Mr. Robot series finale recap: The real Elliot Alderson
“Wait, can you hear me again?”
So begins the final two episodes of Mr. Robot, as Elliot is once again talking to us, the viewer. He’s alive, and he’s amazed that he’s alive. He thought for sure he was going to die in the nuclear plant explosion. But something’s kept him alive. It’s Whiterose’s machine. It seems to have worked, and he’s back in Washington Township, but this time it’s a different Washington Township. He’s lying on the pavement in a parking lot where the nuclear plant should be. In this time and place though, there’s a community center in its place.
Elliot can’t believe this is happening. He refuses to believe that Whiterose’s machine actually worked until he can find more proof. He leaves the parking lot as the show drops the needle on the song it had to eventually use: Styx’s “Mr. Roboto.” Elliot wanders into the idyllic downtown core of Washington Township. “Secret, secret, I’ve got a secret,” goes the song. He sees the Mr. Robot shop, the one run by his father. It shouldn’t be there; it’s been gone for 20 years, ever since his father died. “My monster is still alive,” he says.
He’s beginning to piece things together, slowly. Wherever Elliot finds himself right now, it’s not the world of the nuclear plant explosion. This is somewhere else, and his father is not only alive and well, but he also seems to have a good relationship with his son. Elliot wanders to his old house and finds his mother. She’s happy to see him too. None of this makes sense. None of this is the fraught, trauma-inducing family he’s used to. This is something different. A different time or a different place. His childhood bedroom is in a different place, and there’s no Darlene in this timeline. Has Elliot finally escaped his past trauma? Has Whiterose’s machine allowed him to start over? Is it worth it if there’s no Darlene in his life?
“Is this the world I fought so hard for?” Elliot wonders. He hears from his mother that not only is Angela still alive, but that they’re getting married the next day. Elliot’s face lights up. In this world, he’s marrying Angela. It’s all he’s ever wanted. He goes to her apartment in an effort to prove that this is all happening but doesn’t find Angela. but Her parents there, along with a friendly, if potentially alcoholic, version of Phillip Price. Elliot is beginning to see how this life has taken shape, and he’s starting to believe that he can just step right into it and live in this fantasy. Of course, that’s not so easy. The Elliot of this timeline calls Angela’s mother. Elliot answers and hears his own voice. Another tremor shakes Washington Township, and Elliot runs away.
He’s confused and scared. He never thought there’d be another Elliot in this wolrd where he doesn’t actually belong. Anything is possible at this point. Elliot heads to his apartment and sees it in its current state. “This guy is definitely not me,” he quips. He hacks into his computer to find out who this Elliot is. He sees he’s social, happy, always laughing in pictures. Elliot is convinced there’s dirt here somewhere, because no one can be this happy. He finds a hidden partition on the hard drive. He opens it, and things get extra weird: the drive contains sketches of everyone in Elliot’s life: Darlene, Trenton, Mobley, and even a sketch of himself in his black hoodie. How? How is this possible?
Elliot 2 comes home and sees Elliot 1 at his computer. He threatens to call the cops, but he’s also curious about how this guy that looks like him can be in his home. Elliot 1 sits down and tries to explain himself and figure out what’s happening. Elliot 2 explains that his sketches are characters he makes up in his head when he’s bored; the vigilante hacker, his sidekick, and a hacker collective by the name of fsociety. Elliot 2 doesn’t want to be this person, who’s sad and lonely and angry, but he still likes imagining his more exciting life. Still, he’s not “normal.” Elliot 1 can hardly argue that point.
Then, everything goes off the rails. When the two Elliots touch, another tremor hits. Elliot 2 goes down, something smacking him in the head and laying him out. Angela calls Elliot 2’s phone, and Elliot 1 picks up. He talks to her, his eyes welling with tears. “Of course I love you. I’ve always loved you,” he says. This is everything he’s ever wanted. Now that he knows Angela is alive, right here right now, he can’t turn away. He can’t go back to anything else. This is the life he wants. Elliot 2 wakes up and pleads with Elliot 1 to call an ambulance. He can’t move. Something is seriously wrong. Elliot 1 looks into the camera and tells us not to judge him. He covers Elliot 2’s mouth and suffocates him. He has literal blood on his hands as horror movie strings swell in the foreground, overwhelming us in this moment of pure violence. What has Elliot done?
Elliot 2 is dead. Elliot 1 is late for wedding photos at Coney Island. Well, Elliot 2 is technically the one who’s late, but this is Elliot 1’s life now. We can just call him Elliot from here on out.
Elliot puts his other, dead self in a box and tapes it shut. He’s fully unhinged now, so desperate to escape the trauma of his life that he actually believes he can just take over in this world. “Wherever you go, I go,” says Mr. Robot as he shows up again. He’s trying to talk some sense into Elliot, trying to show him that simply taking over this “normal” life won’t be easy. “We’re in a world where everything’s better,” says Elliot, laying out his case for staying here and marrying Angela. “Not for him,” says Mr. Robot, gesturing at the cardboard box.
Elliot can’t exist in this world though, no matter how much he wants to. That becomes clear very quickly, to us at least. But Elliot is so blinded by his desperation, by this promise of a life with Angela, that he can’t see how wrong it is. He tries to leave the apartment, decked out in his wedding tuxedo and schlepping the box to the parked Cadillac outside when he’s confronted by Dom, a street cop. It doesn’t take long for her to become suspicious and open the box. Another tremor and Elliot runs away again, evading Dom by hopping on the subway. Mr. Robot pleads with him to stop and really think about this, but Elliot is so far gone. He’s embracing the delusion.
Elliot gets to Coney Island, and the delusion begins to slip. Things get weird. This isn’t some sort of alternate timeline. The beach wedding is ready to go, but all the guests are wearing fsociety masks. Angela is there but she’s running away to the arcade. Something isn’t right. That’s when Mr. Robot shows up to reveal everything to Elliot, and to us. We can finally understand who this “other” person is, and why it matters.
Mr. Robot begins his explanation. Whiterose’s machine didn’t work. Elliot destroyed it by playing that game, just like he said he would. This isn’t some alternate, ideal timeline. It’s a creation of Elliot’s own mind, a space where he stores the fantasy of a normal, happy life. It’s a “recursive loop that you constructed to keep him occupied.” “Who?” asks Elliot. “The real Elliot,” says Mr. Robot.
No need to dance around it. This is the essence of it: the Elliot we’ve been watching for four seasons isn’t the “real” Elliot, but rather another persona he created to handle his rage and anger towards the world. This persona, the one in the hoodie who can hack anything and who wants to make the world a better place, is called The Mastermind.
The Mastermind isn’t ready to accept this. He can’t be a persona, he must be the real Elliot. He runs through Coney Island, confronted by the face of Mr. Robot on every person he sees. Then he runs into Tyrell. The fever dream pulls him in, and Tyrell shoots him. Elliot wakes up in Krista’s office. “But you’re not really Krista,” he says. No, she’s not, but she’s the most trustworthy, truthful person in his life, and all the personas that Elliot has created in his life have decided that she’s the one that needs to convince him of his status as one of those personas.
Elliot can hear Darlene’s voice telling him to wake up. Elliot asks about it. Krista tells him that Darlene is absent from this created world because she’s his strongest link to reality. By keeping Darlene out of this world, the real Elliot could live in this space longer without questioning anything, allowing The Mastermind to essentially take over full time. Elliot’s disassociative identity disorder led to the creation of numerous personas. Mr. Robot, who was the protector; Elliot’s mother, who played the role of persecutor, the one who blamed him for everything; the Younger Elliot, there to shoulder the burden of his trauma. Then, The Mastermind, meant to “save the entire world to make it better for him. Turning his harsh reality into a fantasy.”
Your thoughts on this series finale are probably completely tied up in whether or not you like this twist. To some, it might feel like a cop-out. They might feel cheated by the thought that the Elliot we’ve been watching this whole time isn’t the “real” Elliot. But to me, the more I mull it over, the more I like what this two-part finale has done. The Deus Group hack was the proper conclusion to the four-season story, and this finale feels like an epilogue, one that doesn’t stand alone in the series but does feel a bit removed from everything else. This is an addendum to the story of revolution, and one that shows us that this was just one part of Elliot’s life. We’ve been given a snapshot of a complicated individual who’s created personas to deal with the world, and it’s been one hell of a ride.
I also think that once the episodes get beyond the logistics of the twist, the emotional heft is significant. We watch as Elliot, or rather The Mastermind, wakes up at JFK Memorial. He’s survived the explosion. Whiterose is dead. A nuclear meltdown was avoided. Most importantly, Darlene is there, by Elliot’s side.
The Mastermind comes clean, admitting to Darlene that he’s not Elliot, that he’s just a part of him. Darlene admits that she’s known this ever since they started fsociety, and ever since he forgot who she was way back when. She knew something had changed, but she needed to be there for him like she wasn’t there for him before. So, she stuck around and fought for him. This whole season has been about Darlene and Elliot growing closer and healing old wounds. This bedside conversation is the final bit of healing. Darlene wants to know if the real Elliot is okay. The Mastermind assures her he is; “I made a safe place for him.”
Now, The Mastermind must relinquish control. His purpose has been served. He retires to the movie theatre where the other personas are waiting for him. They’ve all served their purpose, just by showing up. And in the end, that’s how the show posits change comes about. You show up every day and do your best to make the world a better place and to love and connect with the people closest to you. You do this in the face of cynicism, corruption, climate change, and fascism. You do it again and again because it’s worth it, because it’s necessary.
The lens of the movie theater projector grows and grows, morphing into an eye. It blinks once, then blinks again. A tear forms. Darlene comes into view. “Hello Elliot,” she says. The real Elliot, the one we never got to truly know, is back, and maybe now those personas can finally take it easy and stay in that theater. Maybe now, with his relationships healed, the real Elliot can move on and navigate this new world, this world where the Deus Group is no longer in control. For a show that often traded in paranoia, anger, and fear, Mr. Robot ends on a hopeful note. A man comes back to himself, and to his family, and maybe the world is a better place because of it.