I watched the Mr. Robot finale last night, and it turned out to be exactly what I thought it should be. One reviewer described it as “weird, even for Mr. Robot’s standards,” but for a show that’s essentially about a main character with mental illness, you should expect no less.
For the uninitiated, Mr. Robot is a story of Elliot Alderson, a computer security pro by day, but on his own time using his hacking skills to fight evil world-controlling corporations and terrorists. Elliot also has social anxiety disorder and clinical depression, which lead to schizophrenia and the classic “unreliable narrator” of his own saga. At times, Elliot’s personal issues make it almost impossible to figure out what’s really going on around him, a premise that is fully realized in the series’ finale.
Elliot’s journey down his own rabbit hole went especially deep in last week’s episode, and even deeper, right down to Elliot’s core, in the 2-hour finale. Along the way, we were presented with various icons of Elliot’s long journey, with the now-expected reality bending and fourth-wall breaking that has made this show so memorable. The final reveal—what’s really been going on in Elliot’s mind—was masterfully presented, and brought the needed coda to this story.
At the end, I found myself wondering what it is about such a story that makes it so compelling for viewers like me. Is it the unpredictability that mental illness suggests to the viewer… the idea that actions can be completely malleable, that characters can come and go, live and die, rinse and repeat, freely within a chaotic narrative?
Is it a simple desire to be shocked, to accept a narrative that can do quite literally anything in front of us? Have some of us become so jaded and complacent in our TV viewing that we demand shows that are intentionally obtuse and unknowable in order to continue to be stimulated? Do we want our shows to openly defy our ability to guess the next moment, the real agenda, the big reveal?
Or is it a more personal reaction to the witnessing of someone with mental instability? Does the viewer watch someone like Elliot Alderson, and wonder at some level whether their own viewpoint on reality could somehow be just as skewed? Do we worry that we in fact have as little connection with the real world as Elliot, and we’re just waiting for that moment when we witness something that completely shatters our own life-fantasy? Are we watching, hoping (or perhaps fearing) that the show will make it easier for us to recognize that reality-shattering moment when it finally arrives?
Despite all of this conjecture, fighting to ruin our enjoyment of the moment, Mr. Robot actually gives us a happy ending of sorts; not a literal presentation of happy, relieved and optimistic characters, but at least a reassurance that Elliot’s seasons-long nightmare has come to an end.
I cannot say enough about Rami Malek’s amazing performance as Elliot, as well as the incredible work done by all the supporting characters, and led by show creator and lead writer Sam Esmail. I scanned through the cast, looking for anyone in particular who stood out… but really, there aren’t any distinct standouts, because the entire cast did a phenomenal job during their run. The awards that this show has earned over its lifetime have barely scratched the accolades it’s deserved. Like another recent show, Orphan Black, Mr. Robot has done an incredible job of showing us how powerful and compelling genre television can be.
And now, sadly, it’s time to move on, to say Goodbye to Mr. Robot and—after we take some time to fully digest the experience of the last few years—start to look around for what will be next. We hope that somewhere out there is, or will be, a new series that will impact us as much as Mr. Robot did. We also fear that we’ll never see its like again. But some of us have faith that the medium of television still has the ability to allow the cream to rise to the top. And we’ll be watching for the next signs of that cream.