Mr. Robot: 407 Proxy Authentication Required

Elliot: He just wants a show. Let’s give him a show.
Vera: That’s right. I’ll be sittin’ right here, eatin’ my popcorn.

For a show that specializes in crafting a unique hour of television every week, you’d think it wouldn’t still be able to wow me after four seasons. Well, I’ve just been wowed again.

This is a huge episode, which is ironic considering it is one of the show’s most scaled-down episodes. Even compared to the one we got a few weeks back where it was mostly just Elliot and Tyrell walking around in the woods, this is a minimalist episode.

That’s not the right word. It honestly felt like a theater production.

Aside from the opening in the trunk of Vera’s car, “Proxy Authentication Required” takes place entirely within Krista’s home, either in the living and dining room area or in the adjacent office/library. Excluding Vera’s two henchmen Peanuts and Javi, there are only four (technically three) significant characters: Elliot, Mr. Robot, Krista and Vera.

And like a play, the episode is broken up into different acts. With each of the five acts slowly building to the big reveal, which we will get to shortly.

More than the reveal, I was captivated by the sheer cinematic quality on display here. The episode is framed within a wide-screen aspect ratio; Esmail pulled this trick last season with the episode “don’t delete me.” This lends it more of a movie theater appeal as opposed to a play.

It did a lot to heighten everything I usually love about this show: the dialogue, the cinematography, the acting, the editing, the music, etc.

But putting aside the technical brilliance, it's gonna be difficult to unpack everything that was so great about this episode.

The main thing is the duel of the minds between Elliot and Vera, two very different types of crazy who we discover have way more in common than we previously thought.

Vera's ultimate goal is to bend Elliot to his will and make him his partner-in-crime, to use his power to dominate New York City. However, the means to that end involves Vera exploring and exposing the skeletons in Elliot's closet.

Other than Ray in Season 2, no other antagonist has really taken an interest in Elliot’s mental issues. So this was a welcome surprise. It was such a hype moment when Mr. Robot asserts himself and begins dismantling all of Vera’s ambitions, only to find himself outwitted.

Like Tyrell Wellick, Vera is not as impressed with Mr. Robot as he is with Elliot. He is more interested in discovering the split personality’s origin and how it relates to Elliot than anything else. So in an odd way, Vera is acting in service to, what I imagine would be, a significant portion of the show’s audience. He’s just as eager to discover the “method to Elliot’s madness” as we are.

And to my surprise, that’s exactly what he does.

When you discard the sociopathic villains, the evil conspiracies, the international turmoil, and all the hacker bullshit, this story has always been about Elliot Alderson. His condition and state of mind, his past and future, the memories and emotions he chooses to embrace or suppress. Most of all, it is about the way his traumas have shaped him into who he is.

Because the focus has always been there, I always found Elliot’s therapy sessions with Krista to be some of the show’s most fascinating and enlightening scenes. So I kind of loved it when Vera realized the only way to get to the heart of Elliot’s issues is through one last session between him and Krista.

Even Elliot and Krista themselves become determined to get to the truth at a certain point. A truth that reduces Mr. Robot to desperately begging for Krista’s silence. A truth that upends Elliot's world.

We return once again to that cryptic event from Elliot’s childhood in which he thought he was pushed out of a window by his dad, but then we found out he jumped. Now it’s confirmed that Mr. Robot was controlling him at the time, and jumping out the window was his way of protecting Elliot. Protecting him from his father.

Elliot’s love for his father and desire for revenge after his death at Evil Corp’s hands had been a key part of his motivation from the beginning. To learn that this idolization was a fantasy designed to shield Elliot from the fact that his father was molesting him is without a doubt the biggest shock in the story thus far. It changes everything.

In hindsight though, I can kind of see how the whole series has been building up to this — even as it was gradually building up our sympathy for the late Edward Alderson. The first scene of the series featured Elliot taking down a child pornographer. Throughout the series, Elliot is frequently at the mercy of overtly dominant men, several of whom are fixated on him and have no sense of personal space. Then there’s Elliot’s tendency to invade people’s private lives, his overwhelming desire to “own” and destroy people who victimize others, his obsession with control. And, of course, it explains why Mr. Robot looks like Edward; more on this below.

Naturally, the truth breaks Elliot and Mr. Robot leaves, having failed his original purpose. Elliot is overwhelmed with years of pain and rage he’d kept buried inside. He’s never been more vulnerable.

This is what Vera was after all along. Hell, it probably went even better than he imagined. Vera’s original impression of Elliot, that they were kindred spirits, is finally vindicated. He now truly sees himself and Elliot as brothers because of their shared traumas. A connection he uses to prey on Elliot.

Ironically, Vera’s wisdom for Elliot actually made sense to me. Narratively speaking, at least. Maybe Elliot can use this pain and make it his weapon, as Vera evidently seemed to do with the sexual abuse he suffered as a kid. Would this mean we’d get an Elliot that’s even more dark, unstable and ruthless than before? Or would his acceptance of this revelation give him the freedom to move forward with his life? Maybe now that he knows why he’s always been so guarded and introverted, he’ll be able to finally let in the people who care about him.

Vera was clearly hoping for Evil Elliot to be his new pet project. As intriguing as it is that he was able to get so close, I’m grateful that Krista shanked this wild-eyed psycho right as he was about to win; it’s like a more satisfying version of the Night King’s defeat.

Only this now leaves Elliot adrift. Krista is probably quite shaken, Vera’s goons are still nearby, Darlene and Dominique DiPierro are in the hands of another psycho, the hack to bring down Whiterose and the Deus Group is supposed to go down tonight, and it’s raining. I look forward to seeing how they get out of this. And what kind of person Elliot will be in the end.

Ones and Zeroes:

* Not sure why all the lights go out at the end. Is it meant to illustrate Elliot’s state of mind or something else? Has the Dark Army tracked Elliot down somehow?

* I’ve got to give major props to Elliot Villar. Even with Rami Malek, Christian Slater and Gloria Reuben acting their asses off, he absolutely owned this episode as Vera. What a character!

* Mr. Robot’s total exasperation as Vera began his longwinded, oddly sentimental tale of what he’s been up to since escaping back in season one was hilarious.

* Vera claimed that after he got away in season one, he made his way back to the Dominican Republic and used the global chaos of the Five/Nine hack to eventually become the region’s reigning crime lord, with Dominicans and Haitians at all levels of society working for him. Not sure if this is true or just Vera’s delusions of grandeur.

* Krista stabs Vera with the same knife he claimed was used to murder Shayla. If that’s not poetic justice, I don’t know what is.

* The flashback where Edward takes Elliot to the movie theater makes sense in the worst way now. He wasn't apologizing and asking for his son's forgiveness because he pushed him out the window, he was doing it because the window incident made him realize how deeply he hurt Elliot. Elliot even said "You're just sick and you won't admit it." Maybe he wasn't talking about the cancer.

* Beyond just his appearance, the revelation about Elliot’s father does lend some clarity to the character of Mr. Robot himself. Like real life multiple personalities, Mr. Robot came into existence as a way for young Elliot to cope with the trauma he suffered; in the past, I had mistakenly believed it was a result of Elliot hitting his head during the window incident. So it makes sense that Mr. Robot represents what Elliot wanted and needed in a father: a loyal friend who will always be there to protect him. But this also means his past actions that deliberately hurt or manipulated Elliot also make sense; because he is Elliot’s subconscious interpretation of his father, Mr. Robot also doesn’t mind occasionally abusing Elliot. But this is all part of the alter ego’s primary function, defending Elliot and acting in what he feels are Elliot’s best interests.

Quotes:

Fernando Vera: This shit is bigger than Frost/Nixon!

Mr. Robot: Settle in. Looks like this is gonna be a long one.

Vera: And there I laid, weeping like a bitch, telling the shaman, “I can never go back, I failed there, that path was closed to me.” The shaman shook his head, “No.” He told me I had to reopen that path. That I had to reconcile with the man who closed it, for he is meant to be my partner. Then and only then can I go home again. That’s why we sittin’ here right now, Elliot. That’s why I came back. I own the wrong island. I’m gonna take over New York, and you gonna be by my side when I do.
The triumphant, uplifting music really sells it.

Vera: How do I know it’s you? I didn’t see no puff of smoke.
Mr. Robot: Let’s get one thing straight, fuckface. I ain’t no puff of smoke.

Peanuts: (aims gun at Mr. Robot’s head) Where that courage now, bitch?
Mr. Robot: (stares down the barrel of the gun) Right fucking here.

Mr. Robot: I am not someone you push around with a gun. I am the gun.

Mr. Robot: Behind every great fortune there lies a great crime. That is the corporate motto of these United States. You wanna oink oink with the other capitalist pigs? It's not about how much money, it's about robbing money itself.

Vera: You know what, you don’t need that Mr. Robot. He barks a lot, but he’s not the real bite behind all that havoc you wreaked, is he? See that right there, that’s why you my dude. I’m more scared of you than him.

Mr. Robot: (to Krista) Please, do not do this to him! He's not supposed to know!

Vera: I know it hurts right now, but you purging all that poison. Soon you can be your true self.
Elliot: My true self? I don’t know who that is. I don’t know who that is!

Elliot: Why? Why, why, why would he do that?
Vera: There is no why. You weren’t the one in control.

Vera: See, this shit you went through? Most people don’t know pain like that, they never will. And if they did, it would end them. But the people who dig in, the ones who keep surviving, those are the ones you can’t beat. Those are the ones no one can beat. Because once you’ve weathered a storm like yours, you become the storm. You hear me? You are the storm. And it’s the rest of the world that needs to run for cover.
Damn.

Vera: I see you now.

Well, that was awesome. Devastating. Masterful. I’d say it’d be hard to top this one, but I’m not putting anything past Sam Esmail at this point. Five out of five karmic knives.

2 comments:

skyemaidstone said...

Very nice review. This season has knocked it out of the park every single episode for me. I didn't initially "like" Vera.. I thought he was going to be one of those villains that give long tedious speeches (like Negan in Walking dead) but no, his actually made some kind of warped sense and the character was amazingly well acting. Had me gripped.

Rami Malek was utterly outstanding in this one. I mean he always is but he definitely needs another Emmy.

I have no idea where this show is going to end up at all but i'll certainly miss it.

Logan Cox said...

Vera was vastly more interesting and significant than I ever imagined he would be. He was such a dominant, entertaining presence in this episode that I'm a little bummed that he got killed; they just had to tease me with the idea that Vera might use Elliot to dethrone Whiterose and become the show's surprise ultimate villain. Although, really, it would have derailed the show's narrative if they followed through with his victory and Elliot suddenly became Vera's broken slave.

But yeah, that was a hell of an episode. This show deserves award nominations galore. I'm certainly gonna miss it as well.

Thank you for the comment.