This Mr. Robot review contains spoilers.
Mr. Robot Season 4 Episode 1
For a review of any show starting its final season, it’s tempting to start with the big picture.
What does Mr. Robot meant to TV history? Where do we place it? How do we feel about it? In that respect, Mr. Robot has one of the more curious rap sheets in the recent TV timeline. In season 1 the show seemed like it was poised to become one of the biggest dramas on television. The USA Network support was there, the critical adoration was effusive, and the hype was damn sure palpable.
Then Mr. Robot kind of fell off. It’s not necessarily the show’s fault. It remained about just as good, if not better, than its early hours. Creator Sam Esmail just kind of took his time between seasons, slowing the momentum a bit and giving the rest of television some time to catch up. That’s the way things work in this hyper competitive TV landscape. If you stop to breathe for a moment, it’s like you never even existed in the first place.
So there’s really no need to wax poetic about What Mr. Robot Means (at least any further than we already have). Why bother canonizing the whole experience when another TV drama is just going to come around in five minutes and knock this one clean out of our head? Instead, let’s just look at what lies immediately before us, which is a ludicrously entertaining and utterly riveting full hour of television.
There have certainly been better episodes of Mr. Robot throughout the show’s run. But it’s hard to recall one with a mission so singular or a plot so gleefully propulsive. “Unauthorized” (the show seems to have abandoned its file name gibberish episode title formatting for the moment) seems as though it’s Mr. Robot For Dummies. The battle lines are drawn, the stakes are clear, and all that’s left for Sam Esmail is to slam down on the gas with both feet. There isn’t much time for mummer’s tricks. There’s a world to be saved, damn it.
But first some losses must pile up. Prior to the season 4 premiere, Esmail warned viewers to stay away from social media early on in the episode’s runtime, as there would definitely be spoilers of a certain event. Yeah, this man wasn’t kidding. Angela’s death doesn’t just occur in the first scene of the episode, it seemingly happens in the “previously on” section. At first it seems like “previously on” is just doing its due diligence as the show has been away for so long. As it hits the two-minute mark, however, it becomes clear that the past has suddenly become the present.
We’re right back with Angela and Philip Price on the grounds of his palatial estate. Price is trying to “fix” Angela’s brain that was so thoroughly broken and defeated by Whiterose. It’s a neat little magic trick to present essentially the same scene multiple years apart but with an entirely new perspective. Back in the season 3 finale, Price seemed assured and confident that everything would be alright now that he’s finally reunited with his daughter.
Now, as Angela proves to be more resilient and vengeance-minded than previously realized, Price’s actions take on a more desperate overtone. Angela finds out why Price is so pressed for time before the viewer does. She stands up from her spot on the bench and looks just beyond the camera at something we cannot see. She tells Price that she’ll never be able to forgive Whiterose for what she did to her. Price shambles off, dejected and removing a wire from under his shirt. Dark Army goons advance as Price walks away and shoot Angela in the head, now far off in the distance, barely perceptible from the camera’s lens.
Sure, Angela may have become slightly vestigial to the story at this point and an easy death candidate. But her analog ways have already survived through two seasons in which it seemed like she wasn’t fully needed. Her death now is a legitimate shock and serves as an absolutely devastating prologue for what will surely be a ferocious and downright metal final season.
The first 28 minutes of “Unauthorized,” basically consist of two scenes: Angela’s fateful prologue and the Elliot/Mr. Robot action sequence that follows. Opening on such an urgent note really makes this opener’s full hour runtime just absolutely fly by. This is taut, truly exhilarating stuff. Elliot and Mr. Robot’s team up to blackmail lawyer Freddie into getting more Dark Army info, is the kind of “Elliot in action” sequence that previous seasons have been surprisingly stingy with. Not to say that Mr. Robot’s artfulness is a drawback but sometimes you just want to see the talented good guy do talented good guy things.
In fact, the whole 20+ minute race through Grand Central Station resembles the first scene of a Christopher Nolan Batman film. It perfectly sets up just how powerful and resourceful a hacker our beloved Elliot is, while at the same time establishing just how more powerful and resourceful his Dark Army tormenters are. More importantly than that, however, it makes good on Elliot and Mr. Robot’s promise from last season to be better to each other.
Elliot and Mr. Robot are, for the first time in their joint lives, an actual team. This is thrilling to see as it ups Elliot’s general level of competence and capability in this final battle against Dark Army. But even on a visual level, it gives Esmail a lot more to work with. Rami Malek and Christian Slater work really well together as two different consciousnesses operating the same organism. They are able to multitask in credulity-bending ways like with Elliot working on a classic note card and string conspiracy board while Mr. Robot plays around with Google Images. Later on when a strung out Darlene comes to Elliot’s apartment, he immediately tags in Mr. Robot when he becomes too frustrated and needs the Mister’s more fatherly approach.
So much of this premiere isn’t Sam Esmail and Mr. Robot abandoning their old stylish storytelling tricks but rather synthesizing them into a more coherent and straightforward approach to storytelling. Even though various actors’ motivations aren’t fully known just yet and there remains plenty of technobabble, this remains the most straightforward approach of “Good Guys v. Bad Guys” the show has ever presented. And it’s awesome.
The only downside is when the show gets a little too straightforward and goes out of its way to articulate stakes and circumstances that needn’t further explanation. Early on in the episode, Whiterose really wants to hammer home that it will be the holiday season soon and Elliot will be dead once it’s over and his transportation algorithm (or something…idk) has come through. Elliot later confirms once again to himself that he knows he’ll be dead within the week unless he takes down Whiterose first.
Even the holiday setting, which at first seems like a great backdrop, loses some of its luster when the show acknowledges that it knows it’s a great backdrop. It’s nice of Mr. Robot to talk to us since Elliot is too stressed to. But his lecture of why holiday celebrations ring so false and phony is entirely unneeded. Still it’s nice of him to think of Elliot and us.
“Right now Elliot needs you more than he’ll let on,” he says. “Because when that cold brutal reality sets in he’ll need a friend. And that’s still what you are, right?”
Hell yeah, we are. “Unauthorized” does a wonderful job of setting the table for what everyone else is up to. We get a brief check in with Agent Dom DiPierro, who is well and truly traumatized by her Dark Army duties, and that’s even before she’s introduced to another one of Mr. Robot’s Leon-style unlikely sleeper agents in Janice (newcomer Ashlie Atkinson). We even get a brief look at new Evil Corp CEO Tyrell Wellick, who DJ Khaled style, is truly suffering from success.
But the real accomplishment of this premiere is getting us back on Elliot’s side. Yes, the kid has gloriously fucked up the world to nearly beyond comprehension. Yes, because of him evil is on the verge of triumphing once again. The task at hand is a tall one for both Elliot and the show: find a way for one hacker to defeat…well, everything. It’s not just about defeating Evil Corp. It’s about defeating an entire culture held completely in the thrall of late stage capitalism and pure political inertia. And to be a successful final season, Mr. Robot not only needs to make us believe that Elliot is capable of pulling off the impossible, but that he cares with a deep burning sense of burden and responsibility. Mission accomplished so far.
“I can’t live like this. I’ve hurt so many people. I have to make this right,” Elliot says as some more (seemingly) Dark Army goons inject him with a lethal dose of heroin. Then, of course, he dies, and the credits roll. The end.
Until it’s not and Elliot is rescued by Price right at the very last moment. It’s all another excellent storytelling technique from the show, which really makes it seem for a split second that the lead of the show could die. That’s the real accomplishment of this final season’s first hour. It takes all the obfuscation and trickery the show is best known for and arranges it into an easily recognizable hero’s tell.
Elliot Alderson is back from the dead. All hail.