The five/nine hack has been undone. At least that is what appears to have happened on the season 3 finale of Mr. Robot. The series ends is most recent run with a massive reversal of the events Elliot Alderson, who, under the influence of his anarchic alter ego and with the help of fsociety and the Dark Army, set in motion at the end of the show’s hugely influential first season. Both are positioned as a win for the character and, ironically, for the rest of the world, as Elliot’s hack of E Corp was intended to free average people from the grip of unmanageable debt and the predatory practices of soulless corporations. Instead, it plunged the world into crisis. The revolution Elliot and Mr. Robot envisioned turned into another power play for the same people the hack was intended to render powerless. The revolution failed. Mr. Robot undoes five/nine, and in the process offers itself a chance at a mostly fresh start in season 4.
The move is an interesting one for the series, which had been tacitly tasked with bouncing back from a second season that buckled somewhat under the weight of extraordinary expectations, spending too much time fiddling with a hallucinatory twist that most viewers picked up on from the outset. In contrast, Mr. Robot season 3 felt far more propulsive from the start. Creator Sam Esmail repositioned his characters around the central narrative in ways that reinvigorated the mechanics of the show, in part by setting many of the key players against one another whether they knew it or not.
That was no more apparent than with the season-long separation of Elliot from Mr. Robot. What had once been a sometimes-contentious relationship between the two halves of one fractured mind became a unique twist on the familiar game of cat and mouse, where Elliot was often left wondering what his alter ego had been doing while he just checked out. The idea of losing time, then, became a nightmarish scenario in which Elliot’s race to undo what had been done and prevent something worse from happening could have been rendered moot in the blink of and eye (both his and the viewers, as the season often unfolded from Elliot’s perspective). As such, the actual presence of Mr. Robot took on a different connotation, one that became adversarial and, in effect, altered a core dynamic of the show wherein less time was spent in Elliot’s head since the suspense was in his not knowing what the hell was actually going on in there.
The result made the events unfolding in the post-five/nine world far more interesting and urgent. And with Whiterose and the Dark Army pressing their advantage in the wake of the hack to the extreme, Mr. Robot season 3 arrived at a necessary turning point in the series, one that would eventually prove to reshape the narrative moving forward.
You could be forgiven for thinking season 3 was going to end with a different kind of undoing of the past, as the series made several allusions to the fantastical being a possibility. It was certainly a possibility that Angela believed in and that prompted so many of her actions throughout the season. But in the finale, those hopes were dashed (though not squashed entirely) as rewriting her present didn’t require the use of a large hadron collider or even a DeLorean, but rather Phillip Price’s Darth Vader-like admission that he is her father. The impact this truth will have moving forward isn’t immediately obvious, other than possibly making Phillip’s role in the series more prominent than it already has been. That’s fine, as Michael Cristofer cuts a compellingly cold figure whose adversarial interactions with Whiterose have largely contributed to that thread being as engaging as it has been, especially since the idea of watching the rich and powerful do as they please and largely escape punishment while the world burns around them feels appropriately dispiriting as we round the corner on what has been a dismal 2017.
Diluted from overexposure in popular culture, Price’s disclosure doesn’t pack the same sort of shock for viewers as, say, Vader’s revelation in Empire Strikes Back, but it is certainly in keeping with Mr. Robot’s ongoing love affair with movies and TV shows, and how aspects of both have been threaded into the series’ own plot from time to time. But the shock of the reveal is less important than what it means going forward, as Angela’s mother had been the driving force behind her character’s motivation for much of the series. A big part of her past has now been rewritten, while her belief in Whiterose’s ability to literally do the same has been shattered, leaving Angela's future far more uncertain than it was before.
That is largely the effect of ‘eps3.9_shutdown-r’: to make the uncertainty of what’s to come an appealing prospect for Mr. Robot in season 4. But what the finale does so well is manage its ability o undo large pieces of the show’s story without having the whole thing unravel or come crashing down. Written and directed by Esmail, the finale balances its efforts to reposition its characters while also removing necessary dead weight. That means jettisoning Whiterose’s right-hand man and Agent Santiago, the Dark Army’s FBI mole, who received a memorable sendoff thanks to Bobby Cannavale’s unhinged ax swinging that left Dom to unwillingly fill her former superior's bloody shoes.
Cleaning house and rewriting the past helps to make the season 3 finale more memorable and the thought of what’s to come (in the just-announced fourth season) more enticing. And Esmail delivers the same for Elliot, who not only reconciles with Mr. Robot, but also shows the extent of their separation, by delivering a last-minute hack meant to deliver on Whiterose’s interests in the Congo. The feeling that the additional hack is a little out of left field isn’t helped by Elliot assertions that he’s a more proficient hacker than the entirety of the Dark Army, but like everything else in the episode it serves such a specific purpose that the benefit outweighs the somewhat clumsy execution.
The same is essentially true as Elliot and Mr. Robot reunite and the show again rewrites the past as Darlene explains to her brother their dad never pushed him out a window. Much like the truth of Elliot’s season 1 plunge at the beach, he simply jumped. The reveal is in keeping with the efforts of the season, but it also corrects a piece of Elliot’s past that never quite jived with what we knew of his father or why he would become the manifestation of Elliot’s fractured mind. In essence, this is an effort to rehabilitate the image of Mr. Robot after a season of increasingly antagonistic efforts against his other half, and it works, largely because of how effectively Esmail employs nostalgia. Hiding the key to undoing the five/nine hack in an image of Elliot and his father as Marty and Doc Brown from Back to the Future is a nice touch, one that undoes the animosity between the two characters and ostensibly makes them a force to be reckoned with as the show repositions Elliot’s crusade as a personal one against individual members of the one percent.
That, oddly, isn’t too far removed from what our first taste of the series was, when Elliot hacked and busted a café owner supplementing his income by providing an outlet to pedophiles through a secret internet server. Turning Elliot back into a crusading vigilante isn’t so much a new angle as it is unburdening the character from the weight of the five/nine hack and its failed revolution. And as far as this Mr. Robot season finale is concerned, watching Elliot hit "Enter" and effectively (or presumably) undo the hack was oddly as fulfilling and promising as seeing it come to fruition at the end of season 1. It’s not the end of the story, as the season 4 renewal and post-credits return of Fernando Vera demonstrate, but it does close a major chapter in the story and refocus it attention back on the future, where anything is possible.
Mr. Robot season 4 will premiere in 2018 on USA.
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