In a table-setting episode, Mr. Robot examines how far loyalties go.
This recap of Mr. Robot Season 4, Episode 2, “402 Payment Required”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“There’s an endpoint. There must be. Eventually.” Price utters this to Zhang/Whiterose in what could very well be a statement for the season of Mr. Robot. The twists and turns (both societal and psychological) in the past few seasons have made it hard to see where this is heading, but finally, the show has found a clean way out. Take out Deus, and they can win. Anything else, and they lose.
“402 Payment Required” begins with Price narrating the history of “Deus” (which leans heavily into every single conspiracy theory of the world being controlled by a select few). Beginning in 1989 (no coincidence that the rise of Deus coincides with the ascendance of neoliberalism), Price states that “the world was up for grabs”. Videos of famous leaders (Castro, Putin, Queen Elizabeth, etc) shaking hands with Zhang/Whiterose (B.D. Wong) depict his rise to power (although Price speaks of there being a board, Mr. Robot Season 4, Episode 2 reinforces that it is mainly Zhang/Whiterose; perhaps it would be difficult to introduce more antagonists at this point).
With “Deus”, Mr. Robot posits that the rise of post-Cold War power structures is the result of a single person — and this is where it gets really (college student voice) “deep, man”. “What if everything is connected” –– Price lays out the plan, and it is… cell phones? The internet? Apps? All of that (even ECorp, which is revealed to be a shell corporation), is apparently Deus’ secret evil plan. “We staged the biggest coup in human evolution and the whole world volunteered to take part”.
Their end goal; whatever is going on in Washington Township. We see glimpses of underground tunnels, but no hint as to what it could be. A particle collider? A time machine? Underground water slide? Whatever it is, it has been built up to be quite the McGuffin.
After explaining what (surprisingly) Elliot doesn’t already know, Price laughs at their plan. Going after a single bank will do nothing (I thought last week the plan looked a bit too easy). You can’t cut off a single hydra head. So Elliot concocts a new plan — cut off all the heads at once. Price has to convince the Deus board to meet. Elliot is on a strict deadline; 8 days until the plant can be shipped to the Congo, after which Elliot can be killed (I’m not quite sure how that works, but I’ll go with it).
But first, Elliot has to convince Price to betray Whiterose. Elliot reminds him of Angela, of the fact that his time soon will end, to which Price responds: “I became a dead man walking the minute I began working for Whiterose — just like you.” He is aware of what he has sacrificed in order to gain power, but the power is what kept him working for Whiterose. Now he has nothing to lose, so he gives Elliot the name of ECorp’s connection to Deus — Susan Jacobs. The problem is, Darlene killed Jacobs back in Season 2.
Speaking of Darlene, the bulk of “402 Payment Required” involves positioning her and Elliot on the same page. Their mom has died (many viewers, such as myself, will have forgotten she was even alive). The announcement is quiet and low-key — few waterworks and no other mourners. A scene at a funeral home depicts the difference between the two siblings. Darlene, looking at the stern-faced funeral-home owner, begins a sob-story, when Eliot jumps in: “Cremation. Cardboard Coffin. Cheapest urn.” He is not the emotional sibling. But Darlene is not sad about her mother — she is still mourning Angela, and she uses the moment to reach out to her brother. The tables have turned, and she is the one who needs someone to lean on.
At the mother’s house, the Aldersons find a key to a safe-deposit box. They go to the bank, where the dorky-looking employee tells them that the contents have been destroyed. “It’s policy,” he says. Everyone is following orders to pay their bills, putting aside the personal cost of their actions. What was in the box? What secrets did Mrs. Alderson keep?
Meanwhile, Dom is questioned about her former boss by an Agent Horton. Her courage comes through when she reveals that Santiago was a double agent — but then doubles down and says he was working for a cartel. Dom tells Janice (the creepy taxidermist) that she was “99.9% sure” the FBI agent questioning her believed her. Dom is trying to keep herself and her mother alive. Later, her interrogation with a man speaking in the world’s worst Irish accent is interrupted. Horton has apparently killed himself. 99.9% isn’t good enough for Janice apparently (I wonder if she gets fed up at Hand Soap).
After meeting with Elliot, Price presents himself to Zhang/Whiterose, to tell her that he is leaving. Whiterose doesn’t want to let him: “Do not forget your loyalty” — but in the wake of Angela’s death, Price’s loyalty is wavering. He stands firm in his plan to step down as CEO of E-Corp. Coincidentally, a new CEO needs to be approved by every member of the Deus board in person. That part of Elliot’s plan seems to be working out nicely.
At the funeral, Elliot and Darlene (the only attendees), come clean to each other — Elliot about his plan to stop Deus, Darlene about Susan Jacobs. They agree to work together, a decision that didn’t really need the structure of the mother’s death and the bulk of an episode to occur, which is what makes so much of “402 Payment Required” feel like table-setting. But the slowness of the previous scenes makes the episode’s final twist more surprising — there is another personality inhabiting Eliot’s brain. As well as Mr. Robot, there is what seems to be young Eliot — depicted in an office building, waiting for his turn at the wheel.
It’s unclear whether this revelation is only to put another spanner in the works or has some deeper meaning to the story. How long has this other personality been there? Elliot realizes as neither he nor Mr. Elliot remembers Darlene telling them about Vera. I’m assuming that there’s no chance Elliot could have simply forgotten. I hope it works out because it seems at best unnecessary. This season looks to be narratively concise, but we’ve stuck with Esmail and co this far, so what could go wrong? For Elliot, a lot.