When you take a moment to think about it, 2019 has kind of been the year of endings. Such a large number of things that I love have been calling it quits this year. Whether it was Game of Thrones, The Good Place/BoJack Horseman (really ending in 2020 but 2019 started the ball rolling), Endgame is ushering a new era for the MCU, the final chapter in Breaking Bad was written with El Camino, and now the Skywalker side of Star Wars is a couple of weeks away from wrapping. I’ve kind of run the emotional gambit this year when it comes to the pop culture items that I love. I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, I’ve shaken my head, I’ve stared blankly into space trying to process what life is, and mostly I’ve said some sort of farewell to things that have become an everyday part of life. That’s a tough thing to do. I want to say that all this emotional turmoil has made me stronger but the truth is, I’m not entirely sure. I’m tired. Rundown. Desperately in need of a hug. And wondering where to turn to next.
Before I can look ahead, I still have one more goodbye to make. The final season of USA’s Mr. Robot has been quietly flying under the radar, outside of a much deserved Golden Globe nomination for Rami Malek, and I’m not emotionally ready to let this show walk off into the sunset. There’s just something about superb storytelling that is intoxicating. It gives off this high that carries you through the day despite the fact that the latest episode had you sobbing at eight o’clock in the morning. These are the types of stories and storytelling that inspires you to create. The stuff that’s so good that you want to get off your ass and do something. Sam Esmail has that with Mr. Robot and each episode this season has left me not only wanting more but with a deep appreciation for what he’s created.
Mr. Robot has never been afraid to take chances or to be something entirely different. This series has done a full episode without dialogue, an 80’s sitcom with a guest appearance with Alf, and an uninterrupted episode that came across as one massive tracking shot allowing the tension to coarse through your veins until you couldn’t breathe. On paper, it may seem that these are just gimmick episodes mean to draw in viewers but Esmail never allows the gimmick to take away from the character or the narrative. If anything, it only enhances your emotions and attachment. There is a beauty to the unorthodox that makes the show shine all the brighter.
I once wondered if Mr. Robot was reaching Breaking Bad status and I still feel that way despite what the ratings say. Esmail has created a television show that is layered, nuanced, socially relevant, and unlike anything else on television. Like all good stories, Esmail makes you work for it and the payoff has been extraordinary. Think back to the moment you discovered Mr. Robot was a mental projection or that Elliot was in jail. Al those moments have been earned and carried the weight they’ve deserved. I’ve sat on my couch and cried with Elliot as he discovered the dark secret Mr. Robot has been hiding from him. I’ve pondered just what the hell White Rose is building in the Congo and spun the time travel conspiracy theories. I’ve gasped with the tension as characters make it just in time or just a minute short. I’ve downloaded the songs that perfectly match slow-motion walk reveals or heartbreaking airport runs. Esmail wants you to care. He wants it to hurt. He wants it to matter. And Mr. Robot has gone a long way of making sure it matters.
When I wrote that Breaking Bad comparison three years ago, I couldn’t have known that the two shows would share another similarity concerning their final seasons. I have often said that Ozymandias, the single greatest episode of television ever, was the true ending of Breaking Bad. The two episodes, and now film, that have followed were the epilogue. Wrapping the story up in a bow and bringing it home. But for all intent and purposes, Breaking Bad ends in the desert with Walter White losing everything leaving his family in ashes. That’s the true ending and with three episodes of Mr. Robot left, I’m starting to wonder if we’re starting to head in the same direction.
Episodes 4×08 and 4×09 (“Conflict” and “Gone”) seemed to have wrapped the larger conflict up rather neatly. After four seasons it looks like Elliot, Darlene, and F-Society have finally defeated the Dark Army. Exposing the one percent of the one percent, making their presence known, bringing them to their knees, and distributing their wealth Robin Hood-style is the victory we’ve wanted for Elliot. After the 5/9 Hack, this has been a character who has struggled not only with himself but with ways to make amends with his actions. This final hack seems like he’s made things pretty square. White Rose is broke and on the run with the Dark Army is all but ruined. One would think that that would serve as one hell of an ending. Our little hacker who could brought the man down, just as he intended. The everyday person has been given a voice and the playing field has been leveled. That would make for one hell of an ending, and that’s why it is.
Even the latest episode, “Gone” served as a heartbreaking reminder that storybook endings don’t always exist in real life. Darlene and Dom, who I ship so very hard, were so close to starting a new life together but in typical Mr. Robot fashion were just mere seconds apart. Darlene’s panic attack forces her into the bathroom to collect herself while Dom dramatically returns and boards the plane only to find Darlene gone. It’s bittersweet… hell, it’s crushing but it gives both characters what they need. Darlene is suddenly in charge of her own destiny and Dom is on her way to finding some sort of inner peace. While they aren’t together at least they’re able to positively impact each other’s lives. A sad, but hopeful, ending.
With all that resolution all we have left now is the epilogue. The what comes next. Elliot’s already won his battle against the Dark Army and White Rose but can he win the battle within himself? Will we find out who this mysterious other personality in his head is? The one that apparently woke up to speak to Darlene. And how will this play into White Rose’s project?
It has long since been believed that whatever she’s been creating down in the Congo has to do with time travel. White Rose almost openly admitted the possibility during her phone conversation with Elliot during “Conflict” as she promised him another chance to see Angela… who was murdered in the opening scenes of this season. Look at Mr. Robot telling Elliot that he wishes that he could have prevented all this pain. Of course, Elliot says then he wouldn’t be him, and he’s right, but it still opens the door to the possibility of an Elliot without pain. Everything that’s happened to him has brought him to his victory against the Dark Army. But now can we believe that maybe there is some sort of happy ending to be had here? That time travel can give these characters what real life cannot. Dom and Darelene can be together. Angela can be alive. Elliot could be free of all his pain and burdon… and perhaps Mr. Robot himself?
That’s the romantic ending. I’m not saying it’s going to happen but it certainly is a possibility and that’s why “Conflict” and “Gone” matter so much. That’s the ending we’ve been given. Elliot trying to figure out how to exist with what he’s learned, unable to really celebrate his victory as Darlene takes control of herself and Dom finds peace. I’m happy with that ending much like I was happy with everything that happened to Walter White in the desert. There’s contentment there that the story has served not only us but the characters. Whatever comes next though, I’m ready for that too. I trust Sam Esmail to not betray this narrative. These characters and this story are far too important to him and that’s why he asked USA for a bigger episode count. So he could provide his ending… and maybe a little more.