This review contains spoilers from the season finale of Mr. Robot Season Two.
“So much depends/Upon a red wheelbarrow,” Tyrell Wellick intones, reciting William Carlos Williams under the seaside’s dour sky. “Glazed with rainwater/Beside the white chickens.” The poem is a single sentence, broken into parts, and in this—fragments that together form a clean and perfect whole—it might be an analogue to certain seasons of television. In retrospect, once-disparate elements appear inevitable, bishops and rooks arranged in position long before checkmate comes into view. Heretofore unseen correspondences emerge, as if all that’d been required to see them earlier was a slight shift of the viewer’s focus. In those seasons, so much depends upon each episode, tightening or loosening narrative threads and aspects of character to the point that the finale feels complete, even if it concludes with a cliffhanger. That the sophomore season of Mr. Robot is not one of those seasons has been clear for weeks, though the formal ambition of h1dden-pr0cess.axx and pyth0n-pt1.p7z sustained my hope that creator Sam Esmail might end on a high note. Instead, as Elliot’s confrontation with Mr. Robot over the terms of Stage 2 begins to suggest— “What’s this all for?” he asks; “Stop talking in circles,” he demands—”pyth0n-pt2.p7z” proves unworthy of our patience. It’s a snake eating its own tail.
If Williams’ poem, on the page, is an example of form becoming meaning, it’s disappointing, after the dramatic flourishes of the previous two episodes, to see the season finale of Mr. Robot succumb to such flat exposition, for the most part filmed in surly shades of beige, off-white, and grey. In particular, the resolution to one of the central mysteries of the season premiere, in which Joanna receives her first unmarked gift, is no match for whatever explanation one might have imagined; it’s just a stricken, soused man and a mean-spirited woman, whom he beats to a bloody pulp. At least what we learn of Stage 2—the incineration of the titles and deeds E Corp needs to rebuild its hacked database—has consequences for a character we care about: Elliot is “the ringleader, the one in charge,” he realizes, though he doesn’t know what the plan is. Still, it’s altogether enervating that the season’s climactic moment should refer to the God complex that last week’s precise sense of “personal motivation” and “real people’s lives” seemed to consign to the dustbin. “We were supposed to be gods together,” Tyrell says, as Elliot tries to prevent Stage 2 from going forward. “And yet you want to destroy our destiny?”
When the gun goes off, and “pyth0n-pt2.p7z” cuts from the cavernous space in that run-down apartment building to Angela’s pristine home high above, Esmail turns once again to his preferred device, the aptly named deus ex machina. Against Elliot’s desperate search for “real control,” there is the “god from the machine” of Angela and Tyrell’s surprising alliance, and though their professions of love for our long-suffering hero are heartfelt indeed, it’s hard, given the series’ habitual resistance to emotional depth, to feel like the writing has earned it. This is the problem with the grand design, the “garbled reality,” the “fuzzy picture we will never make out”: When it snaps into focus, it seems a trick of the eye, as likely as any arrangement before it to prove fleeting.
The structure of “pyth0n-pt2.p7z,” and its one irresistible interlude, suggests that Esmail wants this season to be read as a dense web of connections, and the season finale as the step back from the whiteboard that reveals the perfect whole. After their rather brittle conversation in the FBI’s interrogation room—an echo of Angela and her interlocutor last week—Dom leads Darlene through clusters of curious agents to the sole place where patience seems to pay off. With the startling whisper of “The Moth” rising on the soundtrack, the pair that’s buoyed the season through its many missteps arrives at one last reckoning, in this case with all the whip-smart investigator turns out to have known. As Darlene gapes at the sprawling diagram, Dom’s preternatural instincts for the conspiracy’s shape come roaring back to mind. Her arc, of course, is the opposite of the twist, the reversal, the deus ex machina: It’s been built into the fabric of the season from the start, one reason (in addition to Grace Gummer’s sterling performance) it’s held my attention.
As for the rest, Mr. Robot’s own images might suffice to explain its faltering narrative, composed of threads that never added up to a web that holds one captive: the ouroboros, the stalemate, the tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. “This isn’t Burn Notice,” an FBI agent jibes in “pyth0n-pt2.p7z.” Would that it were.
Matt Brennan is a film and TV critic whose writing has appeared in LA Weekly, Indiewire, Paste, Slant, The Week, Flavorwire, Deadspin, and Slate, among other publications. He lives in New Orleans and tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.