Mr. Robot premiere recap: Welcome back, Mr. Alderson
The season premiere buzzes with paranoia.
It’s a seamless transition from Mr. Robot‘s third season to its fourth and final season. The “previously on” recap leads right into the first scene, where Angela talks with her father Phillip about Whiterose and how she’s always going to feel guilty for contributing to the E Corp attacks. She pleads with her father, saying that together they can stop Whiterose’s project from happening.
A seamless transition from recap to first scene, but there’s nothing seamless about Angela’s journey. This is it for her. Phillip knows it and is complicit in it. He tries to get her to relent but he doesn’t know Angela. She refuses. So, when Philip walks away from their spot on the bench, his face growing more and more infuriated, sad, and guilty, two men from the Dark Army walk past him, into the background of the frame. Phillip rips off the wire he was wearing. The audio crackles. The two men approach Angela on the bench, stand next to her, then one of them pulls out a gun and shoots her in the head. The first of many jaw-dropping moments in this premiere.
Back inside the massive house, the one meant to shield Angela from harm, Phillip lashes out. He smashes a vase and screams at Whiterose on the phone. But he’s a coward who loves licking boots. He’s not actually going to do anything. He’s still just a puppet in Whiterose’s plan.
That plan has a slight hitch in it. Elliot (Rami Malek) has a hack set up for the shipment, one that forces Whiterose to delay the plan for two months. “Just in time for the holidays,” she says. In the meantime, she wants a reminder sent to him, one that will let him know what’s at stake here. We only see a flash of it later, but that reminder is a picture of Angela’s dead body.
The camera, positioned behind Whiterose, zooms out and across the water, an expanse and the title card filling the screen, signaling a passage of time. It’s Christmas now, though this one’s a little hazy, every shot here slightly out of focus, leaving you wanting to say “fidelio.” Mysterious clubs and masked men, indeed. “Little Drummer Boy” plays and we’re transported to an office Christmas party, complete with the usual drunken co-workers and sexual harassment masked as playfulness. Freddy Lomax, a lawyer, receives a package. Inside is a video of him masturbating while on a live chat with a very young girl. He receives a telephone call. “This is Mr. Robot.” He wants Lomax to copy his email archives to the USB stick included in the package. Lomax — played with perfect manic energy by Jake Busey — does as he’s told and then stays on the line as he takes a cab to Grand Central. In the cab, cable news anchors praise E Corp for saving the economy and bringing jobs back.
Freddy, completely coked up, buys a train ticket. Mr. Robot guides him through Grand Central, so as to evade the Dark Army henchmen following him, to a train waiting at a platform. Elliot sits inside, and calmly asks for the thumb drive. Lomax pulls out a gun, but he’s bluffing. Elliot gets the drive, and finds the connection he’s looking for. He’s shifting control. He finds wire transfers for Zhi Zhang, a.k.a. Whiterose, and determines that she’s been funneling money through shell corporations to Cyprus National Bank. That’s his target, to truly take down Whiterose and stop her project.
He needs a way in, though. Lomax says he has a contact, a man who works there named John Garcin. But Lomax isn’t long for this world. Elliot tries to get him to stick to the plan, to lead him to Garcin’s apartment, but Lomax realizes he has no way out of this. So, he kills himself in the street, and all Elliot is left with is a name. Garcin.
After we check in with two lives irrevocably altered — Tyrell living a swamped, corporate, meaningless existence, and Dom living with her mother in a constant state of paranoia, as if she’s about to pull up the floorboards and start playing the saxophone — we’re back to the vacant Allsafe building, which is now Elliot’s home base. Mr. Robot sits at a computer going through John Garcin’s social media, while Eliot looks at sticky notes on an office window. He says the timeline is too short, they need to hit the bank as soon as possible. Mr. Robot thinks that’s reckless, that they need to do their research first and find a way to leverage Garcin like they did with Lomax. The camera moves to an overhead shot; the computer cords run from the desk across the floor and to Elliot’s feet, a direct connection. “You’re making it too personal,” warns Mr. Robot. “People are already forgetting. And I don’t blame them. They’re exhausted,” replies Elliot. Ain’t that the truth.
The entirety of “401 Unauthorized” is an extended heart attack. It’s a perfect conspiracy thriller that sees Mr. Robot assuring us that this final season is going to reckon with everything that came before and that nothing will ever be the same. Everything, and everyone, is falling apart. Darlene is crazed, high, and telling Elliot that she saw Angela outside a shelter and that they need to go look for her. Mr. Robot tells him to show her the photo that Whiterose sent, but he refuses to force that trauma on his sister.
Trauma is key here. Elliot is refusing to deal with his own, leaving him distant, compartmentalizing his pain. That’s why he doesn’t talk to us anymore, and why Mr. Robot needs to reluctantly step in. As they head to Garcin’s apartment, Mr. Robot lays out just how reckless he believes Elliot is being. Elliot concocts a story about delivering a package to Garcin, and the doorman simply lets him up. Seems fishy. When he knocks on the door, it swings open. He enters and shuts the door. Elliot is ecstatic; Garcin isn’t home and now they can search everything.
But nothing’s right here. The apartment is covered in dust, and there’s no sign of anyone ever living there. Closets and cupboards are empty, and price tags still adorn the lamps and furniture. It was all a setup, and Elliot’s carelessness gets him caught. Two men show up and drag him away, kicking and screaming. Locked in hell, with no exit, where hell is other people. Dangerous people.
Even the lightness in this episode ends up dark. Dom, seemingly sitting through a painful dinner where her mother attempts to set her up with a woman she met at church, gets a reminder that her paranoia is justified. This woman, Janice, isn’t the dorky, cheery, awkward person she seems to be. When she leaves, and the two say their goodbyes outside, Janice tells Dom to wake up in the morning and do the interview about the Santiago case, to finally clean up that mess. If she doesn’t, she promises to do something very bad to her mother. Dom’s jaw drops. She threatens Janice, but it’s all for naught. Janice leaves, and Dom is left looking down the street, every van and shadow a potential threat.
We end with the shadow of death. Darlene, high again, kicking everyone out of her blacked-out apartment so that she can hold Angela’s ballet shoes and cry endlessly. Then there’s Elliot, back at his apartment, where the two men who kidnapped him hold him down and tie a tourniquet around his arm so that a third man can shoot him full of drugs. A staged overdose that will finally take care of Elliot, once and for all. Elliot does indeed overdose, seeing a vision of his family as he fades to black. They’ll all be together again. “Directed by Sam Esmail” pops up in the blackness of Eliot’s death.
But this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of the end. Someone revives Elliot. He gasps, suddenly coming back to life. The men stand over him, and then in walks Phillip. “Welcome back, Mr. Alderson,” he says. Then the true cut to black.
My goodness, it’s good to have Mr. Robot back.