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How Mr. Robot turned a dystopian landscape into a utopian finale
The world of Mr. Robot isn't too dissimilar from the current political and social landscape; the one percent of the one percent have an exorbitant amount of power, and this level of control has led to overwhelming wealth disparity. Over four seasons, hacker Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) took on those who "play God without permission" to break the system, which hit a lot of bumps along the way. His original target was E Corp, one of the world's largest multinational conglomerates (often referenced as Evil Corp). It isn't a subtle name, but when veering into a dystopian landscape, nuance often gets left at the door.
Debuting in 2015, the main action of the entire series takes place across that particular year, revealing a "darkest timeline" version of a period that was already pretty messy IRL. However, the nightmare landscape shifts in the final season, offering up a semblance of hope about our collective future. In the final episodes, this contrasts with the image of a personal utopia turned hellscape. At the center of the story, an identity constructed out of trauma underscores why authentic personal connections are ultimately more important than imagined ones.
Spoilers ahead for the Mr. Robot series finale.
Creator Sam Esmail delivered numerous jaw-dropping twists and turns throughout Mr. Robot's run, including the Fight Club-style Season 1 reveal that Elliot's friend Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) is not real — rather, he is a personality created by Elliot, resembling his deceased father. This is just one layer of Elliot's disassociative personality disorder; the final twist is that the person we have spent the most time with isn't the real Elliot, either.
Mr. Robot is a show that doesn't always spell out what is imagined, so when Elliot wakes up in the seemingly perfect alternate reality at the start of the two-part finale, questions stack up. Whiterose (BD Wong) claimed she could transport someone to a better version of their life; maybe she wasn't lying after all?
In this other place, Elliot's parents are both alive, and so is Angela (Portia Doubleday) — she was murdered in the Season 4 opener. Meanwhile, Elliot is not the hoodie-as-armor, anxiety-ridden figure we have spent four years watching. He is successful in business, he wears nice sweaters with button-down shirts, and he is getting married to the woman he has been crushing on since childhood. For all intents and purposes, this is his utopia.
But even perfection can become tiresome. When asked about the worst thing about his life at the moment, he explains it is also the best thing: "I'm stuck in a repetitive boring routine that feels endless." He daydreams about an exciting life in which he takes down bad guys as a hacker vigilante. A confrontation between the Elliot of the utopia and the Elliot who has woken up there turns violent when an earthquake causes "perfect" Elliot to fall and hit his head. Instead of helping, Elliot takes the moment to slay the person who has everything he could ever want. He is willing to steal his life in paradise; after all, he has already done that back in the real world.
All is not as it seems; this is not an alternate timeline or parallel universe. Instead, it is a fantasy recursive loop created by one of Elliot's personalities who is referred to as the Mastermind. The person we have been watching for all these years is an imposter, just a part of the actual Elliot Alderson. As the real world edges toward becoming a better place, the fantasy world is falling apart at the seams.
The Mastermind is another form of defense, which began many years before. Childhood trauma led to the creation of Mr. Robot as a way to protect Elliot against the monster at home. For the majority of the series, the audience was led to believe his father had pushed him out of his bedroom window, but Elliot's sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin) revealed in the Season 3 finale that he jumped. Midway through the final season, during a very unorthodox therapy session, Elliot realized why he had made this dangerous leap for freedom. It served him better to convince himself that his father would only break his arm — when in reality he had been molesting his son.
The pain led to not only the compartmentalizing of personalities but also the partitioning of abuse. In the recursive loop world, Elliot had a happy childhood with two parents who loved him. The bedroom window incident didn't happen; the house he lived in looks similar, but his room isn't where it was. This is a world without monsters who harm children, a world in which Elliot gets the life he dreamed of. Meanwhile, the other version takes on the mantle of all his trauma.
"You loved him so much, you wanted to save the entire world, so you could make it better for him, no matter the cost," says the imagined construction of Elliot's therapist Krista (Gloria Reuben). "That's why you hid him here, turning his harsh reality into a fantasy, trapping him in an endless loop to keep him safe until you were ready." After stopping Whiterose's machine in the penultimate episode, Elliot's new destination adds credence to her theory that this is his utopia.
But everything in this loop of contentment and happiness is a lie. It might look like paradise, but it is a prison. The superhero vigilante fantasy that occupies his boredom has been playing out in the real world without his knowledge. Elliot Alderson did save the world, but the Mastermind personality is now playing God. If he doesn't let the real Elliot live in the messiness of reality, then he is no better than the villains he successfully took down with the help of Darlene.
"You wanted to shelter him, which is why you changed his past … but it was his future you really wanted to protect. That's why you went through such great lengths to take out all of the evil that surrounded him in the real world," recursive loop Krista tells him. Everything he did was out of love, including going after the men who hurt kids. He is trying to make up for a horrifying and traumatic childhood in the only way he knows how: by bringing down every bad guy possible. In doing so, Elliot is attempting to turn reality into paradise.
The one person missing from the loop is his sister Darlene. She has always been his tether, so by erasing her in the utopia, he can keep original Elliot trapped. Despite appearances, this world without conflict was already flawed thanks to Darlene's absence. But even this relationship between siblings is built on a lie: She has always known this version isn't really the brother she grew up with. She didn't say anything because they were finally bonding — she came back at the start of the series to fix things, and this gave her the opportunity.
A home with that much hatred at its heart is not a place to raise children, so it is no wonder all of Elliot's rage manifested itself into a vigilante figure. Capitalism and those who control the purse strings are the enemies at the start of the series, along with the abusers Elliot unmasked. His hacking group Fsociety was born out of the ashes spilled by a world on fire. Their first attempt to distribute the wealth (the 5/9 hack) led to the army patrolling the streets, curfews, and a loss of money for regular citizens. Previously, the dystopian aesthetic was hidden in the shadows, but during those dark times it was impossible to ignore. It was a mistake they didn't make a second time, and together they did break the system, sharing the wealth with those less fortunate as modern-day Robin Hoods.
Even before the big Elliot identity twist, setting the final season against the backdrop of the holiday season had doubled down on a variety of fantasy-versus-reality themes. On the outside, everything is a perfect image of twinkly lights, but decorations are often a temporary respite or glossy veneer against the harsh realities of the world. Mastermind!Elliot had essentially shoved real Elliot in the fake landscape of supposed perfection. However, appearances are deceiving as this perpetual utopian loop denies authentic feelings and experiences. How can you feel joy if you haven't experienced pain?
"This whole time I thought changing the world was something you did, an act you performed, something you fought for," the vigilante superhero version of Elliot monologues during the closing moments before he hands back control. "I don't know if that's true anymore. What if changing the world was just about being here, by showing up no matter how many times we get told we don't belong, by staying true even when we're shamed into being false, by believing in ourselves even when we're told we're too different?" The world is still messy, but with this personal accountability, Mr. Robot ends on a hopeful note that suggests we are not doomed to crash and burn.