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It’s the End of ‘Mr. Robot’ and I Feel Fine

In an era when miniseries gleefully become full-blown shows, it’s inspiring to see a show pull the plug early and embrace the value of a definite ending

USA/Ringer illustration

About as quickly as it hacked into our brains with its sumptuous visuals and shockingly prescient political paranoia, Mr. Robot is now ending. As announced on Wednesday, the fourth season of USA Network’s Golden Globe–winning series will be its last, debuting a final batch of 12 episodes sometime in 2019. “Since day one, I’ve been building toward one conclusion—and in breaking the next season of Mr. Robot, I have decided that conclusion is finally here,” creator Sam Esmail said in a statement.

Aside from earning the inauspicious distinction of being the best TV series relative to its objectively silly name, Mr. Robot subverted television’s typically cheesy portrayals of hackers and created a hyper-paranoid, anti-capitalist thriller that evoked everything from Fight Club to Back to the Future. And its cryptic, digitally inclined storytelling was fervently received: After all, this was a series that threw Morse code on the tie of Bobby Cannavale’s character in a Season 3 press release with the expectation that fans would go down a coding rabbit hole and come out with a trailer—which, of course, they did. This was a series that had people strapping on the creepy, Guy Fawkes–meets–Monopoly Man mask of fsociety for Halloween, as one guy I know did for two consecutive years. (That one guy is me.) The thought of bidding farewell to a show as idiosyncratic and immersive as Mr. Robot sooner than expected is bittersweet.

Sure, sometimes Esmail’s commitment to the show’s unique aesthetic came off as pretentious—is there any reason a Season 3 episode needed to be filmed in the style of one long take other than the fact it looks cool and is difficult to achieve?—but there are so few series in the era of Peak TV that have felt as individualistic or engrossing. (I hear you, Season 2 detractors, but I always appreciated the show’s devotion to its claustrophobic conceptions, even if it was sometimes off-putting.) But by limiting Mr. Robot to a succinct four seasons, Esmail is keeping in line with the trajectory he’s always envisioned for the series, having said before that he expected the show to run for four to five seasons. Additionally, Mr. Robot was initially conceived as a feature film, so the shorter series length makes sense—to say nothing of the fact Esmail’s slate has suddenly filled up with things like the upcoming Amazon series Homecoming and plans to make a Metropolis miniseries.

Assuming the fourth and final season lives up to the near-unanimous critical praise of the first and third seasons—and for the sake of fans, answers some lingering questions and provides clarity about the show’s increasingly heavy science-fiction vibes—Mr. Robot will be ending on its own terms without succumbing to any extended series slumps. As sad as Mr. Robot’s ending may initially be, it’s as good a reminder as ever that a show ending on the earlier side—with a plan in place—is a far superior option than one going on for so long that it loses the plot (sometimes literally) and fades into obscurity.

Though there have been series that have justified extensive lengths without sparing quality, those exceptions are some of the very best shows to ever come out of TV’s Golden Age, like The Sopranos (six seasons) and Mad Men (seven seasons). Far more often, shows that once competed for Emmys began to wane long before they were mercifully ended. The prime example is Showtime’s Dexter, which had a mostly good four-season stretch, culminating in the tragic murder of Dexter Morgan’s wife Rita, before producing four more, critically reviled seasons and one of the worst finales ever made. And Dexter is hardly alone—similar statements can be made about True Blood (seven seasons), How I Met Your Mother (nine seasons), Sons of Anarchy (seven seasons), Homeland (it’s finally ending after an eighth season next year!), Scandal (seven seasons), Weeds (eight seasons), and The Walking Dead, which may never leave the airwaves despite losing its main character in its ninth (!) season.

The ideal compromise is a shorter series length that stays true to the creator’s vision. For instance, Sony Pictures and AMC were happy to give Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan more than five seasons, but he stuck to his five-season plan and came away with an all-timer. (While getting to have his cake and eat it too by remaining in the Breaking Bad world with the equally compelling prequel series, Better Call Saul.) FX’s The Americans might have dragged in its fifth season, but in allowing the show to reach its natural end after six years, showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields rewarded the independence the network granted them by cutting things off before the Jenningses’ spycraft lost its tension.

Ending sooner rather than later—this is perhaps the best concession for shows to make in 2018, in a time when miniseries with definite endings happily become multiseason shows (hi, Big Little Lies, but With Meryl Streep). A show as dense and plotty—and which frequently hides things from its audience, sometimes holding reveals until long after fans already have discovered the big twist—as Mr. Robot feels like an ideal candidate for this shorter runtime. There is inherent value to Esmail ending things on his own terms rather than being tempted to go along longer than anticipated. (Esmail tweeted on Wednesday night that USA Network was happy to keep the show going.) It’s obviously bittersweet to leave the paranoid headspace of Elliot Alderson and his anarchist alter-ego—but as brief but fantastic shows like The Leftovers and Halt and Catch Fire have affirmed, leaving somewhat early is a far more palatable compromise than watching a show dragging itself through the mud for four additional seasons just because it can, tainting what you loved about the series in the process. When people think about Dexter, they don’t think about the Ice Truck Killer—they think about the lumberjack.

So instead of mourning Mr. Robot’s end (though note: It is definitely OK to take a moment to grieve, and perhaps put on the creepy mask one more time), let’s celebrate the fact the show is ending when it is, on its own terms.