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Mr. Robot S4E3: 403 Forbidden

Surprising no one, Mr. Robot S4E3, “403 Forbidden,” did not provide an answer to the fundamental mystery raised by the previous episode. Instead, it provided some backstory for Whiterose, checked in on the progress of Elliot’s plan, and finally gave us some new scenes with Vera.

He’s as menacing as ever, and displays an emotional intelligence that makes him all the more frightening, reading the look on Elliot’s face and realizing the importance of Krista to him. I’m still not sure how this might connect to everything else, besides the Elliot of it all, and I still worry that the reintroduction of Vera will feel more like an aside than an intrinsic part of the story. But, I probably shouldn’t worry about that.

Remember his monologue to Elliot about hating yourself?

People walk around, act like they know what hate means. Nah. No one does, until you truly hate yourself. That’s power.

Vera wears a Santa hat in the restaurant kitchen from which he is dealing drugs

If Someone Asks for Your Patience, They are Asking for Your Surrender

S4E3 begins with a flashback to Whiterose, or Zhi Zhang’s (Ross Kurt Le) affair with a young man named Chen (Eugene Shaw) in the early ‘80s. They make a deal with IBM, and think that Zhi will thus secure the job of Ambassador to the United States, where Chen hopes they can finally be their true selves.

It’s a poignant picture of the young Whiterose with a lover struggling against the norms of the China that they live in. It doesn’t take many shots, or lines of dialogue, to establish the love they have for one another. And we see Chen obsessed with time, with the young Zhi chafing at his rigidness about it. So much of this works to inform what we know about Whiterose, though it at the same time leaves ambiguous how precisely we read her motivations.

A young Whiterose wears a white dress with a black sash as she stands in front of a bed with mirrors on each side

Certainly Chen’s impact on her life, and his suicide, are relevant. It is the same dress that she revealed herself to him in that she intends to wear when her project is finally shipped to the Congo. She wears his watch, and her obsession with time could certainly be linked to what we see of them in the past.

Even more so, whatever the details of Whiterose’s plan are supposed to be, it’s always seemed to me that she is a true believer in it, and it’s clear that it involves some kind of notion about bringing back the dead. More than ever I think this is some thought about alternate realities, like one where she and Chen moved to the U.S. and lived openly as a couple. How it is supposed to work, if it will work, and why it needs to be in the Congo remain open questions, but I must admit part of me wants to see Whiterose pull it off, and for her to be with sweet Chen once again at the end of the day.

White roses are stained with blood as Chen lies on the floor after slitting his own throat with the young Zhi Zhang hunching over him

Mr. Robot also does the thing here where it uses a flashback to inform present behavior. Wang Shu (Jing Xu) tells Whiterose she has to be patient before we cut to the scene wherein the young Zhi says something similar to Chen right before Chen kills himself. And so, despite going along with the thought for a moment, Whiterose’s ultimate answer is no: give Price his request, promote Wellick, and set the meeting of the Deus Group for tomorrow, gods be damned that it’s Christmas day.

Will the instinct that the quick timing might put Elliot and Price on the wrong foot prove to be correct, or is this the rare instance of Whiterose making a mistake? And what the hell does Elliot plan to do when they are all together, anyway? It’s hard for me to believe he’s thinking about blowing the place up, or anything like that.

I’m Elliot, Now You Know Me

Susan Jacobs is dead, so Elliot et al need a new way in when it comes to the financials of the Deus Group. And they find it in the person of Olivia Cortez (Dominik Garcia-Lorido). Elliot breaks into her apartment while she is supposed to be on an OKCupid date with some guy named Evan, but he comes up short, as he needs a short-term password to get into her account. But he finds an Oxy bottle and learns that she is supposed to stay clean to keep her kid, so off to the bar we go!

I’m honestly a bit confused by how they are presenting the relationship between Elliot and Mr. Robot at this point, though that has maybe been a long-standing worry. After breaking into Olivia’s apartment, for example, they seem to be operating pretty independently. And there are other times where what each is doing just seems off in terms of collapsing it to the one body that is Elliot. I don’t know if that will be important, or if it’s just something to look past, but regardless, it’s something I have been noticing for a long time. How do we make sense of the times when it seems like they are in two different places at once?

The scene in the bar does not present such a worry, though there is some tension between the two. Elliot wants to blackmail Olivia, but Mr. Robot suggests a subtler approach. He basically forces the issue to where Elliot is on a date with Olivia, but then takes the backseat. It’s interesting. I’m not sure what to do with that, if we think about the question in terms of the relationship between the two personas. What does seem clear, though, is that Elliot and Olivia hit it off.

Despite the fact that he’s there to steal data from her, and the way she comes close to catching him when he does, the whole relationship between these two in this episode feels undeniably real, as they discuss their addictions and suicidal thoughts. I want Elliot to have a relationship with this woman, and so does, I think, Mr. Robot. But instead we should be preparing ourselves for the sadness when she learns what Elliot has done.

This is similar to what happened last season between Dom and Darlene, but before their hook up Darlene was gathering herself in the bathroom to gear herself up for it, whereas when Elliot runs out of the bar to Olivia it feels real. And their connection later does as well. But even if Darlene was pretending and Elliot was being authentic, surely Olivia will be as upset as Dom, if not more so. And I worry about what she might do (to herself) when she finds out.

Olivia rests her head on Elliot's shoulder as they sit on her bathroom floor

Let’s Go Home and Act Normal

I’m not positive about where AllSafe was/is, but I am familiar with where Elliot lives. It’s right around the corner from the apartment I used to be in on Essex St. He’s on East Broadway, and we often see Seward Park.

Now, if you want to get on the subway there, the East Broadway stop is definitely an option, and we’ve seen Elliot take it any number of times. But you’ll only get the F there. If you want to grab the B or the D, you’ll have to walk over to the Grand stop, which isn’t too terribly far away. That’s where we see Elliot and Mr. Robot in this episode, so that makes sense.

The show has made subway errors in the past (in particular in Season 1 when Elliot follows Mr. Robot to Coney Island, they get on a train that doesn’t stop at that station), and you might think I should just look past them, but as a New Yorker I will not. Instead I find myself wondering if they’re not errors but evidence of an alternate reality where the system is set up a little differently.

There is no subway error in this episode, and it’s not like the time Elliot inexplicably decided to walk to Chelsea either, but what doesn’t make sense is Elliot’s thought about going home after he sees the white van. He says something about acting normal, but there is nothing normal about taking a train from the LES/Chinatown to Midtown and then going right back without doing anything. Of course they are watching him, and it makes sense not to give away where he has been working, but it’s not clear how he has kept that from the Dark Army for this long, or if he has. Are we sure it’s them in the white van?

In fact, it makes little sense for the van to be there unless whoever is in it already knew where Elliot was going. You can’t really follow someone on the subway with a vehicle above ground. Plus the van shows up back outside of Elliot’s apartment after he returns to find Tyrell. Or maybe it is a different similar van? Regardless, it seems clear that they know the where of Elliot’s back and forth. They want to know what he is doing. And again, if he’s trying to “act normal” to allay their suspicions, getting off the train, walking a bit, and then getting on the train again to head back is not that—get a taco or something.

A white van is parked outside of Elliot's apartment

403 Forbidden

S4E3 continues the trend of this season’s episode titles being 4xx Client Errors, and it seems likely that all of the remaining episodes will follow suit, even if this hasn’t been officially announced. That would give us the following list:

401 Unauthorized
402 Payment Required
403 Forbidden
404 Not Found
405 Method Not Allowed
406 Not Acceptable
407 Proxy Authentication Required
408 Request Timeout
409 Conflict
410 Gone
411 Length Required
412 Precondition Failed
413 Payload Too Large

Speculate away!

I didn’t feel compelled to say much about the titles of the first two episodes of this season, but with S4E3 it feels thematic. Mr. Robot even uses the phrase as he talks to us about Elliot shutting people out. And, of course, he’s shut us out, too, though Mr. Robot has decided to talk to us now. What do we make of this?

We further see the theme of the forbidden when it comes to the relationship between Whiterose and Chen, Elliot’s attempt to hack Cyprus National Bank, and even in the Vera scene as he forbids the coercion of Elliot into doing his bidding. He wants to be partners, which somehow makes him even creepier. What is he going to do to Krista (who, speaking of which, also forbids Elliot from contacting her)?

But, more deeply, this episode is about hating oneself, and grappling with that. Certainly Elliot hates himself for the consequences of what he did, and the people who died. But he already did before that. Why did he jump out of the window as a kid, anyway? And then there’s the morphine. This allows him to bond with Olivia, insofar as both are addicts who have contemplated suicide. And in both instances, the response seems to have been to focus on their work. I suppose that’s speculation when it comes to Olivia, but it’s certainly the case for Elliot. He continues to sacrifice human connection at the altar of his plan, and Olivia is set up now to be the next victim of that.

Whiterose hates herself in a different way for what happened to Chen (who also hated himself for being unable to live in the world to the extent that he committed suicide). She too subordinates everything to her goal—even more so than Elliot, arguably, as she has no problem killing people along the way. And it seems like that goal is to make it right somehow. All of this will have been worth it, if only she can rectify that past wrong. And she believes she can.

Of course, Vera has told us that to truly hate oneself is a source of power. Nothing is off limits, then. Most of us view certain things to be moral impossibilities. It’s interesting if you think about it. Things strike us as impossible not in logical or even physical terms, but ethical ones. I couldn’t live with myself. But if I already hate myself, thoroughly and truly, then all doors are open. This seems to be Vera’s thought, at least. In terms of a coping strategy, it is morally worse even than Whiterose’s. As for its psychological effectiveness, well, I suppose that’s something to ponder. What are the consolations of nihilism?

Hating oneself is an interesting thing. Or, perhaps “hate” is not quite the right word. Perhaps there’s no word for it, or too many words: shame, guilt, regret…what do you call it when all of those things are bundled together? When you look at yourself and see things you don’t like, working to change may seem like the right option. It’s when you feel that you can’t change the thing in question that “hate” starts to feel like the appropriate word. This could relate to something that you’ve done—the past is unalterable, after all—but what cuts deeper is the feeling that it is just a matter of who you are, and that you can’t do anything about that.

Many of us can connect to this feeling of self-hatred in one way or another. Perhaps it is a side effect of having a sensitive, or thoughtful soul, or something like that, to look at who one is with a sense of regret and shame; to be unable to excuse oneself for lapses of judgment and moral failings; to feel this hatred with regard to who one is and how one relates to the world. After all, it can feel as though those who ought to hate themselves are precisely those who do not, like Evan, who shows up for his date with Olivia two hours late like nothing is wrong.

Evan holds up his phone to Olivia to ask if the picture is her
Classic Evan

The question is what one does in light of such feelings. Embracing them like Vera does seems like a path to evil. Thinking you can fix things—as Whiterose and Elliot do in differing ways—seems to lead to unhealthy obsession. Giving into them, as Chen does, leads to suicide, which can’t ever be the right option.

Of all of the characters in this episode, Olivia is arguably doing it best: working her job, loving her kid, taking a chance on a date with some guy named Evan…but Elliot’s about to wreck all of that.

Irving Watch

Irving is presumably still working on his book. I can’t wait to read it.


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Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain studies philosophy and is a writer and head of the TV department at 25YL. He is also one half of Drink Full and Descend, a podcast that started in relation to Twin Peaks, but has now moved beyond it, and has begun to explore Surrealism. He lives in Brooklyn and has a cat.

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