Credit: Scott McDermott/USA Network
S4 E3
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Who is Whiterose?

Those are the words that echo through the first few seconds of this episode. An apt question, but perhaps an unknowable answer. Whiterose is an enigma, a carefully curated persona, a power player, and a threat to humanity. But who is Whiterose really? “403 Forbidden” tries to fill in some of the details in a more than welcome flashback to her time before the Deus Group, and before world domination/destruction was her goal.

Back in 1982, seven years before forming the Deus Group, things were simpler. As Zhi Zhang, she’s secured a deal for IBM to have its very first plant in China. “I look forward to stealing all your intellectual property,” she says as her translator laughs before relaying well wishes to the clueless IBM employees.

Back at their hotel, Zhi and his translator are revealed to be a couple. They lounge in bed, rub each other’s feet, and talk about how with this deal closed, Zhi is all but guaranteed to be named the next Ambassador to the U.S., which means they can finally leave the country for a home where they can truly live as the couple they are. They’ll finally be able to reveal their true selves, two men in love.

Those words hit Zhi in the gut. “He” hasn’t shown his partner his true self. So, while he’s away having a few drinks with some corporate higher-ups, Zhi prepares the reveal. She sheds her male mask and puts on her mother’s dress. She flicks on the light so her partner can see for himself. Three copies of Whiterose are reflected in multiple mirrors; we recently learned about a third persona, another split in identity. There’s only one response: “you look beautiful.”

None of this is meant to end well, though. This is the formation of Whiterose, not the ascendance of Zhi Zhang. So, on her partner’s wedding day, as he struggles to continue living this lie, she has to tell him that she will not be the Ambassador and has instead accepted the position of Minister of State Security. That means they must stay and continue living in the shadows. They can’t reveal their true selves. This is too much. He slits his throat in anguish, knowing there’s no future here, and his blood splashes all over the white roses that Zhi sent along as a joke on this day. Thus, Whiterose is born, in a moment of intense trauma and loss.

In the present day, Whiterose is honoring where she came from. She puts out her mother’s dress and instructs her assistant to make sure it’s ready to wear on the day her project ships. The assistant thinks this is a hasty move, one that celebrates too early, and she tells Whiterose that there are just too many “coincidences” piling up to ignore. She thinks Elliot is planning something, and that it might involve Price. Whiterose can see it might be true, so she chooses to go on the offensive. She proposes they give Price exactly what he wants, but get the Deus Group together “tomorrow,” which is Christmas day, to decide on the new CEO. Essentially, if Elliot and Price do have a plan, Whiterose is forcing them to show their hand, putting pressure on them to execute in a short amount of time. And as a replacement for Price as CEO? She’s tapped Tyrell Wellick.

So much of this season so far is about the way our trauma shapes us. There’s a reason the season opened with Angela’s murder. There’s so much violence and chaos in this world, and while Mr. Robot might not be a hopeful show, I do think it’s trying to suggest that real, human connections are what might get us through the death throes of capitalism and an increasingly hostile, divided world. What else do we have?

But not every connection made is a productive one; trauma can still creep in. Just look at Elliot running into Krista, his old therapist. She’s terrified of him, and he’s similarly pained by her reaction. There’s no happy coexistence here. It’ll be especially unhappy if Vera gets his hands on Krista. We learn he’s set on forming a partnership with Elliot, whom he calls a “genius” and his “architect,” so that he can become the “King of New York.” He wants to convince him, not force him.

Another human connection is the key to everything: Olivia Cortez was Susan Jacobs’s contact at Cyprus National Bank, and she’s the one unknowingly managing the U.S. accounts for Whiterose and all her fronts. Elliot breaks into her house to access her laptop, but he can’t get into her account without a security fob that she keeps on her at all times. So, a human connection is needed. Olivia is all set to meet an OkCupid date at a bar, and Elliot decides to scope it out. He takes a bottle of OxyContin from her apartment, and when he arrives at the bar he plans on threatening her with the drugs and a report to the police that would have her in violation of her joint custody agreement.

Elliot is closed off. He’s singularly focused on Whiterose to the point that he doesn’t see the human cost of what he’s doing. Do the ends really justify the means here? Mr. Robot doesn’t think so, and he steps in when Olivia is stood up by her date, taking control of Elliot and having him buy her a drink. The two chat, bonding a bit over their fraught parental relationships. Elliot nearly lets her leave, but then rushes outside and kisses her. A magical Christmas Eve connection, or a way to get the job done?

It seems like it’s a bit of both. Elliot and Olivia sleep together, and Elliot gets up in the middle of the night to steal the security code from the fob and send it to Darlene, but he also seems genuinely into her. When she details her struggle with addiction, and how she hated herself so much she contemplated suicide after her mother’s death, showing him the razor she keeps inside the OxyContin bottle as a reminder, Elliot feels an understanding. He knows what it’s like to hate himself, to contemplate death. He’s been there.

This genuine human connection helps Elliot’s plan move along, but it also helps Elliot heal, just a bit. He’s opening up, seeing that letting people in doesn’t always lead to disaster. Unless that person is Tyrell Wellick. He’s in Elliot’s apartment when he gets back home, having decided not to go back to Allsafe because of a Dark Army van following him around. The plan is to act normal, like he’s not plotting Whiterose’s downfall. But that plan is seemingly blown when he walks into the apartment and Wellick starts excitedly babbling about how he’s being named CEO and this is their chance to take down Whiterose. Elliot simply writes “they’re listening” on a piece of paper, and the camera moves out the window and into the street, focusing on the white van. This might be it. The Dark Army might know exactly what’s going on now.

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