Last week! Esmail played on the idea Whiterose is an alter in a subtle, careful sort of way; we saw Elliot sink to his lowest moral point as he pushed an innocent woman to near suicide and then pretty much just left her alone to face whatever follows; Dom and Darlene reunited with what is becoming their normal misery and violence; and poor, put upon Krista was terrorised by Vera in his mission to get Elliot to work for him. Once Elliot learned of her fate, and despite knowing it was a trap, Elliot ran off to Krista’s aid, getting himself tossed in a trunk for his trouble.
Warning: This week’s episode features discussion of abuse.
Previously on Mr. Robot, we are reminded that for most of his life Elliot believed Mr. Alderson tossed him out a window when Elliot was only a child, framing both his father and the Mr. Robot alter as a sinister, abusive figure. While Esmail basically told us the truth back in season 1, when Robot ‘pushed’ Elliot off the boardwalk, it was only last year that Darlene finally corrected Elliot’s memory of events; he was never pushed out of the window. He was, even then, having one of his ‘episodes’, and he destroyed a room and jumped out, himself. Since this is Esmail he makes sure to show the flashback scene from Elliot and Mr. Alderson’s cinema trip a few weeks after the incident, during which Elliot clearly already blames his father, but curiously … Mr. Alderson was apologetic and contrite. If he didn’t push Elliot then … what was he sorry for?
The episode begins with Elliot still stuffed in the trunk, listening to his captors talk and laugh. He’s dragged out not too long after since it’s still daylight, to almost over-the-top dramatic music and the subtitle ‘Act One’ and finally, after several seasons of the series, Elliot and a crack-smoking Vera are face to face once again. Vera legit crumbles to tears as if he’s meeting Beyonce. He straight up calls Elliot a hero, one he admittedly did wrong, but the ‘wrong’ (Shayla’s brutal murder) was a mutual turning point for them both. We get a nice, framed wide shot, in case you were under any doubt this episode is being presented as a play.
A bound and gagged Elliot is ungagged and Mr. Robot swoops in to break down their situation — they’re on the upper floor of a walk-up, several locked doors between them and the exit, surrounded by goons and the (can’t stress enough) crack-smoking Vera, but they might have a chance to just book it down a fire escape in the back. It’s a fun detail that obviously, Elliot noticed all this himself and Robot is just helping him process that information at the same time as dealing with Vera. Elliot won’t leave without Krista, who Robot stresses is likely already dead. Elliot needs to be sure, so he’ll just get Vera talking (‘what he loves to do best’).
Elliot asks why it’s taken so long for Vera to come for him and Vera explains he had to be ready for Elliot, a ‘formidable adversary’. Elliot plays dumb, Peanuts asks if he is and it could be funny, the strained way Vera hisses ‘Shut the fuck up!’ — but it’s not. It’s incredibly unsettling, given how implacably calm and collected Elliot’s been prior, and how quickly this change has happened.
Vera is basically vibrating with excited rage, continues to smoke huge quantities of crack and talks about his brief visit home to the Dominican Republic after the jailbreak. He talks up a dream he had, about how he showed the people who doubted him by setting up a crew and a cartel. Robot sighs and settles in for a long haul while the camera pans next door to a bound, weeping Krista. Back to Vera, his eyes are all pupil and he’s pacing and sweaty as he recounts his strange rambling tale. I could describe it in detail but it’s … bonkers, frankly, and I’m too distracted by the almost inspirational tone the music takes as he speaks. The tl:dr is that he easily became powerful in the Dominican Republic, but felt unfulfilled. A Shaman, via a powerful drug trip, helped him realise he wanted — needed — to be in New York and to do that, he had to make peace with Elliot. Vera wants to take over New York, with Elliot by his side as he does. Vera lays it all bare and asks Elliot what he thinks.
Elliot’s only question is ‘Where’s Krista?’ and makes clear he won’t work with Vera until he knows she’s okay. This, of course, brings up the Shayla-phant in the room, hence Elliot’s concern for Krista. Vera realises a knife he’s brandishing was the one his brother used to kill Shayla, which Javi thinks is hilarious. Elliot notices the dude laugh about it. Hmm.
Elliot calmly asserts that Vera can’t kill Krista because she’s his only leverage. He’s mostly stunned Vera would come back and be the same kind of stupid as last time, specifically in a way that won’t end with Elliot by Vera’s side. Vera gets in Elliot’s face with the knife and the way Elliot’s eyes track to the same blade that killed Shayla, now inches away from his own throat? *chefs kiss*. Vera agrees to the meet on the condition he gets an introduction, and we’re taken into Act Two.
In her all too familiar office next door, Elliot is shown the bound, weeping Krista and demands her release. Vera wants his introduction first … to Mr. Robot. Elliot takes a full, calculating ten seconds to deny any knowledge while Vera wants to know how to ‘bring him out’. Elliot tries to negotiate, Mr. Robot for Krista’s freedom and he’s restrained while Vera begins to threaten and molest Krista. Elliot rages and struggles as Vera threatens to unleash Javi on the sobbing Krista. And then (Slater as) Mr. Robot is there, offering to talk. Vera is dubious at first, though Robot’s entirely changed demeanour and the fact his every word drips with barely contained hostility does it for Vera. It’s a little disturbing how Vera almost looks turned on by what to him is just a confident, more assertive Elliot. Peanuts is overly protective of Vera, so much she immediately draws on Robot, but Robot, I mean … do I need to tell you he gives absolutely negative fucks and they immediately trade threats?
Vera smooths things over and Peanuts is dismissed so Vera can just freak out over the fact he’s talking to another person. Mr. Robot just wants to know what he’s here. Vera, smoking more crack (just … it might be safe to assume he smokes at least twice a scene) throws the question back in a more pointed way, and Robot explains he’s there to make sure Elliot has someone on his side when assholes mess with him. Vera thinks he’s like protection and teases Robot isn’t super great at it. And then he asks a killer question; not so much … why is he here, but how? How did he start? Because if Robot protects Elliot it means Elliot was hurt, scared badly enough to need rescuing. Robot points out Vera isn’t smart enough to get in his head but Vera thinks he is. He lists Elliot’s tragedies; Mr. Alderson’s death, his mother’s abuse, and so ipso facto; Mr. Robot. Robot relaxes a little and tells Vera he needs to convince Robot to work with him. Vera doesn’t literally motion generally to the gun, his goons, his hostage and go ‘… I have to what?’ but it’s there, in spirit. Robot shrugs that if Krista talked up Robot, she talked up 5/9 and … you know, the rest of it. So Vera knows how dangerous Robot is, and that he can’t be threatened with a gun, because he is one. He says Vera is full of shit so … go away. Vera, high as God rants on his plan to turn the five boroughs into his own personal empire, from drug dealers and sex workers up to the cops and businessmen. It becomes beat poetry for a second as he ends on his desire to own Manhattan island.
Robot snarks ‘… you want to get into real estate?’ And then goes on to dismantle Vera’s entire manifesto, pointing out how the corporations own everything Vera wants to own, and the things he needs Robot for could be learned in night school. Vera claims it’s about power while Robot is sweeping every leg Vera has and then waves a carrot on a stick — he offers to help Vera steal a shitload of money. But first, he has to let Krista go. Vera’s not that dumb though and points out that in Elliot’s own words, Krista is their only leverage. He tells Rob/Elliot Krista doesn’t even trust them, so why should Vera?
At which point Elliot says ‘I’ll show you’. Robot, Vera and Krista all turn to stare as Elliot explains his hack, the big theft, is literally happening later that day. Vera’s suspicious though Elliot makes it clear he doesn’t give a shit about the money; he just wants to take it from the bad guys. He stands, offers to show Vera all the data and proof of what he’s about to do. WHERE ARE DARLENE AND DOM? JESUS CHRIST ESMAIL YOU CAN’T JUST DO THIS TO ME.
Vera sends Javi for the bag and Vera uses the moment to creeeeeepily tell Elliot he doesn’t need Mr. Robot. They are kissing close when Vera points out that Elliot’s the dangerous one, the one Vera is scared of. So, let’s see what he has to show.
Back in the gorgeous open plan living space of Krista’s apartment, Elliot digs out his laptop and notices the gun he still has in his bag. Oooh! Elliot shows them the screen and Vera and Peanuts are freaking out over the number of zeroes they see, calling it ‘Stadium Money’ and while they’re all distracted, Elliot grabs his gun and draws it. Oh dang! Dang! Vera thinks Elliot doesn’t have it in him, so Elliot just fucking shoots at them. The gun, though, is unloaded because Vera really isn’t that dumb. But he is surprised Elliot grabbed for the gun and he’s barely containing very serious rage. Robot at once tags in to try to take the blame and protect Elliot, and it’s remarkable how quick Vera has adapted to speaking to them both.
Vera grabs Krista and holds the now loaded gun on he,r and Elliot repeats his threat he won’t do a damned thing if she’s killed, finally offering to work with Vera after all. Vera, high on trust issues and also on crack, rages that he can’t believe Elliot and demands to know why he shouldn’t kill Krista. Elliot finally screams ‘I need her! She helps me!’
Vera realises Krista is Elliot’s ‘Shaman’, and also realises it should be Krista chasing Elliot for answers. Back in Krista’s office, Vera sits Elliot and Krista down for a therapy session, picking up whereever they last left off. Krista, freed of her bonds, point-blank refuses, calling it another way to hurt Elliot, because she is a good person, goddamn it. She also just knows it won’t just happen because therapy doesn’t work that way. Vera throws Peanuts and Javi out for privacy, and Elliot gently coaxes Krista to ask him questions, to talk about his mother, who just died.
Krista, bless her heart, does her best and Elliot is the best patient he’s ever been. They play the role for a moment, admirably, when Vera interrupts and wants them to dig deeper. He reveals that Krista said ‘Elliot has a secret and the only way to unlock it is to find out why Mr. Robot exists’
Krista makes an ‘oh shit’ expression while Elliot’s is all ‘… you said what’ because Vera isn’t that dumb and of course, Elliot asks what she means. Robot pops up, stressing they should leave while they only have Vera to deal with but Vera is revealing more, and it’s clear Krista absolutely doesn’t want Elliot to know what’s in her notes. Elliot realises Robot doesn’t either and makes Vera keep reading.
Krista had concerns about Elliot’s relationship to Robot and how it blocks them from understanding his ‘true’ condition. Vera reaches notes about the ‘Window Event’ and wants to know what it was. Krista is trying to reason with Elliot, who wants to know what she’s hiding. He asks if it’s about Robot or Darlene, or if it’s about the window; is it about Mr. Alderson? Robot is demanding she keep silent and Elliot keeps telling him to shut up, and I’d give anything for us to just sometimes get scenes where Robot and Elliot switch this quickly where we just see Elliot as others would.
Krista clarifies the Window Event was when Elliot was pushed from the window. He corrects that he jumped, he remembered it wrong. So what’s the problem? Krista asks why he can’t remember the day very well. She asks what he does remember which is building a snowman and going upstairs to find his camera. Darlene had to tell him that, and she also had to tell him their father came upstairs and that Elliot made Darlene hide, then grabbed a bat and began destroying the entire room, before jumping out of the window. Krista asks if Elliot remembers this, or does he remember Darlene telling him this and Elliot remembers Darlene told him this, the way she’s always told him what happened when he lost time, which these days, is Mr. Robot related. Krista pushes Elliot to consider how far back his incidents of ‘lost time’ go and Elliot realises what she’s getting at and yells at Mr. Robot ‘How long have you been messing with my head?’
Remember back when Angela and Elliot talked on a train, just before she was taken by Whiterose’ people? She told a story of a past incident at a museum when Elliot, in the grip of one of his episodes, was yelling at someone who wasn’t there. Or in the cinema episode, the one from the Previously clip? After Mr. Alderson collapsed, Elliot left him where he lay, went to watch his movie … and then shushed an empty chair.
Remember how Elliot threw himself off the Boardwalk and imagined Mr. Robot pushed him?
Elliot and Robot both are yelling at Krista and again, I’d love to see how this looks from their point of view, people who only see Elliot. Robot is screaming, begging ‘Please do not do this to him’ and I shriek, ‘DO WHAT’?!
Krista ignores Robot and asks if Elliot believes Mr. Robot does exist to protect him and if so, could it have been Mr. Robot who picked up the bat and jumped out of the window all those years ago, and if that is also true … what then, could Mr. Robot have been protecting Elliot from? Given that it happened when his father came into the room, why does Elliot think he had such a strong reaction to that? Elliot whimpers ‘I don’t know’ and stresses that he can’t remember. Rami is giving a whole-body performance of such profound terror. Elliot says he must have been scared, and Vera clarifies it must have been of his father. Elliot dismisses that and feebly calls Mr. Alderson ‘his friend’. Oh, baby. Mr. Robot turns then, looking almost sick and gasps he can’t protect Elliot anymore. He walks out and Elliot asks Krista why he’d be scared of his father? Krista, as gently as if handling a newborn, asks if Elliot remembers his father ever hurting him, and to Elliot’s repeated assertion his father was his ‘only friend’, Krista asks ‘Then what made you scared that day?’
Elliot tries to walk back being ‘scared’ and says he’s confused. Krista repeats the story ‘You and your father were in the room … you heard your father’s footsteps’. Elliot whispers ‘No’ and Krista suggests Elliot hid Darlene to protect her, grabbed a bat to defend himself, keep Mr. Alderson from getting too close. Elliot is muttering ‘No, no no’ as Krista calmly asks if Elliot was afraid Mr. Alderson would ask Elliot to do something he didn’t want to do. Elliot is shaking, quietly weeping as he nods and says yes. Krista asks if he remembers what his father asks, and Elliot looks broken as he says he does. Krista asks directly if Mr. Alderson molested him and Elliot breaks down completely and sobs ‘Yes’, collapsing into agonised tears.
That was brutal. That was just brutal.
Act Five Begins.
Krista and Vera sit with borderline catatonic Elliot. Vera explains he’s a survivor too and has been where Elliot is, wants Elliot to know that he’s not as alone as he feels. Vera actually says a lot of the right things and then makes the mistake of resting a hand on Elliot’s shoulder, sending our boy fleeing from the room. Vera follows and while Elliot rages that he can’t live with this knowledge, that he can’t process this, Vera stands by.
He tells Elliot he has to live with it, he has to process it because that’s surviving. He encourages Elliot to scream out his rage. Elliot, asking why his father did it, looks like he wants to crawl out of his own skin but Vera gets a grip of him, stresses that Elliot can’t worry about why, that Elliot had no control. He again clarifies he knows how Elliot feels and is here with him in this moment. But Elliot, still wound so unimaginably tight, rounds on Vera, blaming him. Elliot stands in front of what is basically the internet’s favourite Illuminati logo, the pyramid and eye from the dollar bill (is this the time, Sam?) while Vera and Elliot argue if this was good for Elliot or not. Vera argues that accepting his own abuse (which was being prostituted to men by his mother) empowered him, made stronger, and Elliot will be the same. Vera knows abusers take things from their victims, but they don’t get everything, because the survivors survive. Vera tells an enraptured Elliot that he is the storm the world needs to fear, that his power is beautiful, and that he is special. Elliot can’t take his eyes off Vera. Vera asks if Elliot believes it, if he wants to? Elliot just doesn’t want to be alone anymore. Vera gently reassures him he’s not alone. He whispers ‘I see you now’ and then just as it seems like maybe they have been building, all this time, to some kind of physical connection, Vera coughs.
And then he wheezes.
And then he staggers around and falls down dead because Krista stabbed him with the knife his brother used to kill Shayla.
I think we all need to just. Take a minute.
The decision to present the episode as a five-act play was an inspired one, the end result feeling like a contained story that similar to 406, a stranger to the show could still watch and follow. There aren’t many other ways something so dialogue-heavy, that built to such a powerful, devastating emotional climax could have been presented. Esmail leaning into his setting with the rainstorm outside and the side pans between the two rooms, bringing shades of Glengarry Glenn Ross, was just the perfect detail. There’s a word, chrysalism, that describes the ‘amniotic tranquillity of being indoors during a thunderstorm’ that while beautiful, always struck me as odd. Chrysalises aren’t inert, quiet places. A great metamorphosis takes place inside them, a remaking, completely, of the thing inside. It’s a time of turmoil and change. Esmail seemed to be channelling that.
There were a lot of interesting little visual hints this week. Krista’s Christmas tree, its lights, even its placement just seems to … echo the one we saw Whiterose decorating and then destroy. Perhaps it’s a comment on social and cultural trends, or a hint these places are all just … one? Maybe the simulation is running out of memory to render new items and that’s why the project has to be moved. Similarly, Krista had a very strange painting over her fireplace reminiscent of the pyramid and the all-seeing eye from dollar bills. For the conspiracy theorists at home, this symbol is one (of many) that some people claim are clues to the Illuminati (like Deus Group, only even more fictional) and their role in running the world.
There were two huge revelations this week. The first was of course, that Mr. Robot has been a part of Elliot’s life far longer than Elliot has realised. I listed above the three examples I can recall when Esmail told us to our faces that Elliot has always had ‘imaginary friends’/alternate personalities, incidents which all now take on entirely different contexts than the ones they had before. There have also been references to occasions when Eliot lost time and destroyed things (like the incident that led to Angela getting him hired at Allsafe). When we learned that there was a third alternate personality, I had wondered if those incidents were flashes of what Elliot said. Now it appears they could all have been Robot. It’s hard to know what, if anything, this might mean as it relates to the grand scheme, the theories and the directions the finale might take. Of course, none of these theories are intended to undermine what Elliot said next, but in this show, we have to at least acknowledge them.
Of course, on the surface, it’s just confirmation that Elliot has had issues since early childhood, only now we have more of an idea how, why and when they began to develop.
But those of us who wonder if Tyrell or Whiterose are aspects of Elliot, or if the entire show takes place inside a simulation or a time bubble … Mr. Robot being around that long raises huge questions. If it’s a simulation, does this mean it’s been running for decades? If there are other alters, have they been around far longer than we think, as well?
I won’t go too deeply into the theories today. My mind is running, but I don’t want to undermine what came next.
The other twist was, of course, Elliot’s abuse. I know, I always go on, but Rami Malek is just something else. Elliot’s growing dread as he started to see the shapes in the dark of his mind, his anxious movements, the way he held himself throughout the agonising excision of these memories and Vera’s attempts to calm him? Painful to watch. It was like his clothes, his very skin, had suddenly become something too cold or too hot, something he wanted to recoil from. Elliot’s gamut of confusion, rage, grief, even his attempt to make it, somehow, Vera’s fault tore my heart from my chest.
Similarly, Elliot Villar’s Vera, was hypnotic throughout. I don’t understand how the man isn’t a megastar with two dozen Oscars. Vera has been equal parts terrifying, sympathetic, hilarious, monstrous … he can seem so immature and volatile one moment, and like some ancient, dark god the next. I particularly enjoyed what felt like a fake-out at the start, when Vera was high and volatile and far less coherent than he’d previously appeared. For a moment it seemed like he wasn’t that smart, posed a mainly physical threat, and the finale would revolve around a fight or some sort of physical escape after a requisite amount of head games, of course. I wasn’t expecting Vera to rally quite so hard. I am … torn as to how to feel about Vera’s (almost certain) death. He killed Shayla, he abducted and molested Krista, he’d have killed her if he thought it would work. And he forced a wedge between Elliot and Krista while pushing Elliot to dredge up and confront unspeakably traumatic memories he should have been allowed to deal with in his own time. He was a villain.
On the other hand … I can’t imagine anyone else knowing the right thing to do and say at that moment, anyone else being able to guide Elliot through like that. Vera set out to do exactly what he intended; he broke Elliot so badly that only Vera knew how to build him back up and he did so masterfully. It’s hard to define Vera’s final moments with Elliot. He empowered him, supported him, said so many right things to him, but it was so deeply, profoundly manipulative that it turns my stomach. Even if Vera truly can relate, truly understands Elliot’s pain, that doesn’t take away from what he’s doing to Elliot at that moment. I can’t decide if Vera really can relate to Elliot’s trauma, or if he is just that adept and skilled a liar and manipulator. I mean, I can’t stress enough, always believe the victims, and I generally do believe Vera was being sincere. But Vera made it clear what he was there to do. His reaction, his emotions, seemed entirely real. He was absolutely, utterly convincing, there is no doubt, but given Vera’s stated mission, one has to wonder if he would have been absolutely, utterly convincing, regardless of what he learned about Elliot.
Whatever the case the … the intended effect was achieved, or part of it was. Elliot is shattered, yes, but Vera didn’t survive for the rebuilding and that is a problem. Thankfully, Krista did and it’s a damned good thing because Elliot is going to need her. I have no doubt she’s up to the task, assuming Elliot is capable of letting her try.
That Mr. Alderson molested Elliot came both a shock and somehow, not a surprise at all. Mr. Robot has always told Elliot that he takes the beatings, the hurt, the pain, so Elliot doesn’t have to and with the hints Robot has been there since before Mr. Alderson died, it’s clear the groundwork was being laid/ The early nature of Mr. Robot and Elliot’s relationship, with Robot capable of being kind, manipulative, and frequently violent, the fact Mr. Robot, who looks like Elliot’s father, is someone who uses Elliot’s body without his consent, all make a different kind of sense. Or just think about what Mr. Robot is and has always been, what he’s so often tried to make Elliot accept and understand; He represents a … schism. A break. Something wrong. Elliot rejects him, denies him but has come slowly to accept Mr. Robot is part of him and make peace. Mr. Robot himself, as a character, he is not merely Elliot’s protector from the abuse, he’s the manifestation of it.
In a way I’m struggling to put into words, this explains some of the Darlene questions I’ve always had; her strange distance and removal from the family, in Elliot’s memories of their childhood, even the sitcom hallucination where she’s passed out throughout. Elliot has repressed so much of his childhood, not just the memories but the emotions and the feelings, the fear and the need to protect Darlene from their father. If he remembers her in their childhood, then he remembers the rest of it. That’s why she can … drift away from him. Maybe he forgot her in Season 1 because Mr. Robot manifested looking like their monster of a father, and Elliot’s mind just had to cut off from everything that stirred up.
I can’t stop thinking of how coldly Little Elliot stared at his father when he collapsed in the cinema.
I’m left shaking. What this means, where this goes … tune in next week. We’ll find out together.