This Mr. Robot review contains spoilers.
Mr. Robot Season 4 Episode 5
Mr. Robot has always been the sort of series that likes to play with audience expectations in a variety of weird, occasionally frustrating and often wonderful ways. The titular Mr. Robot turned out to be someone who existed only in Elliot Alderson’s head at the end of the series’ first season. Half of its second was a misdirection, an imaginary reality that covered for the fact that Elliot had really been in prison all along. We’ve seen episodes cut together to mirror a single take of events unfolding in real time, and real-life news footage spliced in to the world of E-Corp.
“Method Not Allowed” is another of these strange gimmicky installments from the mind of series creator Sam Esmail – one in which there only two lines of dialogue uttered in the entire episode. Initially, it feels an odd and almost off-putting decision, given just how much of Mr. Robot is driven by speech, from Elliot’s explanatory voice-over asides to the audience to Darlene’s fast-paced technobabble and Philip Price’s sly snark.
Yet, the episode isn’t a completely silent one. There are plenty of dramatic music cues, loud gasps and other sounds to fill the silence. And it leans pretty heavily on text messages, screen type and notes to convey more context and detail about what’s happening in the story and even keep multiple plots moving right along. It’s just not what we’re used to hearing, which somehow makes everything sound and feel new.
“Method Not Allowed” ultimately works like gangbusters, precisely because its forward momentum is unrelenting throughout, keeping the same level of silent tension throughout elaborate break-ins, hacks and police chases as it does in trips to the local market. For the first time in several episodes, it feels as though the story of Mr. Robot’s final season is actually moving forward as well, rather than meandering through flashbacks and bizarre but beautiful holiday roadtrips.
Darlene and Elliot reteam in the wake of Wellick’s disappearance to break into Virtual Reality, the boringly named server farm that apparently houses the machines at the center of Cyprus National Bank’s financial holdings. Given how complicated this particular mission is, it makes sense that the Alderson siblings aren’t exactly interested in making small talk, as they falsify ID cards, lift fingerprints, disable security feeds and implement a complicated and elaborate Christmas Day break-in that Darlene must have been plotting the entire time she was driving upstate with a drunk Santa Claus last week.
It’s always fun to watch Mr. Robot indulge in its straight up love of hacking, and we haven’t gotten the chance to see the Aldersons work together like this in what feels like a very long time. Somehow, the enforced silence here stands in as a shorthand for the two of them – obviously they’ve been doing this together for so long, they don’t need to say anything, and there’s something strangely comforting in how in sync the two still are with one another, after everything they’ve been through and all the problems they’ve had. In fact, it somehow feels like a cathartic experience for the two of them, even though only one of them speaks at all during the entire episode.
The near-misses in which the two are almost caught by a nosy security guard, various suddenly online cameras and the NYPD themselves are all close enough that they feel like real threats, and the episode positively flies by. Sure, maybe Darlene is typing ridiculously loudly with a lurking guard two feet away, and it’s not entirely clear why it takes her as long to fill out a login form as it does for Elliot to shut down the entire power system of the room they’re in. But these are the sort of snarky nitpicks you’ll only really think about once the episode’s over, and you’re wondering how both the show and the Aldersons themselves ever pulled any of this off.
And they almost don’t. Sloppy mistakes – from leaving digital trails to not closing doors completely – leave both siblings at risk at multiple points, culminating in a wild, self-sacrificial chase through Central Park, as Elliot flees the scene of the crime with the cops in full pursuit. The extended sequence is well shot and highly physical as he crashes through all sorts of recognizable New York landmarks, and even a bus full of folks dressed up as various Nativity figures. That Elliot manages to escape at the end after leaping off the side of a hill isn’t even the shocking bit – it’s how close it felt to nothappening at all.
True, “Method Not Allowed” ends without telling us whether the Aldersons were successful in robbing the Deus Group of all their cash. It also doesn’t show us anything more about what happened to Tyrell Wellick, and the Deus meeting that will signal Phillip Price’s resignation from E-Corp still hasn’t actually taken place yet. But it still feels like something legitimately happened this week, and during a season whose timeline is supposedly so compressed that Elliot has mere days left to live, that somehow manages to feel like actual progress after so much treading water. Should it? Maybe not, but let’s take what we can get.
Even, Dom, who’s spent most of Season 4 in the shadows under the thumb of a murderous Dark Army taxidermist, seems to be heading back into the main narrative. Grace Gummer is so good at what she does that it’s easy to see why Mr. Robot doesn’t want to let the character go, but Dom hasn’t felt super relevant to the story the show is telling in some time. But setting her on a potentially dangerous collision course with Elliot and Darlene just as the Deus Group meeting kicks off obviously changes things in a significant way. Can the show pull in the Ferando Vera and Krista subplot in an equally neat bow? Here’s hoping, because all that sort of feels as though it’s happening on a different show.
At the end of the day, “Method Not Allowed” feels like the sort of hour that Mr. Robot is best known for – daring, a little bit weird, and with a surprisingly strong story underneath whatever gimmick it happens to be trying out along the way. This episode maybe didn’t strictly need to be dialogue-free, but the fact that it was made the stakes of the story come alive again in a way that’s been lacking of late. And as we had into the middle stretch of the series’ final season, that feels like a very necessary thing, indeed.