Mr. Robot: If I Could Turn Back Time
A Superb Season Finale That Gave Us Answers and Screwed With Our Minds (Again)
In what was often times a frustratingly slow and convoluted sophomore season, Mr. Robot truly closed out on a high (albeit incredibly tense) note, giving answers to some longstanding questions while brilliantly setting up its third season.
In it’s opening sequence, ‘eps2.9_pyth0n-pt2.p7z’ gave us a familiar scene retold, where Mr. Robot – now replaced by Elliot himself – sets up the plan with Tyrell to initiate the 5/9 hack. Although Elliot initially walks away in frustration, Tyrell chased him down and recites a William Carlos Williams poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow,” and explains that it was the only English his father could recite. Tyrell uses that memory to distance himself from his father, a man he does not want to be like. Although seemingly innocuous, red wheelbarrow was also the name of Elliot’s now-burnt prison notebook, the one he wrote in to desperately try and root Mr. Robot out of his mind.
In the present, Tyrell takes Elliot to their Dark Army sanctioned hideout, where Phase 2 is set to begin. Although Tyrell is frustrated with Elliot’s inability to remember the plans he has set into motion, he shows him the various parts at play and we slowly are able to piece together the plan. Evil Corp have moved all paper records into one facility – which is directly next to their hideout – and their existence is the only reason they have been able to truly survive the 5/9 hack. In another obvious nod to Fight Club (1999), Phase 2 would implement a Weather Underground style bombing, that will level the building and destroy all backup records of debt, property ownership and more. But it is a decision that will also jeopardize lives, and Elliot is not comfortable with it, putting him at odds not only with Mr. Robot, but with an increasingly manic and unhinged Tyrell.
But Elliot’s problems are much bigger than just that. After completely stalemating us last week, finally gave us insight into Darlene’s fate after the shootout at Lupe’s. Darlene is alive sitting in an interrogation room with Dom, wearing a bloodied Sergeant Pepper style jacket. Although she is visibly shaken by the death of Cisco, she is also unwilling to cooperate, repeatedly invoking her Fifth Amendment rights until Dom’s boss reminds her of the Patriot Act and, in a meta twist, that she can’t act like she’s in a television show (props to Burn Notice for scoring that name drop). Dom tries to level with Darlene, dropping the “we’re just two girls from Jersey” shtick but Darlene isn’t buying it. Dom then dumps recording equipment and an fSociety mask onto the table, telling Darlene that they’re testing it for DNA but Darlene knows this evidence is circumstantial and shrugs it off by saying that she made sex tapes with the equipment.
In the end, Dom appeals to Darlene’s ego, refuting Darlene’s claim that she isn’t important and bringing her through the FBI workspace, where she is gawked at by the agents working on the case, and into a meeting room for her big reveal. Here, spread out around the wall of the room, are months of research into fSociety and the hack – it turns out the FBI have known everything from the start but have been laying low, using the python approach, and waiting until the right time to strike. Darlene peers into a labyrinth of familiar faces, including her own, as well as the faces of fallen associates: a large red X is plastered across Cisco’s face. Dom reveals that Romero’s death, which set off a chain reaction in both fSociety and the FBI, was in fact an accident, he was hit with a stray bullet from a neighbor and not knocked off by the Dark Army. Dom tells Darlene that the entire plan was kept quiet so that they can circle in on the man in the middle. As our perspective changes to see what Darlene sees, we notice there are two men in the middle, Elliot and Tyrell. It is unclear which man Dom was referring to but Darlene almost seems amused. Perhaps she knows something we don’t yet.
The episode also finally gave us an answer to Joanna’s season-long quest to uncover the source of her presents, which she believed to be coming from Tyrell. After Elliot traced the calls to an address on the Upper East Side, Joanna shows up on the doorstep of Scott Knowles, the CTO at Evil Corp whose wife, Sharon, Tyrell murdered. The framed sonogram Joanna received was in fact the unborn child that Sharon learned she was carrying on the morning of her murder. Knowles admits that he sent Joanna things to give her hope that Tyrell was alive, and to watch that hope be extinguished. But Knowles is disheveled, his townhouse is a mess and, despite his revelation, he does not have the upper hand. In this context, Joanna’s line about the situation being the greatest gift Tyrell has ever given her is even more cold-blooded as the gift in question is literally the broken sanity of Knowles. While it seems like Joanna might break and have sympathy for Knowles, instead she belittles him, ruthless attacking his dead wife and child until Knowles lunges at her and beats her to a pulp.
But Joanna always seems to have a master plan in place and following the attack, she shows up on the doorstep of Derek, her boytoy boyfriend. Derek is enraged by Joanna’s appearance and vowing that he will do anything to destroy the man that has harmed her. Without blinking, Joanna sets her plan into action. Derek, who was bartending the Evil Corp party the night of Sharon’s murder, initially told police that he had not seen anything on the night in question. Now, Joanna tells him that he must go to the police and tell them that he witnessed Knowles coming down from the roof, thereby implicating him in his wife’s murder. Derek is understandably reluctant but eventually gives into Joanna’s guilt. It is a cold and cruel manipulation, especially as we know Derek probably won’t be kept around after he serves his purpose but it also illustrates how terrifyingly well-match the Wellicks are.
In the meantime, Tyrell has begun executing the malware necessary to initiating Phase 2 as Elliot argues with Mr. Robot over everything. Why did he tell him Tyrell was dead? But as soon as Elliot realizes the argument is a distraction, he pulls Tyrell away from the computer and attempts to destroy everything that has been set in place. Remember that gun in the popcorn? It makes an appearance once again as Tyrell pulls it out on Elliot, demanding he step away from the computer. And remember all those conspiracy theories that Tyrell and Elliot are one in the same? Elliot too pushes forward this theory, insisting that Tyrell cannot shoot him because he is not real and Elliot is going to take control of his mind for good. And just as we hold our breath and think we’ve finally gotten one up on Sam Esmail, there is a gunshot, Elliot’s bloodied hands and a fading Mr. Robot. Elliot didn’t learn his lesson and neither have we.
In a final bizarre scene, we’re treated to Angela answering a late night phone call from someone in distress. It’s Tyrell, reaching out to her for help and Angela doesn’t seem surprised. She calms Tyrell down and reassures him that he only did what he needed to but that she was on her way because Elliot would need to see her when he woke up. And that’s where the credits leave us, confused about Angela’s role and whether or not she’s been in on it from the beginning.
Oh, and then there’s that post-credits sequence. As we drift among palm trees in the parking lot of an electronics outlet, we hear a familiar pair of bickering voices and as the camera slowly pulls closer, we see Mobley and Trenton, alive and well. Trenton, sans her familiar hijab, is complaining to Mobley about missing her family and not liking their new surroundings. But before we’re tricked into believing this is just a cute check in on some missing characters, Trenton stresses to Mobley that she has found a way to fix everything. Mobley doesn’t want to hear it but Trenton insists that she has found something big that will allow them to put everything back to how it was before the hack. Suddenly, they’re interrupted by an unseen voice, whom Mobley tries to shrug off. But the man persists and the camera pans to reveal Leon, asking them both if they have the time. And this is where we’re left, knowing the ominous meaning behind the innocuous question.
One of the burning questions as the latter half of Season Two has progressed has centered around time: specifically, is there time travel present in Mr. Robot? It’s the one question without an answer but the season finale has offered even more clues in this direction. While introducing time travel would plunge the series into a sci-fi realm that might betray the first season’s paranoid cyber-thriller motif, it would explain the disjointed plots, the random flashbacks and even the gaps in Elliot’s memory. Perhaps Elliot didn’t lose three days after the hack but simply stepped into a new time stream. The theory would also explain Whiterose’s obsession with time, but perhaps also our two views of the character – one as a male Chinese government official and one as the female head of the Dark Army. Leon’s question about having the time, while ominous could also hint at Trenton having discovered a means to travel back in time. And then of course, for those conspiracy lovers like myself, there’s Rami Malek’s Emmy’s outfit: a white Dior tuxedo eerily similar to the one worn by George McFly in Back to the Future (1985). Maybe? Or maybe we’re all just turning into Elliot, but in a show infamous for warping our perception of reality, it might not be that far fetched. Either way, bring on Season Three!