You could argue that Mr. Robot, the tech-savvy psychological thriller about to begin its fourth and final season on USA, is a deep rabbit hole of narrative curlicues and symbolic allusions, but that’s not entirely accurate. Rabbit holes, after all, have fairly clear beginnings and ends. There’s something weirder going on with Mr. Robot. From its copious Back To The Future references to the repeated times it has pulled the viewer into the story and treated them like a part of its world, the show seems to be driving toward some strange confrontation with time and reality itself—and with three seasons of increasing complexity behind it, jumping into the final season without having binged the previous ones can seem like a hard sell.
But underneath all the hacker-speak and complicated miasmas of socio-political intrigue lies a cast of characters that offer a helpful way in to the story. The show’s strongest element has always been the moving and multilayered people that drive the plot forward, keeping all the strangeness grounded in human drama. So if you want to get a clear understanding of what you need to know going into the show’s final season (and given it’s been two years since season three aired, even returning viewers could probably stand to reacquaint themselves with where things left off), let the characters of Mr. Robot be your guide to the digital revolution—and the frantic attempt to fix it.
The troubled protagonist of the show has a lot on his mind. After Elliot’s insurrectionary group fsociety carried out the devastation of the world’s financial system via its attack on E Corp, Elliot has decided his actions only made things worse, and he’s struggling to fix what he did. Ever since he and Mr. Robot—the duplicitous alter-ego that lives in his mind and periodically takes over—agreed that things had gone too far and needed to be set right, they’ve been working together instead of at odds for a change. So the back half of season three consisted of the pair joining forces to get access to material that would hopefully allow them to undo the “5/9” hack that led to this mess in the first place. We’ll see if it worked—last season literally ended on Elliot hitting the keystroke that would supposedly undo it all. Now if he could just get the Dark Army off his back; the Chinese-backed radical hacking faction had blackmailed them into helping serve their ends, and Elliot’s actions might not sit too well with them.
For a guy who doesn’t actually have a body of his own, Mr. Robot certainly pulled off some mighty potent flexes. He spent the first half of season three working behind Elliot’s back to help the Dark Army carry out “Stage 2”—an attack on the paper records of E Corp’s finances that would cripple the corporate giant. But when he realized the loss of life the Dark Army was preparing to accept, he renounced the plan and joined forces with his former nemesis. It turns out Elliot’s alter-ego wants the same thing as Elliot (a better world, naturally); he just tends to disagree about the best way to achieve it. Nonetheless, he helped Elliot assemble the materials needed to undo the hack that caused so much chaos, and he shares one goal with Elliot that overrides their interpersonal conflict: He really, really wants the rich to pay for their crimes against humanity.
No one has changed more over the course of this series than Angela Moss. She began as Elliot’s best friend and a low-level employee for a security company, only to be handpicked by E Corp CEO Phillip Price for a job as his assistant, even though her affection for Elliot convinced her to assist in fsociety’s hacking of her company. Ridden with guilt, she planned to go to the authorities and turn herself in—at which point Dark Army head Whiterose recruited Angela to her cause by letting the confused young woman in on her mysterious plan to “get it all back.” Newly converted to the cause, Angela served as Elliot’s duplicitous “handler” for the Dark Army, keeping him in the dark about all the death and destruction caused by Stage 2—death she fervently believes will still serve the larger purpose of undoing all that’s happened, eventually. Oh, and her personal life is nuts: Along with maybe permanently ruining her relationship with Elliot by betraying him like that, last season ended with Price revealing that he’s her actual father. Poor Angela.
Actually, scratch that: Darlene’s the one who really deserves our sympathy. Elliot’s sister not only helped him mastermind the 5/9 hack, she took over running fsociety after he went to jail for a time, only to eventually get busted by the FBI herself. The FBI then forced her to become an informant they suspected would lead them to Tyrell Wellick, the man they still think is responsible for 5/9. Unfortunately for the FBI, Darlene didn’t actually know all that much—and even when she tried to bug Elliot’s computer per their orders, her brother immediately figured it out, and used it for his own ends. Still, Darlene’s guilt over the entire situation—including the death of her boyfriend Cisco at the hands of the Dark Army—finally seemed to be too much for her. She spilled her guts about Elliot and made a clumsy attempt to trick her FBI handler Dom, only to end up barely walking away with her life, and watching the emotional wreckage of the people she tried to manipulate. At least she still has Elliot.
Entering the story in season two, lonely FBI agent Dom DiPierro spent her time chasing fsociety and investigating the 5/9 hack, becoming increasingly convinced that the Dark Army was behind a lot of the mysterious goings-on that have dominated her attention. (Almost being killed by the group while she was visiting China probably had a small part in creating that belief.) She slowly came to learn that the Dark Army not only was responsible for the Stage 2 bombings that killed so many, but that they had a mole at the FBI. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t realize the mole was her boss until it was too late and he knocked her out, taking her to the Dark Army safe house where she believed she’ll be killed. Instead, they killed her boss, and informed Dom her new job was to act as the Dark Army’s mole at the FBI—and unless she wants her whole family murdered, she’ll cooperate. Dom had little choice but to agree to their terms—though she’s not about to stop struggling against the situation.
Speaking of the Dark Army, its leader Whiterose is still the most powerful person in any room. Masquerading by day as the Chinese Minister of state security, Zhi Zhang, Whiterose has spent the run of the series slowly and methodically putting together a mysterious plan that somehow involves time itself. Continually butting heads with E Corp’s Phillip Price, last season saw her finally achieve two major goals: China’s annexation of the Congo and the transfer of her unknown project to a facility there, and a sound spanking of Price via the Stage 2 destruction of 71 E Corp facilities. Going into the final season, Whiterose would seem to have everything she needs: Elliot working for her, Dom as an FBI mole, and no further impediments to the realization of her plan.
Still, the Dark Army requires sacrifice from its followers, and in Tyrell Wellick, it has a loyal subject, indeed. Last season, we learned that Tyrell has been quietly working behind the scenes all this time, helping design spyware to infiltrate the FBI and believing he was partnered with Elliot/Mr. Robot, despite Elliot’s obvious confusion as to Wellick’s participation. He finally learned of the split between the two identities, just in time for the Dark Army to order Tyrell to turn himself in as part of a plan to trick the FBI in believing two of Elliot’s old fsociety comrades were the true leaders, thereby earning Wellick his freedom. Sadly, his payment was cruel irony: He learned his wife was murdered by her jilted lover, and his son taken into child services. After the scales fell from his eyes, he returned as E Corp’s new CTO, with one secret mission: Take the bastards down.
Speaking of which, the most public face of those bastards would be Phillip Price, E Corp CEO. After sparring with Zhang all throughout the second and third seasons, the seemingly mighty businessman was laid low when Whiterose and the Dark Army succeeded in blowing up all the E Corp buildings, devastating its recovery and destroying public faith in the company. At season’s end, he was left with little choice but to withdraw to his estate and lick his wounds. Still, he managed to reveal to Angela that he’s her father, and surely anyone this powerful is only ever down temporarily. He’ll be back, and likely more dangerous than ever after being humiliated so publicly.
One last character of note: Fernando Vera, last seen in the sixth episode of season one, made a surprise post-credits appearance at the end of season three. And it was an unwelcome surprise: Vera killed Shayla, Elliot’s paramour, after Elliot got the abusive dealer busted. Vera then forced Elliot to break him out of prison and left town, mocking Elliot as he went. Presumably, the statute of limitations on his crime isn’t up any time soon, so who’s to say what his role in all of this will be when the show comes back. Just know: When he pops up, bad things are probably going to happen.