It makes sense that a show about the shadowy people that come at us through our screens would delight in trolling its audience. And delight is the word here: Creator Sam Esmail is all but grinning like the Cheshire Cat at us. After this week's mind-boggling season finale climax, as we're all shouting "What the fuuuuck?!" from our sofas, he cuts to a television pundit with the phrase "WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING?" emblazoned across the bottom of the screen.
But seriously. What is really happening?
So Tyrell's really real, and he really shot Elliot in the stomach, and Angela is in cahoots with him and seems to be totally cool with the fact that he nearly murdered her best friend/soulmate. And also, the E Corp V.P. is in love with the hallucinating hacker? By his own admission? That's a hell of a lot to spring on us in the last few minutes of the season.
Tyrell spent this whole season being a spectre haunting the edge of the action — the FBI and Joanna both hunting him, and Elliot trying to ascertain whether or not Mr. Robot murdered him with the ol' "gun in the popcorn machine" trick. Now he's roared back in, weirdly jovial and walking around in the open unmolested despite being the most wanted man on the planet. It's … weird.
Elliot discovers what the man he thought he killed and his imaginary friend have been up to: conspiring with the Dark Army to blow up the building that houses all of E Corp's paperwork, thereby finishing the work they started with the Five/Nine hack. The eensy-weensy catch is that everyone inside that building will be destroyed along with the paper trail. It's the cost of doing (or rather, undoing) business; Elliot, naturally, is duly horrified.
All signals pointed to Tyrell being yet another of Elliot's imaginings. Listen to the music, Kraftwerk's "Hall of Mirrors," playing as the two walk into their secret hideout: "He made up the person he wanted to be / And changed into a new personality." Look at the way Elliot is framed as he weighs the gravity of his situation: Mr. Robot and Tyrell each flanking him, reflections of each other.
He comes to a singularly solipsistic conclusion, delivered by (Emmy-winning actor!) Rami Malek with shining eyes: "I'm the only one that exists!" But a very real bullet says otherwise.
This episode is full of mirror images, but maybe the most potent one is Dom and Darlene facing each other across an interrogation table. (And can we just say – we're so glad Darlene's not dead. Mr. Robot would be a far less interesting place without Carly Chaikin in it.) These two have met their match in each other – two super smart, lonely, frustrated women who are consistently underestimated by those around them. Dom tries to play the let's-be-pals card, but her quarry isn't having it. "If you want any more details, the answer is suck a dick," she says, fingers flicking across Cisco's bloodstains on her jacket.
Little does she know that the agent, who has been underestimated all season by her fellow Feds, has absolutely everything on her. In deliciously anticipatory slo-mo, Dom leads her perp to a room containing a flow chart that near-perfectly links the key players in the Five/Nine hack. She's been playing the long game, and playing it right. (The diagram is also extremely useful for confused viewers; we wouldn't be surprised if something similar is hanging up in the Mr. Robot writers' room.)
But the undisputed queen of the slow build-up is surely Joanna Wellick. She's figured out that the "gifts" she's been receiving all season came not from her missing husband, but from Scott Knowles. Y'know, the guy whose pregnant wife Tyrell murdered in cold blood? Joanna goads the CTO into attacking her, then turns around and uses her bruises as a way to convince her sweet, simple boyfriend to give falsified evidence that would pin the man as the killer. Her story has dragged this season, but the extravagant reveal of her master plan made the wait worthwhile.
Alas, that's really the only loose end that's tied up in this largely frustrating finale. It's one thing to close on a cliffhanger, but it's another to raise a whole bunch of new questions while failing to answer any of the old ones. Such as: What's the deal with the Dark Army and Washington Township? What the heck did Whiterose say to Angela? And for chrissakes, what happened with that dang gun in the popcorn machine?
There's no denying that this season lacked the focus and propulsive drive of Mr. Robot's stunning freshman year. But it made up for it with bold stylistic experimentation, a broader scope and the introduction of a magnetic new character in Dom. On balance, we'll take it.
- So apparently all these "Red Wheelbarrow" Easter eggs scattered around the season were because Tyrell's dad used to recite the poem to him as a kid. Not exactly the most stunning reveal ever.
- Trenton (who is notably missing from Dom's flowchart) and Mobley are hiding out under assumed names in Phoenix, thousands of miles from blackout-benighted New York. But Leon — Elliot's prison savior and Dark Army henchman — tracked them down. That can't bode well.
- "Fuck her and her fetus corpse" might be the most hard-core fightin' words ever broadcast. When Joanna Wellick goes for the jugular, she really sinks her teeth in.
- "You are not on some TV show. This isn't Burn Notice. Characters like you are not welcome here," a Fed tells Darlene in a bizarre meta reference to Mr. Robot's channel, USA Network. Looks like we're not the only ones getting trolled by Esmail.