Pop Culturing: In its Ambitious Final Season, 'Mr. Robot' has a Thrilling & Rewarding Send Off

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Friday October 4, 2019

Rami Malek, left, and Christian Slater, right in a scene from "Mr. Robot."
Rami Malek, left, and Christian Slater, right in a scene from "Mr. Robot."  (Source:Elizabeth Fisher/USA Network)

[Editor's note: Major spoilers for "Mr. Robot" Season 1 through 3 appear in this story.]

Jumping back in to "Mr. Robot," which returns to USA Sunday for its fourth and final season, can be difficult for casual fans of the hacker drama. It's been a full year since its complex third season aired and there's no doubt some viewers will have trouble falling back into the show and following its complicated plot. But with some light reading — or perhaps a recap video — wrapping yourself back into the bonkers and thrilling world of "Mr. Robot" will be a rewarding experience as the show reaches its finish line.

It's easy to forget how popular and genuinely good "Mr. Robot" has been since its 2015 debut. Creator Sam Esmail, who has written and directed more and more episodes of the show as it went on, took daring risks over its four-year run, most of them paying off in big ways. From learning that Christian Slater's titular character was a figment of Elliot's (Rami Malek) mind, to a heart-racing episode that's shot like a single take, and that iconic "ALF" episode, "Mr. Robot" quickly became one of the most lauded and talked about series of this Peak TV era. Though some of the attention has dipped since Season 3, there's no difference in quality for Season 4, which is every bit as confident, bold and exciting.

Rami Malek, left, and Carly Chaikin, right in a scene from "Mr. Robot." Photo credit: Scott McDermott/USA Network

Since directing 10 outstanding episodes of Amazon's 2018 excellent conspiracy thriller "Homecoming," starring Julia Roberts, Esmail has improved as a storyteller, both visually and on the page. His involvement with the show, along with Malek taking time off to star as Freddie Mercury in the Queen biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody,"(winning him an Oscar) is what put the lengthy delay between "Mr. Robot" seasons three and four. Though the time apart was a bummer for fans, it seems like it was worth the wait as Malek, too, is even better than before. Not that "Mr. Robot" ever looked lackluster or suffered from bad performances but in Season 4, Esmail's attention to detail is mind-blowing. And just like in "Homecoming," he's often winking at other filmmakers (like Alfred Hitchcock) and pop iconography in clever ways.

Season 4 is set at the end of 2015 (yes, when the TV show first began) and, over the five episodes provided for review, take place on Christmas and the days leading up to the holiday. Esmail previously revealed the final chapter of the story will occur during the cold holiday season — just about a year before the 2016 presidential election. The cheeriness of Christmastime is a perfect juxtaposition to the interior torture of the characters of "Mr. Robot" face. The season picks up right where Season 3 ended where a totally broken Angela (the wonderful Portia Doubleday) learns that Phillip Price, her boss and the CEO of the nefarious E Corp., is her real father. Shortly after an altercation, the show launches into the main plot of the story: Elliot and sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin) try to undo their 5/9 hack, which erased the national debt and set millions of Americans free from capitalist corporate chains while bringing down a number of banks. But Elliot and his now — dismantled (and dead) ragtag group of hackers — known as fsociety — were played by Whiterose (B.D. Wong), who leads the Dark Army (a shadowy global-reaching and violent cabal) while serving as China's Minister of State Security as Zhi Zhang.

Christian Slater, left, and Rami Malek, right in a scene from "Mr. Robot." Photo credit: Elizabeth Fisher/USA Network

The huge hack served as a distraction and was just a piece in Whiterose's masterplan, leading up to Whiterose's secret project (some believed to be a time machine) that needs to be shipped to the Congo, which China has annexed thanks to dirty deals carried out by a now regretful Price. There's also F.B.I. agent Dominique (a stellar Grace Gummer), who is being blackmailed by the Dark Army and is being kept on close watch by a new character named Janice (Ashlie Atkinson), a bubbly but lethal taxidermist. Dominique was close to cracking the 5/9 hacking attack and finding out that fsociety and Elliot were not at the top of the pyramid as the agency believed. But she's stuck under Janice's thumb and can't properly investigate; she's at her beck-and-call, sent on missions to do the Dark Army's dirty work lest the group kill her mother.

Though Elliot is the main character in "Mr. Robot," Esmail has taken time to shine a spotlight on several characters, giving them large chunks of time — if not full episodes — to shine. Elliot still feels like the central figure here but he's just part of the story and it's not necessary for him to be part of every big moment of the show. For half an episode in Season 4, we get a stunning Whiterose backstory that is impeccably shot and equally devastating. Elsewhere, Darlene gets a number of intense scenes as she navigates around the Dark Army and we often see an isolated Dominique, as she spirals into a deep depression and paranoia.

Esmail's sharp camerawork never gets in the way; it's always in service of the story, underscoring important moments, heightening the tension or punctuating emotional moments. In its last season, "Mr. Robot" gets mind-blowingly meta, features an intense episode nearly without dialogue, and has countless stunning visual moments. It's off to a strong start and as the show barrels towards an end, ready to say "Goodbye friend, the final chapter could end up being one of the best shows of 2019.

Pop Culturing

This story is part of our special report titled Pop Culturing. Want to read more? Here's the full list.

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