'Mr. Robot' Season 3 Finale: That 'Star Wars' Level Twist, Explained

Mr. Robot Still 2 Episode 305 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of NBC

[Warning: this story contains spoilers for the season three finale of USA Network's Mr. Robot.]

"I am your father."

Four iconic words, impossible to utter without conjuring memories of Darth Vader towering over Luke Skywalker in the underbelly of Cloud City — words that even the most powerful man in the world (or at least top three) can't utter without shedding some Star Wars sentiment.

In the season three finale of Mr. Robot, E Corp head honcho Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) confirmed a theory many fans were speculating on for weeks and weeks now: he's the biological father of Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday), who had focused so much of her energy this season trying to reset a timeline in order to resurrect her mother, only to gain a lost parent in this completely unexpected way. While it's a reveal that comes off as less as a shock and more as confirmation for the dutiful Robot viewers, writer-producer Kor Adana tells THR that Price's paternal connection to Angela wasn't always part of the plan — far from it, in fact.

Of course, there's a lot more to chew on in the Mr. Robot season finale than Price's revelation. The final installment of season three included Elliot (Rami Malek) finally undoing the Five/Nine Hack, if not quite all of the damage he's caused in the time since launching the massive cyber attack all the way back in season one. What's more, Elliot and his darker self, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), finally started on a path toward reconciliation, if not full-on integration. Elsewhere, Dom DiPierro (Grace Gummer) began a journey of her own, becoming the very thing she was hunting — a Dark Army operative — while her former informant-turned-temporary-lover Darlene (Carly Chaikin) somehow managed to dodge a bullet, only thanks to Elliot and Robot's combined quick thinking. 

Listen to the latest episode of THR and Post Show Recaps' Mr. Robot podcast, in which Josh Wigler speaks with Omar Metwally, the man who played the recently axed Agent Santiago:

Villains came and went in the finale, too, including Whiterose's (BD Wong) devoted personal assistant (Grant Chang) via a self-inflicted gunshot wound, FBI mole Santiago (Omar Metwally) via multiple axe wounds and Irving (Bobby Cannavale) via a need to take some time off in order to work on his book. Then there's the return of an old foe from the past: Fernando Vera (Elliot Villar), the savage traveler who killed Elliot's girlfriend Shayla (Frankie Shaw) in season one, finally back in action for as-yet-unknown purposes.

Digging into all of these storylines and more, we turn one last time to writer-producer Kor Adana for a final round of our weekly Mr. Robot column.

Congratulations on another year of Mr. Robot in the books. What did it feel like when the writers' room finished breaking the story on season three — hitting "enter," as it were?

Thank you! It's been a wild ride. Creating a season of television from inception to completion is an odd, but satisfying experience… mainly because the story never stops shifting and evolving. We finished breaking the major beats of season three about two months into the writers' room. We thought we had a good blueprint for the season, but there was no time to celebrate because the anxiety about delivering scripts kicked in. During the writing, some things we planned for didn't work on the page so they had to get cut/changed. After we had drafts of every episode, there was still no feeling of relief because we had a difficult shooting schedule ahead of us. During the shoot, stories were rewritten. Locations were changed. Scenes were cut. When we wrapped photography, we jumped right into post-production and this pattern repeated itself. There's always the next step to worry about. We do our best to keep our initial ideas intact throughout these stages of production. In a way, we don't really know what the episode "is" until that first rough cut and even then, it's difficult to guess how the episode will be received when it airs. 

With the full season in the rearview mirror, can you talk through some of the most important goals of the year, in terms of story beats? You entered season three knowing this would be a season of "disintegration," for instance. Was it always on the board to end in a place of "integration," with Elliot and Mr. Robot finally back on the same page?

One of the most important goals for this year was sticking to a story engine that would carry us through the season. We had a very strong engine in season one with fsociety wanting to bring down E Corp. Season two's engine wasn't as specific, mainly because our main focus was to deepen characters and relationships. For season three, we spent a lot of time finding that "north star" that our characters could work toward. We discussed Elliot's goal of undoing the hack and whether or not that was specific and urgent enough to carry us for the season. It's partly the reason why this season feels faster in pace than season two. Once we landed on "undoing the hack," we knew we had to end with Elliot hitting the button which would undo Five/Nine.

Getting Elliot and Mr. Robot back on the same page was always the plan, but I don't think that they're in a place of integration. I would say that they're on the path toward potential integration. For someone who is suffering from dissociative identity disorder, true integration would represent a breakthrough or a cure.

The finale takes us to some incredibly bleak places, while also offering some hope. What went into striking a balance between ending the season soaked in equal parts light and dark?

We wanted this finale to be emotionally satisfying, yet still hook you in the way that a good thriller would. We had a lot to resolve a lot of open ends this season. We knew we had to balance those payoffs with setups that would give you an idea of what to expect in future seasons. I spoke with John Petaja and Justin Krohn (the phenomenal editors of this episode) about striking this balance from an editorial perspective. The beginning of this episode is musically driven, which gives us a fast plunge into what the episode is. In a way, we've been spending an entire season setting up all of these pieces on the board and we knock everything down in this finale. By the time we get to the train with Elliot and Darlene, we earn a great emotional moment because of all the craziness we've just been through. We hinted at that hopefulness in 308 and we take a big step toward that with the way we end this season.

Elliot and Mr. Robot finally return to each other's lives, at one of their earliest meeting spots. Can you talk through the different ideas that were in place for how to get these characters back together on the same page after so much time apart, and to have that meeting of the minds at Coney Island, where it all started — at least as far as the show's depiction of events, that is?

This is funny because so many of our pitches for this moment made their way into the episode in one way or another. When we started to brainstorm ideas for this reunion, we naturally were drawn to those Mr. Robot/Elliot milestones from the pilot and season one. Sam loved the idea of them speaking to each other on the Wonder Wheel again. I was pushing for a callback to that symmetrical shot of them sitting on opposite sides of a subway train. Someone else pitched the subway platform from the pilot. We ended up seeing all of that in this finale. The Wonder Wheel ended up being the initial reunion because of how uniquely tied to Mr. Robot it was. We've seen Elliot in all of these other locations already (the arcade, the subway, his apartment). It made sense that Elliot would allow himself to feel safe enough to talk to Mr. Robot on the Wonder Wheel.

It's a very emotional moment, realizing that as much as Elliot has shades of Mr. Robot, the Mr. Robot side of his personality has his own shades of Elliot. Has that always been a tenant in writing the character, that Christian Slater's side of Elliot has more in common with Rami Malek's depiction than he or we realized? Is it something that was discovered in the writing of the character? And how critical is that reveal, moving forward?

The plan was always to evolve the relationship between Elliot and Mr. Robot. We've already been through so much manipulation, betrayal and battling with them. To me, this is finally a beautiful moment of sincerity and honesty. It's also cool because you, as Elliot's friend, are able to witness how Mr. Robot is helpful in certain situations and how Elliot really needs him at times. It's definitely a crucial reveal, as it's that first step in the healing process — the path toward integration. By the end of this episode, in one of many callbacks to our pilot, we have a heartfelt exchange between Mr. Robot and Elliot. In a way, we're healing Elliot and resetting him back to his old self. He still wants to take down the men who play god without permission, but he has a clearer view on who those people are now.  

Elliot ends the season hitting "enter," and at least beginning the process of reversing the Five/Nine Hack's damage. How do you imagine this is going to change the landscape of the show moving forward?

You can barely see/hear it, but he actually holds CTRL and then hits ENTER, which is a hotkey to send an email in ProtonMail. When we were cutting this, I had a slight worry that people might think he's only hitting enter and ProtonMail users out there would be like, "So he typed a carriage return, big fucking deal." Without going into "Fidelio" territory, and considering the state of the world in season three, I can echo Mr. Robot's words and speculate that this action won't fix everything. It will be interesting to see how the return of those debt records will affect the economy, E Corp, credit and E Coin. As much as I love Fiona Apple's "Criminal" in the coda, I need to mention how fucking magical the needle drop is when Elliot walks back home and finds/sends the encryption key. It's "Intro (ft. Zola Jesus)" off of M83's "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" album. It's a great callback to 108, which ended with another M83 track, the same images from Elliot's past, and the reveal about Edward Alderson and Mr. Robot sharing the same likeness. Post consultant Sean Schuyler was the one who pitched this song and it works beautifully. Rami's performance here is incredible, too.

Elsewhere in the episode, we have Phillip Price's Darth Vader moment, revealing himself as Angela's biological father. Two-fold: was this always part of the character's design, and do you think this news refocuses Angela? By the end of the finale, it's hard to tell if she's fully recovered from the Whiterose experience... do you think it's fair to say she at least realizes she was being used, even if she still believes in Whiterose's agenda to some degree?

This wasn't always part of the character's design. I think we decided on this about halfway through season two. Initially, we were working toward some kind of twisted, sexual infatuation that Price had with Angela. There actually was a pitch on the table in season two for Angela and Price to sleep with each other, but we ended up changing that to her going for an older dude at the bar. (Maybe she's just into old dudes?) That sexual infatuation idea still works as a misdirect until the moment of the reveal. Of course, we dropped hints throughout this season that I know you picked up on (the anonymous benefactor, Price's reaction when Whiterose confronted him about Angela, etc). I think it's meant to be ambiguous at the end of that scene, but I definitely agree that she realizes she was being used by Whiterose, regardless of how much she still might believe in "the cause."

It's a violent finale with several deaths, including Irving murdering Santiago. Can you talk through the construction of this scene? Were there other versions of Santiago's death before arriving at Irving becoming an axe murderer?

There weren't that many versions actually. Since we set up the axe in 303, it felt like a good payoff to have Irving return to it in the finale, especially since Irving told Tyrell that he uses the axe to center himself. We also did our best to make you hate Santiago more than you empathized with him. Last week, I was reading our subreddit and saw that someone was begging us to kill Santiago. I bet they're happy with this episode. Editors Justin Krohn and John Petaja are really proud of this scene. Building the tension at the beginning and selling it as a misdirect (thinking Irving was going to kill Dom) was the most challenging aspect of constructing this. They went back and forth with Sam about how grotesque and gory to make it. I think they all compromised and found a happy medium. It's hilarious and weird that Irving requests verbal confirmation by screaming at Dom when he's soaked in Santiago's blood. The fact that he can filter his rage through some form of business etiquette is wonderful. 

In killing Santiago, Irving recruits Dom to the Dark Army, effectively by threatening her loved ones. First of all, can you talk through the logic behind Irving converting Dom, when she's so adamant about wanting to bring the Dark Army down? And what does Dom's new assignment as a Dark Army operative buy you, narratively?

One of the joys of writing for television is pushing characters to one side of the spectrum and then bringing them back to the other side. It's usually used to turn your allegiance and start empathizing with an evil antagonist, but here we're starting off with a good person. Dom is an independent, intelligent girl scout. How could we turn her? What would it take to have Dom work for the Dark Army? Is there a way you could still empathize with her if she did? Making this decision buys us a world of conflict to explore in season four and it also puts one of our favorite characters in an impossible situation. Great for drama. Bad for Dom.

For a while, it appears as though the Dark Army will execute Darlene and Elliot — but of course, we as viewers know Elliot won't die. There's no Mr. Robot without him. Yet the scene still feels incredibly tense. Is that because there's less certainty about Darlene — that even if Elliot isn't going to die, there's a strong chance Darlene might?

I need to give another shout out to Justin Krohn and John Petaja for creating the tension here, which is all a function of the intercutting. Like many sequences this season, these scenes were scripted and shot as standalone scenes but then were intercut together in post. Those scenes functioned on their own, but it felt like a different story that way. You'd have that insane scene in the barn and then a nine-minute scene with Angela and Price. Blending the two into one kept the tension up and got all of us excited. It created this sense of not knowing where things were going to go for Darlene. Another interesting result of the intercutting was that it juxtaposed the realization that Angela had about Whiterose with Grant's realization. You see what Grant is giving up for Whiterose, and you see how Angela was duped by her. The sequence actually creates some empathy for Grant, which is amazing.

It's not a character death, but it feels like a departure: Irving heading off into the sunset to work on his book. How many different versions of Irving's fate did the writers test out before landing here? 

Oddly enough, this was always the plan. Everyone in the room loved the idea of Irving needing to leave in order to finish Beach Towel.

There's a mournful quality to Irving that was never quite on display before in this episode — the way he hacks up Santiago, for one, but also the way he talks about his relationship with Whiterose... it sounds like Irving's recruitment wasn't too far away from how he ended up recruiting Dom. Do you guys have vivid ideas about Irving's past? Is it still nebulous to you? Can you speak to some of the ideas that brought us this new side of Irving?

We definitely have ideas about his past, but we were always set on keeping him a mystery because he's never honest with anybody. We get some semblance of truth in this episode with a single line from Irving to Grant — that "I was you years ago" line came a little later in the process. This notion of him having served his time under Whiterose gives his character an entirely new wrinkle. It deepens Irving, who was previously just an eccentric force of nature in the Dark Army who had a lot of clout.

Dom leaves Darlene with a severe dressing down. At the same time, Darlene has a really sweet final moment with Elliot, when she tells him about the day of the accident: "I'm here to remember for you." Do you feel Darlene leaves season three in a better place than how she entered it?

Emotionally, yes, but she's still not in a great situation. She's not under the thumb of the FBI anymore, but she effectively destroyed Dom's life. It's a weird give and take. Yes, things are better with Elliot, which is beautiful and hopeful, but she still did some more terrible things this season. There will be repercussions for those actions. I love this scene so much because it reminds me of the end of season one. I feel so bad for Elliot because he can't rely on his own memory. We, the viewer, his friend, are right there in it with him. It's such a strong emotional conceit to make Elliot relatable and empathetic. Also, now that I'm thinking about it… the last time we see Darlene is in the Vera reveal, so I'd be concerned about that.

Speaking of which, the final scene of the season brings a familiar face back into the mix: Fernando Vera. What went into the decision to end the season on this note?

I'm pretty sure Sam had his heart set on this coda before we started the season three writers' room. There were times where we were having problems with a story and someone would pitch an idea about bringing Vera back… Sam would always say, "No, we're saving the Vera reveal for the coda." Considering the way that Vera left and the effect he had on Elliot, I know we were all excited for this moment. Elliot's got a long overdue hug coming his way.

Anything else from the finale, and season three in general, before we close out?

There's a cover of "Bang Bang" in this episode, performed by Pan Ron. Justin picked the song, but our amazing music supervisor (Manish Raval) had to get it cleared through the Cambodian government. That was definitely a first.  

You know what, one more thing before we close out... all season long, you've been dropping lines from the works of William Shakespeare in these columns. As another great poet once asked: "What up with that?" Now that the season's over, can you spill the beans on the Bard quotes?

We may have reached the end of the season, but the ARG is far from over so I can't spill the beans yet. Once our brilliant players crack this one, I'll tell you all about it.

Finally, every week, we close out with a tease for next week... but there is no next week, at least as far as Mr. Robot goes! So, how about we close out on a tease for next season?

This is definitely not a tease, but it is an important update. This was my last season working on Mr. Robot. I've decided to leave to pursue some of my own television projects. I can't tell you how proud I am of our work over the last three seasons. We have the most passionate and talented cast/crew in the business. From a production standpoint, I wouldn't have been able to do this job without the great Adam Brustein, our flash animator who created all the computer animations; Brian Jackson, one of our camera operators who shot every CU/insert; and my genius consulting team of Ryan KazanciyanAndre McGregorJames Plouffe and Jeff Moss. If you haven't already, you need to check out Ryan's weekly blog describing the hacks on Mr. Robot. The ARG would be nonexistent without Jeffrey Kaufman, Robin Fordham and everyone at USA Digital and Curious Codes. Our executives at UCP and USA are amazing. I'm thankful to them, Chad Hamilton and Sam Esmail for their ongoing support of my career and future endeavors.

Parting is such sweet sorrow 2.

Keep checking in with THR for more Mr. Robot coverage, including a final post-mortem podcast with some familiar faces from the series.