The Alderson Loop
A Rambly Mr. Robot Review
“Alderson loop is a rare slang or jargon term for an infinite loop where there is an exit condition available, but inaccessible in the current implementation of the code, typically due to programmer’s error.” — Wikipedia
SPOILERS FOR ALL OF MR. ROBOT AHEAD
I’ve sat on my thoughts about Mr. Robot’s finale for a long time now. It wasn’t because I had mixed feelings, but rather, because I wanted to capture the essence of what I believed made it as good as it was.
I think I’ve finally come to the point where I’ve processed the show and can tell you more beyond “wow, that was a satisfying conclusion to 4 seasons” or “the cinematography and writing were spectacular,” since the show is just so much deeper than the basic plaudits that first come to mind. It’s a melting pot that combines known themes, bricks of the fourth wall, Sam Esmail’s own psyche and socio-economic questions into an entity that blurs the lines between a popular TV show and a 45-hour long experimental film.
The norm for reviewing TV shows is to review their episodes or seasons. Rarely does one do a review for the entire thing, yet I couldn’t help but review the entirety of Mr. Robot now that it’s over. I’ve seen many shows recontextualize their entire runs into a disappointment with a few duds to end their glorious runs. I’ve seen Breaking Bad end gloriously, yet it didn’t change my opinion about Season 2 dragging on. Yet, Sam Esmail managed to flip a lot of my criticisms on their head by simply revealing the final chapters of his crazy saga.
I called this essay The Alderson Loop, because, among other things, the choice of Elliot’s name beautifully displays just what the show does so well. At first glance, a hacker named Alderson can be treated as a humorous nod to The Matrix’s Thomas Anderson aka Neo. At face value, it’s a throwaway name, something that sounded good enough and was a good reference at the same time.
However, in the series finale, we find out that the Elliot we’ve been watching all this time isn’t really Elliot Alderson, but rather a personality that came as an effect of his dissociative identity disorder, who keeps the original personality locked in… you guessed it, a loop of his design, while he takes over his body to destroy the elements of society real Elliot hates the most.
The final season is the connective tissue that makes Mr. Robot an incredible show. If it missed the mark, it’s very possible that many people would consider everything after the first season a waste of time, yet it delivers.
It’s crazy to think that a season which featured an episode where almost no words were said and an episode that was essentially a theatre play unfolding before our eyes was more than just a creator seeing how far he can push his experiments with form, but meaningful additions that reveal more and more about characters we’ve been watching for hours.
Mr. Robot did an amazing job drawing in a more casual audience with a seemingly simple story about an anti-capitalist vigilante hacker, not unlike how BoJack Horseman’s first few episodes help you drop your guard before shit hits the fan. Sam Esmail teases audiences with big sci-fi machines, massive hacks and awesome set pieces that rival some of TV’s finest, only to reveal that all along we were watching a story of a traumatised human being finally coming to terms with what happened to him.
That’s the true beauty of the show. For years, fans have speculated what Whiterose’s machine could be, or whether Angela would be raised from the grave. A lot of showrunners are afraid of fans theorizing or figuring their stuff out, while Esmail seemed to be counting on it all along, giving us snippets of the truth, toying with us and giving us a winking “I know,” while throwing us off the scent of the true story he was telling. He made us think that the show was a political sci-fi thriller, just to make us realize that we’ve been watching a psychological drama all along.
In a time when the words “subverting expectations” have become synonymous with bad storytelling, Sam Esmail managed to enhance his story by subverting them. There are many aspects of the show I could go on about for hours, whether it’s the incredible acting, or the cinematography and music, however, what I think is most incredible is just how meaningful and satisfying a complex story can be, as long as it gets the perfect landing. I think even the Russian judge will have to give this one a 10.