondering who he is.
That’s because we haven’t seen Fernando Vera since the sixth episode of the first season. He was Shayla’s drug dealer, the one who abused her so badly that Elliot set him up for arrest through an anonymous tip. When Vera found out it was Elliot, he ordered his buddies to kidnap Shayla, using her as leverage to get Elliot to hack him out of prison. Elliot complied and Vera escaped, but as we know Shayla wound up dead, one of the first major losses in Elliot’s life as a potential revolutionary.
So now he’s back. Why? What could he want with Elliot at this point, and does it have something to do with the Dark Army? Just as Mr. Robot provides answers in its most streamlined season yet, it ends with a coda that brings about many more questions.