It’s been a rough year for beloved TV characters. I didn’t watch Game of Thrones, but I am Very Online, so I mourned with those who mourned this season. I’m still not ready to talk about Logan Echolls. And now, as of the Season 4 premiere of Mr. Robot, we can add Angela Moss to this year’s in memoriam.
I am not anti–character death, partly because I love to be sad in the same way that people who watch horror movies love to be scared, but also because sometimes it’s just the right thing for the story. I’ve had fights with people who believe that character death is always lazy writing, the cheap way out, but when the stakes in a world are high—as they are in the world of Mr. Robot—it makes sense that not everyone will make it out alive. I was deeply upset over many of the deaths in the last Harry Potter books, but there was a magical war between good and evil, and some people had to die or the stakes weren’t real. I’ve been fully in love with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark since 2008, and I sobbed like a child in Avengers: Endgame, but I also left the theater evangelizing about how Tony Stark had one of the single best character arcs of modern media. I have felt heart-eyed about Mr. Robot’s Sam Esmail as a creator for several years. I’m addicted to puzzle box TV, and Esmail has a deep talent for writing it. But clever plotting is never enough to hook me if I don’t care about the characters inside the puzzle box, and Esmail’s work is full of great characters.
Angela Moss is—or was—one of those great characters. She is protagonist Elliot Alderson’s best friend since childhood, and they share the backstory of having a parent die young because of a mysterious project at the hands of Whiterose, who has emerged as the series’s main antagonist. Like Elliot, Angela has been obsessed with her parent’s death into her young adult life, and the early seasons of Mr. Robot are largely about the different ways each of them—along with Elliot’s little sister and Angela’s friend, Darlene—react to new information about those deaths and seek justice.
Angela, for better or (usually) for worse, is a character driven by conviction and belief. Unlike Elliot, whose brief interaction with Whiterose left her visibly unimpressed, Angela gets quite a bit of face time with the Dark Army’s leader. Whiterose asks Angela questions, answers some of the questions she receives in return, and shows Angela something that earns Angela’s full belief—a powerful thing, we learn in Season 3. Viewers still don’t know what Whiterose showed Angela, but we realize their interaction was about manipulation for the sake of Whiterose’s end goal, and that it meant Angela was not fated for a happy ending.
But we also know there was a reason Angela got Whiterose’s attention, and there’s a reason she’s been able to handle everything that’s been thrown at her, from being splattered in the blood of a superior’s suicide to performing high-level hacking on behalf of fsociety, and keep moving. There’s something important about her in the bigger context of this story. And as with so much of the show, we believed there was something about her we weren’t seeing yet.
We sort of got that at the end of Season 3 in the form of Phillip Price’s “I am your father” reveal. It’s a great twist, the kind Mr. Robot viewers always expect but rarely see coming. But it’s not really about her. And many of us were looking forward to finding out this season what it is about her that’s special and what part she’ll play in the endgame. Because when Phillip said Angela’s whole arc in the show has been about her being manipulated by outside forces, I knew that wasn’t true. When Whiterose told Price that she was only interested in Angela as a pawn for hurting Price (not to mention killing thousands of people), I knew that wasn’t true. This show has more respect for its female protagonists than that, I thought, and Angela is more interesting than that, more involved in the main story.
Only now she’s dead. Murdered by Whiterose’s agents within the first moments of the first episode of the final season. It happened as a blurry long shot over Phillip Price’s shoulder as he broke down. Her death changes things for him. He’ll move forward with new determination, new motive; Angela’s death will give Phillip Price, her father, more to do.
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Esmail says that’s what’s happening with Elliot too: “But to lose Angela? To lose the closest person he’s ever known? There’s no turning back for him after that point. He was going to strike back, hard. That’s what accelerates the standoff between Elliot and Whiterose that we’ve been waiting for. It has to start now.”
If a main character is going to die, it has to mean something; it would feel unjust and even ridiculous if Elliot, or Darlene, or Phillip, moved on from Angela’s death as if nothing had happened. But what Esmail is describing is the textbook definition of fridging. I can’t think of a reasonable way to argue that what happened to Angela was anything other than her being killed off to motivate the other (mostly male) main players.
Mr. Robot isn’t a show where it’s safe to assume a happy ending (or happy middle) for anyone. Some deaths to this point have been upsetting but ultimately understandable. Joanna Wellick, for example, was a compelling character, but her story as it connected to the main narrative was over; the same is true of Gideon Goddard, whose death remains the second saddest to me after Angela’s. Other deaths, like Shayla’s, feel more pointless; Shayla was murdered by an unstable asshole (technically by his cronies) basically because she had the misfortune to be close to Elliot. Her death’s primary contribution was to make Elliot upset and add to the list of people he’s hurt. Other deaths have been tragic but have served the narrative in some way or other. Cisco’s death was connected to his relationship with Darlene, but also with his direct and willing involvement with the Dark Army; many fans think Romero’s Season 1 death may still be part of the broader mystery; and Trenton and Mobley’s very upsetting deaths in Season 3 were connected to the heightening stakes of Whiterose’s plan and the FBI’s case against fsociety.
But those deaths happened to minor characters. If the core story of Mr. Robot—aside from the hacking and the capitalism, the core human story—is about what happened to Elliot’s dad and Angela’s mom and what Whiterose had to do with it, none of those characters has anything to do with it. Elliot does. Darlene does. And Angela does. Removing Angela from the story just when it’s time to start really figuring things out and taking meaningful action against Whiterose feels cheap; having Elliot and Darlene find out what happened to their dad and Angela’s mom while they’re extra sad about Angela and how she’ll never know feels a little gross, honestly. This battle belongs to Angela as much as it does to the Aldersons. Or it should.
Recently, Lindsay King-Miller published an article on TVGuide.com about the deaths of major female characters on the Joss Whedon series Angel. King-Miller’s article is (rightly) mostly about Cordelia Chase, and I was thrilled to see Charisma Carpenter—Cordy herself—retweet the article and thank the author for saying things that she felt. But as I watched the season premiere of Mr. Robot on Sunday night, King-Miller’s words about Fred’s death were what kept circling in my head: “It’s a crushing, painful, ugly death. It’s not the resolution of a character arc or even particularly relevant to the season’s main plotline. Mostly, it gives the primary male characters an extra helping of grief, rage, and guilt to carry into the season’s final battle.”
Maybe it’s not fair that I had this quote in mind as I watched Angela’s story end. In fact, it might not even be fair to say that Angela’s story did end; flashbacks are built into the structure of Mr. Robot, and though I’m not personally convinced, there’s some fan speculation that we’ll also be dealing with time travel and/or parallel realities by the time all is said and done. But the quote’s relevance is not fair to those of us who were invested in Angela’s character development, who gave Esmail our belief that there was more for her to do—that the creator who’s given us such great characters and such compelling narrative surprises, and who has clearly had a big-picture vision in mind from Episode 1, couldn’t give one of his two female protagonists better options than “run or die.”
I loved Angela Moss. I’m not ready to remove emotion from this. For now, I’ll rewind the season premiere and watch the first part of that first scene again, watch a trembling and traumatized Angela fall back on her firm belief that she knows what’s happening and that she can take back control of her story. Rewind and watch her say it again. Rewind and watch her say it again. See? She’s fine.