Peter Kramer/USA Network
December 13, 2017 at 11:12 PM EST

Mr. Robot

TV Show
Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin
Current Status
In Season
Crime, Drama
We gave it an A-

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)

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