The Time Is Precious, I Know: Mr. Robot, ‘403 Forbidden’

Previously on!

Vera is back. Okay technically, still back, but we’re going to see what damage he does now.

Elliot learned Cyprus Bank funds Whiterose’s entire operation, though his plan to rob said bank has been complicated by the fact that Darlene murdered the (apparently only) person who had the data to access Whiterose’s accounts — one Susan Jacobs.

Price filled us all in on the existence of an eeeeeeevil Illumanti, Deus Group, who Whiterose has tricked into helping her basically take over and run, in its entirety *checks notes* The Whole World.

And since the last season had to have a massive twist, of course, we learned what might be the most important fact of all; Elliot/Robot has a third personality, another alter who can assume such complete control of the body that neither Elliot nor Robot know they exist, nor what they do, nor even when they take over. This is absolutely huge and has raised a kajillion theories about who it could be. Most lean towards Tyrell, though as I said last week, Tyrell just has way too involved a life outside Elliot for he and Elliot to be one person. Either way, the identity of this alter, how long they maybe have been around, whether or not we’ve seen them, all remain a mystery and presumably, will continue to do so until sometime around episode nine or ten.

Until then …

We flashback to 1982 where a room full of IBM execs are trying to sell a baby-faced ‘Director Zhang’, the public persona of Whiterose, (who is not a baby-faced BD Wong but damn, good lookalike) on using E-Corp software do business for the Chinese Government. Of course for this setting, our girl is in her suit and her short hair, presenting as male and if she speaks English at this point, she’s not letting on. She calls the IBM dudes’ belief she’ll be paying for the technology ‘cute’, she and her assistant, Chen (a less intense version of Grant) flirt, all in Mandarin, while in English they agree to the deal. In Mandarin again and smiling angelically, Whiterose promises to steal all their technology the second the Asian IBM plant opens.

Later in private in their motel room, Whiterose is still presenting as male. We’re meeting her before she began to live as her real self, even in this intimate setting. Chen talks up how the deal will mean Whiterose will be made the Ambassador to the US, which in turn will allow them to live there full-time and ‘be their true selves’.

Remember the episode with the massacre in China? When Whiterose was nearly moved to tears, in Dom’s presence no less, by this same idea of freedom? In 1982 she looks pensive and it’s Chen telling her to cheer up. Zhang does briefly contemplate the possibilities and there is so much wrapped up in one brief glance … okay, hello Ross Kurt Le.

Later on, Chen is ready to go to some kind of boorish boys’ drinking thing but Whiterose is clearly anxious and doesn’t want to go. She begs off and they part on a very sweet, loving kiss and okay — this is not the cold, calculating monster we know so well. I am worried for Chen. Chen leaves and time passes, and he comes back, a little drunk. Zhang is waiting and asks for the lights to be kept off. Chen turns and sees Zhang, backlit but hidden by shadows. Her hair is DID, y’all. She stands in shadow; we see her dress. She recalls Chen’s words of being their true selves and turns on the lights to reveal just that. She looks exquisite. I mean. She is wearing a flowing white gown like she’s doing it a favour, her hair is tousled here, pinned back there. She is so comfortable as she moves, more so than we saw her even before, in her hotel robe. Chen asks ‘You’re …?’ and Whiterose answers ‘A woman’ and there’s a shot of Le that’s so similar to BD Wong that I’m wondering if they did some CGI.

Chen walks over and calmly, lovingly tells her she’s beautiful and they kiss. We close on Chen’s 80s-style digital watch and then we’re back in modern-day.

Whiterose is now wearing the watch and oh … Damn it. Whiterose is preparing the same stunning dress to wear the day her project is shipped and they ‘begin to build a new world’. New Assistant, Wang Shu (Jing Xu) is astonishingly shrewd. She’s worked out the Elliot-shaped link between Freddy Lomax’s suicide and Price’s sudden resignation and reminds Whiterose ‘there is no such thing as a coincidence’. Whiterose accepts the risks and orders her to delay Price and watch Elliot, and Assistant is confident it will be resolved soon.

This takes Whiterose into another flashback to a wedding in China. Whiterose tells the bride he loves her stunning, traditional red dress and asks after the groom, Chen, who has yet to actually enter–  you know, his own wedding — seeking him out in a familiar, gigantic dressing room.

They appear to be in the house we’ve seen Whiterose occupy in the present, and in the 80s it was heavily decorated with traditional Chinese artifacts and items which are gone in the present day. It must be Chen’s father’s house, as it’s Chen’s father forcing him to marry the woman waiting outside. Of course, Chen doesn’t want to. He loves Whiterose. Chen holds him and Whiterose reassures him marriage is just a technicality, but Chen sounds incredibly fragile as he admits he can’t go on much longer wondering when they can finally leave the country.

Chen figures out Whiterose didn’t get the US Ambassador job, which means no escape, no world where they can be their true selves. Chen thinks Whiterose has been shit on but in fact, Whiterose was given the State Security job she has in the modern-day. She’s calm and cool about how much more control it gives her in government, and it’s clear she isn’t seeing this as a loss at all. Chen, though … is falling part. Whiterose keeps promising it just means a little more time, finding a new way to make the world better. She points out she told Chen everything, making clear she’s not leaving or giving up, and asks for patience. Chen knows that for her, giving your patience means giving your surrender. She tells him with completely sincerity that she loves him. Chen asks to be left alone but calls Whiterose back before she reaches the door. Chen slashes his own throat with a knife. Whiterose holds him as he bleeds out, shrieking, hysterical, devastated.

We jump back to modern-day and Whiterose is right where we left her; she calls back Wang Shu, ordering her not to delay Price at all, but in fact, call the meeting of the Deus group tomorrow. To her confusion he points out that if Price and Elliot are planning something, the easiest way to attack is just to move it up and fuck up their timeline. Whiterose stresses how long she’s been waiting to ship her project and nothing that could delay it can be tolerated any longer. So Price can fuck off, the meeting can happen tomorrow, who cares if it’s Christmas Day? Wang Shu tries to argue there are no more sympathetic executives at E-Corp to replace but Whiterose is confident that Tyrell is ready to be tapped. Wang Shu barely conceals her ‘…. u fucken srs?’ expression and backs out.

Guys. My entire heart.

We pan over to Elliot and Robot. Robot is talking to us about fearing Vera will come at them any second. He compares it to Russian Roulette but his thoughts are interrupted as they run into Krista, Elliot’s former therapist. Krista, who believes/knows Elliot was part of an act of major terrorism is … terrified. Elliot is trying to tell her he’s doing better but Krista cuts him off with the firm declaration she’s scared of him. Elliot is silently, quietly devastated and leaves with a thank you for having helped him.

As they part ways, a man in a red jacket walks into frame, clearly following Elliot.

Over at the Alsafe HQ, Elliot and Darlene havee managed to track dead Susan’s connection to Cyprus Bank — one Olivia Cortez, Deus Group’s US account manager. They’ve hacked her good and proper, but realise they’ll need physical access to her laptop to get anything valuable. Darlene points out how neat and closed-circle it is he’s back at Alsafe (and like Wang Shu’s comment on unresolved issues earlier, it feels sort of meta) to fix the world at the same place he broke it, but Elliot has learned Cortez is out for the evening and her house will be empty.

Darlene wants to go and Elliot shuts her down as Elliot, Robot and then again, as … probably Elliot, only scarier and more intense. All the way through it’s clear Darlene still doesn’t know when she’s talking to Elliot or Robot, though she knows she’s not going to make progress with him. He laments opening the door when she came back to town, and Darlene looks gut-punched.

Over at the Cortez apartment, Robot is wondering what’s the word for someone who has lost everyone, more than an orphan or widow? Robot fears Elliot is a time bomb. They find a laptop, Elliot finds some Oxy, and then he sees the locked drawer with her work laptop and sets about doing his thing.  In a hilarious cutaway, Robot is on her personal laptop and trashing Cortez’s date, ‘Evan’ the douche, who sounds worse than (uuuugh, fucking) Ollie. Elliot breaks the news that while he has Cortez’s credentials but not her security fob, without which they’re screwed. They list all the ways they can’t get it before deciding to go to the bar she’s meant to meet Evan. Evan, it transpires, has stood up Cortez. Mr. Robot seriously intones ‘This is what an Evan does’, and heeee.

This also sinks their boat so Elliot, mercenary as fuck, points out the Oxy bottle he found. Olivia is a supposedly ‘former’ addict, whose custody agreement for her kids is dependent on clean drug tests. Elliot is at once ready to use this information against her but even Robot thinks that’s fuuuuucked. He suggests small talk, some flirting and then pickpocket the fob but Elliot, like Whiterose, just doesn’t have the time. He approaches Cortez and is about to ruin her poor life when Robot sweeps in and dials that Slater charm up to eleven, buys Olivia a drink and they all sit down to have a good time … Elliot’s eyes on the security fob chained to her bag.

Over at some takeout place, Vera is using an army of children to smuggle drugs he’s hiding inside Christmas turkeys.

Do … do the kids get to keep the turkey for Christmas dinner? Red Jacket from earlier sidles into the room with information about Elliot, but Red Jacket is just sort of confused. Vera wants Elliot to be the architect of his Kingdom (which is some deep Matrix speak, Esmail, damn) and hilariously, points out that Red Jacket knows this and is selling himself short. Red Jacket wonders why they don’t just use force but Vera sincerely, honestly, doesn’t want to force Elliot — knows he’ll work better as a partner than a prisoner. So far, everyone who meets Elliot falls in love with him just a little bit. I mean, I get it.  Red Jacket info dumps that Elliot is hard to keep track of and ‘for the most part’, walks around alone. He talks of seeing Krista and Vera wants details; crying mad, crying sad, crying happy? Red Jacket is like ‘…’, though he has pictures of Krista. Vera calls over a nearby errant child and shows him the picture of Krista and Elliot from earlier, asks him what he sees. The kid immediately recognises that Elliot feels bad because Krista is yelling like he’s her kid and she’s his mom. Vera realises Krista has information on Elliot and kills the poor, oblivious Red Jacket.

At the bar, Olivia and Elliot are talking and he speaks about his mother’s death. She offers condolences and our poor, broken boy is genuinely confused over why she would be sorry for him. Olivia had a similar situation, lost her ‘amazing’ mother and then ended up on bad terms with her dad. She’s really sad and vulnerable and Elliot is so cold and awkward, but then he just calmly says he’s addicted to morphine. Olivia manages to joke ‘do you have any?’ and then they start to talk for real. He talks about being clean for nine months, except when he was held down and forced to do heroin a few days ago. Olivia is completely charmed and asks if he’s a crazy and Elliot is like, ‘I mean … ‘Yes’. Y’all, this is cute.

And then, fucking Evan appears. Olivia is coooool as ice, pretending not to know him. Elliot appears to fumble the moment and she leaves, but as the music builds he chases her outside, Romantic Movie style, and kisses her. They kiss their way back to her apartment and her bed because Elliot is apparently a professional level spy nowadays.

Sometime later she sleeps, and he takes the fob to the bathroom (in a gorgeously filmed long sweeping shot over the apartment.) Elliot texts Darlene with the information they need and as he learns the meeting has been moved up to tomorrow, Olivia catches him in the bathroom. He manages to hide his phone and the fob and knocks over the basket with the Oxy bottle he didn’t steal. Olivia snatches it back but quietly explains that she got addicted after her mother was murdered back in Colombia. Even this ice-cold Elliot is moved enough to sit and listen as she talks through her fall into addiction and numbness. She opens the Oxy bottle to reveal a razor hidden inside. It’s her reminder. If she hates herself enough to start using again, she may as well kill herself.

Oh, Olivia. Baby. She admits she’s ‘crazy’ too. Elliot tells her he understands what it’s like to hate yourself and admits he almost killed himself, once. She asks what stopped him and Elliot …

… Y’all. My heart. Elliot says he promised he’d take a kid to see The Martian. They continue to have chemistry and be cute and you’ll excuse me, while I’m over here, gutturally crying over Mobley and Trenton.

As Elliot rides home, Robot marvels that Olivia managed to teach Elliot it’s okay to let people in. On the way back to their office, Elliot points out a van following them and they realise Whiterose and Dark Army are back on their trail. Robot asks what to do and Elliot calmly suggests they just go home and act normal. But back at their apartment, the door has been kicked in and someone might be waiting inside. Dark Army are waiting outside. Elliot still wants to just act normal, which means going inside. And then he does.

And inside is Tyrell and because Tyrell is … Tyrell, he just calmly talks about their ENTIRE ASS PLAN TO TAKE DOWN DARK ARMY before Elliot can warn him they’re being spied on. Outside the mysterious van is parked nearby. We don’t see inside.

I’m so glad Vera stayed weird. His talk of Elliot as an architect was clearly intentional and ties into the Simulation/VR theory. The very fact he’s back around at all feels like the same self-aware meta decision has having Wang Shu describe unresolved issues and Darlene drawing attention to the fact they’re back at Alsafe. Esmail isn’t leaving anything unresolved, he’s tying everything together. Shayla, who Vera murdered, appeared in the VR short from season 2 and has been referenced ever since, but not yet this season, despite Vera being, ya know. Right there.

We’re obviously building to something. I don’t think Vera is a tertiary antagonist who Elliot will have to defeat to add tension before he faces off against Whiterose. Vera has been part of this since the beginning.

First truly wild theory of the season? Vera is Leon. Like a gamer having two accounts for one game so they can play it through different ways.

Also, where is beloved Leon?

So now we know there is a mysterious third alter, am I the only one reading way too much into everything Rami Malek does? Because I’m doing that. I’ve been feeling like he’s acting weird since the opening of the season and tonight he just seemed to hit a few curious line readings that made me wonder if it was Our Elliot or someone else behind the wheel. Even how he sneaks around and the smooth, fluid way he passed through Olivia’s apartment in that oner, just felt … different.

Speaking of Olivia; I loved her. She was sweet and vulnerable and did Elliot some good for once. It would be interesting to see if she makes a return, either as an ongoing love interest or perhaps someone Elliot revisits when all is said and done. That said, I feel like the mention of Trenton’s brother, Mohammed (from back in Season 3) was perhaps intentional, signalling she’s a one-off character –one who has taught Elliot something vital but won’t return to add more — however often you return to speak with them. It’s one of those habits that adds, in my mind anyway, to the VR or Sim theory. That and the fact he took Mohammed to Back to the Future, a film about trying to redo things…

Similar to that episode, this one had a pleasantly sedate, dreamlike sort of quality to it and I’m loving that while their mission to Save/Destroy The World is down to the days, there’s still space in the story for both big and small character moments like this. While we saw Elliot learn to let people in a little, we also saw Whiterose dealing with the cost of letting someone in and then losing them, as she did Chen.

Those opening twenty minutes just won’t let me be. I had to make myself concentrate to focus on the rest of the episode because all I can do now is obsess over that little Whiterose Origins Story.

I’m fascinated by the fact that while Whiterose did have to grow into certain aspects of herself; she’s always been ruthlessly driven by power and control. She was willing to sacrifice, indefinitely (and as we’ve seen, it’s been decades) her own freedom and truth, to acquire more power, more control. She did this knowing what it would cost Chen, and what she was asking of him. Perhaps she thought that given what she was sacrificing, he would be okay doing the same. Even in the present, Whiterose still has that blind spot for people’s emotions, that assumption that if she wants it, they must want it too. It’s about the only thing that foils her in any capacity, is her inability to predict or control what people will do when she pushes too hard.

I like the fact Wang Shu is both cogent of this fact and actively compensating for it, and the reminder Whiterose is still the best head in the game, even when she’s a little distracted.

And finally, let’s talk about Tyrell. I’m … I can’t decide what I think is going on. Tyrell hasn’t appeared since the season opener, and when he did he was a hollow, shattered, shell of a man, dragging himself through a day of work. We haven’t seen or heard from him since and then in this episode, he’s mentioned once, given a huge promotion off-camera, and just mysteriously turns up, Robot style, in Elliot’s place. Esmail is clearly leading us back to the idea Tyrell, or at least … a version of Tyrell might be one of Elliot’s alters. But, I stress, again, Tyrell has too much of a full life to be a full-blown alter. Perhaps Elliot has his own version, a TyrElliot that serves his needs. That would be why Vera didn’t bother him (which, incidentally, whoever the alter is either doesn’t know Vera is dangerous or knows for a fact he isn’t), Tyrell doesn’t know who he is.

I can’t wait to see how this turns out. I trust Esmail to land it right, I do.

Next time, Tyrell (… probably) leads Elliot and Robot on a strange adventure. Will we get answers about who he really is? If he really … is?

Tune in next week.

Nadine Morgan

Nadine Morgan is really terrible at the ‘About You’ part of life. Nadine developed her reviewer skills writing epic facebook rants about the details script supervisors forget and trying to explain why Carol on The Walking Dead broke Lizzie by accident. Nadine loves TV, film and books but she wishes someone would pay her to be the continuity editor. She can be found on Facebook and in her forest garden and if she’s not yelling at her TV she’s trying to convince a cat to be an Instagram model and refusing to let 90's fashion die.

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