This Mr. Robot review contains spoilers.
Mr. Robot Season 4 Episode 6
In a show like Mr. Robot, it’s easy to view Elliot Alderson as a hero. And in many ways, he is. After all, he’s battled against the oppressive forces of capitalism, exploitative corporations, and the shadowy elite cabals that dictate how the world works for the majority of its citizens. Next to all those evils, a hacker with a drug addiction and occasionally questionable morals pretty much looks like Superman. But it doesn’t mean that’s truly the case.
“Not Acceptable” is the first Mr. Robot installment in a long time that reminds us that Elliot’s mission can and does involve deeply questionable moral choices, and that his decisions often leave significant collateral damage in their wake. The idea that in order to do good, one must probably do some wrong first is certainly not a new one in this universe. But here, the show asks us directly, for the first time in a long time—how far is too far? Are there lines we should not cross?
How far are we willing to go to achieve the ends we desire? It’s a question Mr. Robot has asked repeatedly, as various characters have justified all manner of mistakes and poor decisions in the name of what is ostensibly, the greater good. “Not Acceptable” just takes that trade off up to eleven, putting a name and a face to the damage Elliot creates. In the wake of the Alderson siblings’ successful break-in to Virtual Realty, the show has to create another hurdle to prevent them finally gaining access to the Cyprus National Bank servers and stealing all of the Deus Group’s cash. (There’s clearly a reason the show hasn’t exactly laid out what the steps of Elliot’s mission here are, and it’s so we can just keep adding tasks to it as necessary).
Now that the Aldersons officially have access to the servers, they need one of the higher-ups to log on. Which brings us back to Olivia Cortez, Elliot’s Christmas Eve hook-up from a few episodes back. Sorry if you thought these two broken kids were cute together, because Elliot’s willing to straight up destroy this poor girl’s life in the name of his greater mission. Not for nothing, but when Mr. Robot’s the one waving the Bad Idea flag, well. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate your life choices.
This episode is Elliot at his least heroic and likable, and it’s deeply uncomfortable to watch. The thing is, this character is so compelling—and Rami Malek’s performance is so darn good—that it’s easy to forget to sometimes that he’s done some truly terrible things. And this is right up there with his very worst. Not only does he blackmail Olivia into calling her boss and manipulate him into logging on, Elliot drugs her peppermint mocha so she can’t refuse him. Olivia, if you’ll remember, is a recovering oxycontin addict, and could lose custody of her son if she’s busted falling off the wagon.
Olivia’s response to Elliot’s betrayal is both heartbreaking and strangely thrilling. She’s one of the only characters in recent memory who seems willing to call Elliot out on the selfish and self-centered nature of his behavior —contrast her words with the way Tyrell talks to him, for example—and to remind him that he’s causing real-world consequences for regular, everyday people who have nothing to do with his ECorp/Whiterose vendetta. Is he making things better for those people, really? Is he helping improve their lives? It’s difficult to see how, exactly, no matter what platitudes he used to spout from behind an fsociety mask. And Olivia’s suicide attempt would seem to indicate the answer to that question is no, not really.
We see similar themes with Dom, who is finally brought back into the main story thanks to Dark Army orders to round up the Alderson siblings. Only when ordered to kill Darlene, Dom can’t bring herself to do it, and begs Darlene to kill her instead, since her life has become a waking nightmare following her decision to turn double agent. Carly Chaikin and Grace Gummer are electric together throughout, as Darlene’s stuttered apologies and understanding about the horrors she’s brought about in Dom’s life contrast strongly with Elliot’s insistence that Olivia just should have known that she worked for some bad people and made her choices accordingly.
Leaving Dom and Darlene in the hands of Dark Army taxidermist Janice feels like the season’s first genuine cliffhanger—after all, if the show was willing to kill off Angela in its opening moments, are either of these women truly safe? Granted, Janice admits Dom is still useful to her, and without a way to track down Elliot just yet, Darlene will likely survive a bit longer as well. Yet it still feels like a scenario with no easy way out at the moment and, as a result, their safety doesn’t exactly feel guaranteed. It should be interesting to see where this particularly subplot goes next week.
Elsewhere, on what feels like a completely different show, Fernando Vera kidnaps Elliot’s former therapist, Krista, in order to interrogate her about what makes the hacker tick. On some level, it feels like maybe this Vera subplot exists so that Mr. Robot can continue to drag out the story of the Deus Group and refuse to reveal whatever Whiterose’s ultimate plan is for a few more episodes. Sure, Krista’s time as a prisoner in her own home was tense and frightening, if a bit of unnecessary violence toward one of the series few female characters that we probably could have lived without. But it also sort of seems like the show shoving two C-list characters together for a simple lack of anything better to do with either of them.
It’s not clear that viewers anywhere were clamoring for Vera’s return to this story, and it’s currently a bit difficult to fathom how he and his plans for Elliot fit into the overall plot. And now that Vera’s men have kidnapped Elliot, we can be sure that any forward momentum in the Deus Group storyline will stall again. And since Elliot’s the only character on this show with real plot armor left at this point in the season, we know he’ll likely be just fine at the end of this unexpected journey. Though with Vera now aware of Mr. Robot’s existence, perhaps we’ll finally get back to that mystery of whether or not there’s a third personality in this saga that we haven’t officially met yet. That would certainly be worth the narrative detour we’re heading down – and maybe it’s how everything comes back together in the end, too.