Mr. Robot: The show’s darkest and most compelling episode

Elliot Villar, and Rami Malek, and Christian Slater in Mr. Robot, “407 Proxy Authentication Required”
Image: USA Network

As an excellent technological thriller, “Mr. Robot” is a consistent source of genre thrills. Because creator Sam Esmail is a talented visual stylist, the program’s hacking schemes have the intensity and tension of a compelling heist. Moreover, the intrigue the series maintains with its secret societies, shadowy billionaires, and Seinfeld loving assassins is highly engaging.

That said, “Mr. Robot” is also a compelling drama about a young man who suffers from debilitating mental health issues. “407 Proxy Authentication Required,” one of the program’s best episodes, almost entirely eschewed the program’s genre elements. The installment zeroed in on the character’s dissociative identity disorder and detailed its horrific root cause for the first time.

As such, “407” made some fundamental changes to the series by reframing every episode that preceded it. The installment also completely upended any expectations viewers might’ve had about how the series will conclude. Indeed, by revealing one of its biggest secrets, “Mr. Robot” has gone from one of TV’s most opaque programs to one of its most unpredictable.

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Off the Beaten Path

Though this episode featured a mind-bending twist, Esmail alerted the audience to “407’s” unusual nature from its opening moments. While the show is typically filmed in 16:9 aspect ratio, this episode was shot in 2.35:1 anamorphic format. As a result, the show immediately felt more cinematic and intimate than usual right off the bat.

For 56 minutes straight, the show confined almost all of its action to Fernando Vera’s apartment. As the episode went on, it became clear its unique status extended beyond cinematography. Typically, when one of the show’s antagonists puts Elliot’s back against the wall, he finds a way out at the last second. But here, the hacker had no secret bit of code, smart idea, or other leverage to exploit. In this installment, the character’s tricks and skills failed him as he faced a problem that has no easy solution.

Because the series left Dom Dipierro and Darlene Alderson in dire straits last week, this week’s episode shift in focus could have been annoying. Instead, the program presented a story so tense and dread-inducing, the two characters’ absences barely rated.

Christian Slater in Mr. Robot, "407 Proxy Authentication Required”
Image: USA Network

The Window Incident

“407” picked up exactly where “406 Not Acceptable” ended, with Elliot riding to Vera’s place in the trunk of a car. Upon arrival, the gangster explained he wanted the hacker’s help in economically conquering Manhattan. However, Elliot demanded to see Krista before any negotiations got underway. The crime lord agreed, on the condition that he be able to speak to Mr. Robot.

Dutifully, Elliot’s father’s doppelgänger manifested and used his inhuman confidence and intelligence to try to intimidate the gangster. But the tactic failed as Vera promptly saw through his bluster. Elliot then retook control and offered the drug dealer all the money he planned to steal from Deus Group in exchange for Krista. But that idea fell apart after Elliot pulled what ended up being an unloaded gun on Vera.

At that point, the criminal escalated the situation and forced Kristin and Elliot to have a session at gunpoint. Using Krista’s notes, the kingpin forced Elliot to realize some painful truths about his past. Contrary to his belief, Mr. Robot had been part of the hacker’s life since his childhood. In fact, the alternate personality first assumed control of the boy’s body in the mysterious window jumping incident.

Despite Mr. Robot’s desperate pleas, Elliot finally recalled why he jumped; to stop his father from molesting him. Indeed, Edward Alderson’s sexual abuse caused him to develop his first alternate personality. And to protect him, Mr. Robot edited Elliot’s memories, which caused him to experience lost time.

Emotionally devastated, Elliot connected with Vera, who admitted to his own experiences being molested as a child. However, before the pair could bond, Krista fatally stabbed the gangster with the same knife that his brother used to kill Elliot’s girlfriend, Shayla, in season 1.

The Unacknowledged Truth

Seeing Elliot acknowledge his father’s abuse was genuinely shocking. Indeed, the hacker’s gradual and painful realization of the truth is “Mr. Robot’s” most upsetting sequence. Rami Malek, Elliot Villar, and Gloria Reuben gave the scene unemotional weight that’s almost unbearably raw. But the revelation can’t honestly be called surprising.

Like the final few minutes of “The Usual Suspects,” “Mr. Robot” had been building to this episode’s reveal for years.

It’s worth remembering, one of the first things the viewer learns about Elliot in the show’s pilot is he can’t stand physical contact with other men. Moreover, the character’s always had an extreme reticence to form relationships with other people, particularly romantic ones. Also, throughout the series, Elliot has made a point of targeting pedophiles and child pornographers.

Notably, one flashback in the third season saw Elliot call his father out for not acknowledging his sickness. At the time, it seemed as though the boy was referencing his father’s cancer, but now that scene has an entirely different context.

Besides, studies have shown molestation is a catalyst for psychological illnesses like dissociative identity disorder, social anxiety, and depression. In retrospect, Elliot being a victim of childhood sexual assault has always been a big part of the series. It’s just the hacking, the espionage, and the politics have obscured “Mr. Robot’s” real focus.

Now that the truth is out, the program’s central narrative has changed. The question is no longer will Team Robot pull off the Deus Group hack; it’s whether or not Elliot wants to go through with it.

Where do we go From Here?

Way back in season 1, Elliot joined fsociety to bring down E Corp, a neglectful organization he blamed for giving his father cancer. Because of Mr. Robot’s meddling, Elliot only remembered his dad as his protector and best friend. But in reality, the hacker has been fighting to avenge a monster this whole time.

As a result, the righteousness of Elliot’s mission is questionable. The hacker gave years of his life and most of his soul to bring down the negligent conglomerate. But the rage and pain that fueled his war against the company was misdirected. Elliot couldn’t make his dead father pay, so he inflicted massive damage on E Corp, its staff, and its customers.

Furthermore, all the people he hurt and got killed over the years died to fulfill a vendetta, not serve a cause.

Now that Elliot knows the truth about his past, he can’t pretend vengeance will give him any satisfaction. As such, it’s unknown if he will want to go through with the Deus Group hack. Notably, Mr. Robot vanished after the operator’s’ therapy session, and he might not be coming back. If so, the mission just got a lot harder to execute. Also, if Whiterose makes Elliot an offer that will allow him and Darlene to walk away, he has no reason not to take it.

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