Mr. Robot S4E7, “Proxy Authentication Required,” focuses entirely on the situation Elliot finds himself in after Vera kidnapped him at the end of the previous episode. It ran commercial-free, with a tighter aspect ratio than normal, and was presented as occurring in five acts, with the title card for each hitting the screen where otherwise an ad break would have been.
This all created an intense atmosphere throughout, which was heightened by a musical score that verged towards the melodramatic without quite crossing the line. Rather, this episode was operatic, from the five-act structure to the musical flourishes, and perhaps that’s fitting given the major shift in the show’s arc that is ultimately on display here. Will we ever see Mr. Robot again?
I’d imagine Christian Slater’s role on the series is not finished, but Mr. Robot has had a strange arc this season. Time was his relationship with Elliot was adversarial, and though the two moving to work together flowed well in terms of the plot, there is also the fact that it has been Mr. Robot, and not Elliot, who has been talking to us this season.
I noted last week the extent to which this started to feel almost a bit cheesy. What I have always found interesting is that while Mr. Robot breaks the fourth wall, it has tended to do so by bringing us into the story as opposed to having Elliot break out of it. And that remains the case to some degree in S4E6 when Mr. Robot says that none of us did anything to stop Elliot when it came to Olivia. However, at the same time, his voice-overs have less brought us inside than they have commented from the outside.
Mr. Robot has been meaningfully outside of Elliot’s point of view all season as well, in other words. Elliot has stopped talking to us—just as he has shut everyone else out—so Mr. Robot figured he might as well. I wonder if now, perhaps, Elliot might start taking to us again? It’s been awhile, friend.
An Aluminum Baseball Bat
Vera told us last week what his plan was with regard to Elliot: break him using Krista, and then be there as someone to rely on. That’s how you own someone. And that is what we see him do in S4E7—pretty effectively, in fact.
What is interesting about Vera as a character is the extent to which things feel genuine even as he is being a complete psychopath. He really does want to understand Elliot. He really does want him to be on his side, and to be on his. And, I think, at the end, he really does connect with Elliot’s pain. He cries, after all, and I don’t think he’s lying when he talks about his mother passing him around.
Vera is a broken man. But as he’s told us before, his move has been to push through that pain to find a source of power. He reiterates this idea again here in S4E7. The ones who’ve felt that pain, and persevered—they are the storm.
But he is also a psychopath. Or, I’m actually not sure if that is the right term for what Vera is. It implies a lack of empathy, I think, which doesn’t feel appropriate. No, when it comes to Vera I almost feel safer on a more traditional terrain. The dude is just evil. He understands perfectly well what he is, and has decided for it. He feels empathy and so on, but has generally decided against it. He hates himself, but has found power in that. And that’s what he cares about, as he tells us again here: power. This desire for power over others, whatever its cause, strikes me as quintessential to what I am willing to call evil. Because this is what becomes unforgivable, unlike things stemming from psychological trauma, or socio-economic conditions. To be evil is to know the good and decide on the contrary. And this seems to me to be what Vera has done.
I See You Now
The main reveal of “Proxy Authentication Required” is that Elliot’s father molested him. I’m not sure what I think about this.
On the one hand, it answers a question I wasn’t asking. I didn’t need, or want, any more explanation of why Elliot jumped out the window, or what caused Mr. Robot, than we’d already gotten. And to be honest, the first time I watched this episode, this whole thing kind of rubbed me the wrong way, as though it was reducing something nebulous to a determinate cause.
We already had the scene where Edward Alderson collapsed in the movie theater to work with, and general thoughts about Elliot’s reaction to his father’s death. But I honestly never even really pinned it on that so much as on the world and how Elliot struggled to cope with it. Rather than one cause, I always thought there was a network of them that was spread out and hard to nail down. And I was happy with that explanation. So to suggest that child abuse was the cause initially struck me as a narrowing that I wasn’t sure I could get behind.
That was largely based on my ignorance, however, as just a little bit of research shows that there is a strong link between Dissociative Identity Disorder and a history of childhood trauma. In other words, sexual abuse at the hands of his father tracks in terms of a cause for Mr. Robot. And it makes sense that the discovery of the existence of Mr. Robot would lead Krista to think in this direction. So if I (and I presume others) didn’t see this coming, psychologists watching the show likely did.
Of course, we don’t want to believe it. We haven’t seen a whole lot of Edward Alderson, but from what we have seen, he seemed cool. He took Elliot’s side against an angry customer, and took him to the movies. He put M&M’s in popcorn.
It is a testament to Mr. Robot that the show has made us as unwilling to believe this thing about Elliot’s father as he is himself. Or, rather, we don’t want to believe it any more than he does. This puts us right there along with him as he screams at the window. And if he feels the loss of Mr. Robot, so do we as we long for that voice; that stand-in for a father and a friend who will protect us. But that’s all wrecked now, as Mr. Robot is an imago of Edward. Even if he comes back—and I doubt this will be the end of Christian Slater’s role in the series—things can never be the same.
That’s what’s on the other hand: S4E7 gives us a powerful moment as Elliot breaks down in light of the truth of his trauma. It’s the worst therapy session ever, held as it is at the point of a gun, but it gets there. He’s forced to confront what happened. Whether he is able to traverse it or will fall into a downward spiral depends on what happens next, but he’s certainly better off being guided by Krista than he would have been with Vera.
I’m prone to wonder whether Darlene was also molested by Edward. Darlene uses the handle Dolores Haze, which is a reference to Lolita. That reference is further made by her tendency to wear heart-shaped sunglasses. Perhaps this represents something of her own coping strategy with regard to the trauma. But this would seem to imply that she knows what happened to Elliot. Maybe she does, but it’s just not the kind of thing you talk about? Maybe she hasn’t realized that Elliot hasn’t been remembering?
Their problematic relationship with their mother does make more sense now. On the one hand, she failed to protect at least one of her children from sexual molestation. And on the other, we might guess that she felt a perverse jealousy at the direction of her husband’s attention, whether she explicitly knew what was happening or not. This would be totally indefensible, of course, but all too human. Perhaps this is why she treated her kids poorly. She herself may not have even realized it consciously.
Krista was kidnapped last week. Vera told her he was going to use her as his aluminum baseball bat to break Elliot down. She’s been consistently gagged, and her boyfriend Jason was turned away on Christmas looking sad with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. She’s been through a lot.
This week, she is gagged some more before being forced into a “therapy” session with Elliot while Vera watches (and at times intervenes). It’s a terrible situation. Her professional ethos has already been violated by Vera’s move to get her records, but this is worse. He’s forcing her to break all of the codes.
But, she does, and she and Elliot actually get to a breakthrough, finally. It’s just not controlled the way it should be. So he freaks out, Vera steps in to try and do the very thing he told Krista about when he told her the story about the bully last week, and then she stabs him in the back.
I don’t know where this leaves Elliot, or where it leaves Krista—I presume she has never killed anyone before—but I would insist that she was not wrong to do this. As much as Elliot and Vera were seeming to bond in the moment, he’s told her that story about the bully. Whether she is thinking of that in the moment or not, Vera is evil and his death is to the good.
But what about Peanuts and Javi? They went for a walk I guess. Will they come back and present a problem, or are we done with them? And day has turned to night, apparently. Granted, it gets dark in NYC on Christmas around 4:30pm, but is it too late for the Deus Group plan?
I’m guessing it’s not, but there is also the wrinkle of Darlene getting caught up with the Dark Army, which we got no movement on this week.
407 Proxy Authentication Required
I haven’t always felt the need to comment on the episode titles this season, although I have found them to consistently resonate thematically with the episode in question. This is interesting insofar as it leads one to wonder about how this story was written in relation to the list of 4xx client error codes, but it has also often been the case that the appropriateness of the title was fairly obvious. “404 Not Found” may be the clearest example of this, but others have also seen Mr. Robot using terms as he talks to us that connect to the title in question.
This is not so with “407 Proxy Authentication Required.” The clearest connection is when Vera demands to speak with Mr. Robot. He needs to authenticate Elliot’s proxy. But what I think is more interesting is how the episode ultimately moves in the other direction. Mr. Robot isn’t authenticated as a part of Elliot so much as he is undermined. And after all, this is when you get a 407 error—when authentication is required, but absent.
And this is where Elliot is left at the end of the episode. He doesn’t want to be alone anymore. He can’t access Mr. Robot because of a 407 error, though, so he is alone.
For a moment it seems as though he is going to be like the bully in Vera’s story. Vera’s last words echo those he told Krista: “I see you now.” And with tears running down his face (and Vera’s) we seem to be on the precipice of Vera achieving his goal.
Is his emotion genuine, or is he manipulating Elliot? I think it’s both, which is what makes Fernando a fascinating character. But then Krista kills him.
It’s pretty clearly justified, but where does this leave our friend Elliot? He can’t just “snap to” and go carry out his plan. There has to be more to it than that.
I wonder what time it has gotten to be by the end of the episode. The darkness only tells us it is maybe 5pm, as I noted above. I tried to search for whether there was a thunderstorm in NYC on Christmas 2015, but didn’t find anything (get to it, internet!), though it was unseasonably warm that day. (I wish I could remember if it rained!)
Regardless, given how the plot is progressing, and Sam Esmail’s remarks that the season amounts to an extended Christmas special, I’m beginning to wonder if the day will end before the series.