A bottle episode in five acts reveals the secret essence of the show.
This recap of Mr. Robot Season 4, Episode 7, “407 Proxy Authentication Required”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Trauma can be manifested in many forms. Sometimes it can be flashbacks, sensory reminders of an event that become inescapable. Sometimes our brains try to block it out. It’s a defense mechanism, pretending that a life-shattering event didn’t happen in order to maintain some sense of internal stability. The most awful things are pushed to the deepest recesses of our minds. The brain’s drive to protect itself can do marvelous, terrible things.
This is, in essence, what Mr. Robot is about.
Elliot’s inability to fit in with society; to empathize with others, to be happy. The other people occupying his head. It is not a statement about how technology has shaped our reality; how millennials are alienated from society; how the 1% is controlling everything. Mr. Robot is about all these things. But the main theme, the reason for most of the narrative twists the show pulls, are built to tell the story of something else: trauma. In Mr. Robot Season 4, Episode 7, “407 Proxy Authentication Required”, the curtains are drawn back on the secret that has been underlying everything in the show, in Elliot’s life, so far.
Elliot was sexually abused by his father.
Trauma is powerful. We can misremember things. Or, in Elliot’s case, our brains can create an alternate personality who “takes over”. All of the trauma becomes repressed and processed through Mr. Robot, leaving the subject completely unaware. But something is always there, back in the corner of your mind. Telling you that something is wrong.
This is not the first time Elliot’s mind has worked overtime to reduce the pain of his life (Season 2’s prison storyline and the “ALF” episode come to mind). It’s a testament to the show’s desire to allow viewers to understand Elliot’s mind that it has kept this reveal for so long (with only three episodes left). Rather than use reality destabilizing twists simply to confuse the viewer, Mr. Robot drops a bombshell like the one in “407 Proxy Authentication Required” to allow us to understand how the mind processes trauma.
The first forty minutes of Mr. Robot Season 4, Episode 7 are surprisingly uneventful. Elliot is in the back of a car soon to be bound and gagged. The episode is shot in a wide aspect ratio and divided up into five acts. The act makes the story seem more dramatic than what it actually is; a bottle episode that spends the first two-thirds building up to the end.
While watching, the acts didn’t really work for me. Before we learn about Elliot’s relation with his father, I was confused as to why so much time was being spent on, for lack of a better description, nothing. I could not have been more wrong.
The first act introduces Vera’s desire to take over New York, with Elliot helping him. He spins a tale (involving a lot of “S**t and puke”) as if that will somehow convince Elliot. But Elliot only wants to make sure Krista is unharmed.
Vera brings Krista in for “Act Two”. He demands “an introduction”, and soon enough, Christian Slater appears. It takes a moment to convince Vera that it really is Mr. Robot, and even longer for Mr. Robot to convince Vera that they do not want any part in his plan. What he does offer, however, is a cut of the Cyrpus Bank money, if Vera lets them carry out their plan. Vera then starts to kill Krista, making Elliot plead for her life. “I need her,” he says.
“Time we had a little therapy session,” says Vera. He has read Krista’s file on Mr. Robot, he knows what Elliot doesn’t. They start off talking about Mrs. Alderson’s death, but Vera pushes them towards the day Elliot fell out the window. Krista asks if he actually remembers what happened, but Elliot retorts that it is just what Darlene told him. Someone took over, and his memory was gone. He heard his father come upstairs, he grabbed a baseball bat and jumped out the window.
“He’s not supposed to know” yells Mr. Robot, and Krista agrees. Elliot is suspicious. They are both hiding something from him. And slowly it dawns on him. The scene is long, but not too long. “407 Proxy Authentication Required” has been so slow because it has been building up to this moment — the introduction of Mr. Robot to Vera, why he needs Krista. It has all been carefully written to present (in a non-exploitative way) the secret that has been underlying the series.
Elliot’s trauma has warped his memory. It has made him unstable, paranoid, depressed. He envisions the man who molested him, but as a defense mechanism to prevent acknowledgment of what actually happened. And Mr. Robot is about a man whose childhood trauma, his history of abuse, has hindered his ability to fit into the world. He is always outside (sometimes outside his own body). Because that’s what abuse can do.
He screams, encouraged by Vera. “Purge that poison — soon you can be your true self”. But what if this is Elliot’s true self. He is a survivor of abuse, and there’s no way to get rid of that. Abuse can stick to you, it becomes who you are.
Vera relates to him, telling him that their damaged past makes them both unstoppable. But Elliot knows that pain is not a superpower. And Vera soon realizes he is far from unstoppable — as Krista, now free, stabs him in the back.
– That was a heavy episode, but not without some funny lines, such as one of Vera’s goons saying, “What kind of name is Mr. Robot anyway? Some Nickelodeon bullshit?”
– I’ve been concerned about the purpose of Vera in the season’s larger narrative but after this episode, my worries are reversed. Vera was a means to an end, but what an end it was. Now I’m concerned that after 407’s revelations, anything involving Whiterose or Deus will be uninteresting.