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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Just before the series finale, Mr. Robot flips reality on its head yet again

Illustration for article titled Just before the series finale, iMr. Robot/i flips reality on its head yet again
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“Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around.” ― E.L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

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On a production level, the penultimate episode of “Mr. Robot” is a relatively unflashy thing. On a narrative level, “eXit” is perhaps one of the wildest episodes of the series yet, as Sam Esmail writes and directs an episode that begins in one reality, and ends in quite a different place.

For those who thought that Whiterose being taken down by the police descending upon her mansion, the supposed ending of “409 Conflict,” might be too simple — well, good guess. For an episode strewn with bodies, “eXit” largely keeps the violence off screen, though Esmail and cinematographer Tod Campbell can of course be counted on to deliver a gorgeous, if bloody, tracking shot that shows the aftermath of the attempt to arrest Whiterose in her home. The only thing deader than these men is her old identity: “He’s not here. There is only Whiterose,” she says, and indeed, if any moment for the character has felt like the point of no return, this is it.

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We then also step back a bit in time to Darlene and Elliot’s farewell in the motel parking lot, this time to track things from Elliot (and Mr. Robot’s) point of view, and also see how the scene actually ends — with Darlene seeming to acknowledge both her brother and his alter ego, as semi-separate individuals.

It’s something Elliot is also now doing, though in this case, it’s because he’s telling Mr. Robot that he wants to try to shut down Whiterose’s mysterious machine, and he wants to do it on his own. Mr. Robot doesn’t think it’s the right choice — it wasn’t their original goal, after all — but Elliot believes one thing: So much of what he’s gone through is tied to his father’s early death from cancer (the same kind of cancer that killed Angela’s mom), and he’s determined to shut down the plant, where “it all began.”

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Via bus and then on foot, Elliot makes his way to New Jersey — specifically the Washington Township Plant, which should be under heavy guard. Elliot arrives to discover, though, that Whiterose’s forces have already arrived, killing everyone working inside, and just after he installs his malware, armed guards (and one guy in a clean suit who is very calmly enjoying a burger) bring him into an interrogation chamber, one not dissimilar to the one where Angela underwent similar questioning in “eps2.9_pyth0n-pt1.p7z”).

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It’s here that Elliot and Whiterose have their ultimate confrontation, in which they challenge each other over their world views: Her reminding him that he agrees with her on some level when it comes to whether or not society is worth preserving (“What did you call your group again?”) and Elliot telling her that he still believes in people, because the ones who love him have helped him heal over the years. Whiterose presents what happens next as a choice left up to Elliot — and literally takes herself out of the equation by shooting herself in the head.

Watching Whiterose and Elliot’s conversation a second time, it was shocking to discover that the time elapsed between Whiterose entering the room and the gunshot was approximately 11 minutes and 30 seconds. Mr. Robot has never shied away from long scenes (see for example the five-act play that was “407 Proxy Authentication Required”), but the surprise factor here is that it doesn’t feel nearly so long; it’s a perfectly modulated, brilliantly acted clashing of personalities as well as points-of-view. (Rami Malek and B.D. Wong have rarely been better.)

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What exactly Whiterose hopes to accomplish with her machine, beyond the promise of a world that’s less broken than ours, is unclear at this point, but her undoubting faith in what might be possible clashes with Elliot’s own reality-based allegiance to the world that has hurt him, but also contains people he loves. This is no sparring match between James Bond and the villain du jour. These are two people hurt by the world, each finding their own ways to cope. Most therapists wouldn’t necessarily recommend becoming world-class hackers bent on taking down society, or building massive doomsday machines beneath nuclear reactors, of course, but sometimes these things happen.

Mr. Robot appears just as Elliot begins to panic, and helps him figure an escape route — but then he finds a floppy disc labeled “eXit” in the copy of Tolstoy’s Resurrection left beside a classic Apple IIe, loading it up to find a game driven by text prompts that might be the secret to shutting down Whiterose’s machine.

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The first go-around in the game, Elliot chooses escape, rather than helping his companion. The second time, though, the “friend” asks not to leave him alone, and Elliot stays behind — and it sets off the destruction of... well, seemingly everything. He and Mr. Robot say I love you to each other, the often battling personas of this man finding a level of peace and companionship, as the world around them falls apart.

But then, the world returns, and it’s shiny and new. Elliot is back in his New York apartment, but much more nicely furnished, and he gets out of bed to take on the day — listening to cheerful music on vinyl as he gets dressed, pomades his hair, and (after an incongruous New York City earthquake) Facetimes with his fiancée Angela.

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Right away, it’s clear this is a different Elliot, a calmer, confident man. Through the computer screen, Angela seems to suspect that something’s off, and Elliot does seem to have a headache, seemingly disoriented. But otherwise, he’s ready to go to work at Allsafe, where he’s the epitome of CEO cool to his employees, because it’s time to pitch Allsafe’s services to a potential new client — Tyrell Wellick, the schlubby, hoodie-wearing head of F Corp (not E Corp, despite the flashes that appear in Elliot’s vision). Tyrell asks him what the worst thing about his life is, and Elliot’s answer is that he knows he’s stuck in a boring routine, but while he’s imagined what it might be like to be “someone more interesting,” he knows that “in the end, I’m lucky to be where I am.”

The headache follows Elliot to lunch with his non-deceased father, a clearly loving and caring man (who in this reality, it seems, would never have done what Elliot’s real father did to him). Edward hands over Elliot’s surprise wedding gift for Angela, a signed copy of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the book that Angela and Elliot bonded over as children, and talks him through his potential pre-wedding nerves. There are details that feel potentially off — the earthquakes, of course, being the biggest — and Elliot’s a bit on edge, but otherwise he’s content with his life, and very happy to be marrying the love of his life. He barely even notices news coverage of this alternate version of Whiterose, now “the world’s richest person” Zi Zhang, a speaker and philanthropist living proudly as a woman.

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What is happening? Do Tyrell’s pointed questions indicate that know more than he’s telling about this reality? Are the earthquakes a sign that whatever this Elliot is experiencing, it’s not real? Is this happy, well-adjusted Elliot the unknown-but-mentioned-often other persona that has been, until now, not ready to “wake up?”

Whatever is going on, the clear kick-off is CEO!Elliot arriving back at his apartment to find his hoodie-wearing doppelganger waiting for him, which will likely be only the beginning of the profound yet awesome oddness in store during the two-hour series finale. It’s very nearly the end, after all, which likely means that this glimpse of what actual, real happiness for Elliot might look like is only that — just a glimpse of a man who has found both peace and excitement in settling down, who seems to trust the reality presented to him. Too bad that this is Mr. Robot, and reality is never to be trusted.

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Stray observations

  • The code for escaping the machine’s chamber is 0509, referencing the 5/9 hack, a reminder for Elliot that in the long run, his actions can have fatal consequences for others.
  • It’s always fun to see shows nearing the end indulge in a little bit of nostalgia, and seeing the return of Allsafe (not to mention the epic douchebaggery of Angela’s season one boyfriend Ollie) was sweet.
  • Though, while it wouldn’t have necessarily made sense, with Elliot as the Allsafe CEO, t’s a bit too bad the show didn’t go for the full nostalgia factor and bring back Gideon, if only because Michel Gill made for such a thoroughly decent presence on screen.
  • The song that CEO!Elliot listens to that morning, and then later in the cab, is OK Go’s “Turn Up the Radio.” Key lyrics: “I should’ve known the hammer dropped. ‘Cause something must be wrong when everything is right.”
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Liz Shannon Miller is a L.A.-based writer who recently spent five years at Indiewire. Her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, THR, the Verge, and Thought Catalog.

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