‘Mr. Robot’ Season 4, Episode 7: Acts of Malice – The New York Times


Two rooms, six actors, one hour: This week, “Mr. Robot” served us a bottle episode. There was no way of knowing we would find something so truly dark at the bottom of it.

For most of its duration, this commercial-free installment, written and directed by the series’s creator and showrunner, Sam Esmail, plays out like a tense hostage thriller. Elliot Alderson and his therapist, Krista, are the prisoners, wide-eyed with fear. Their chief captor: Fernando Vera, a meth-smoking mystic with visions of conquering New York City with the help of his hacker captive.

Each of the two sides has its henchmen. For Elliot, that’s his Mr. Robot persona, fearless in the face of the gangster’s aggression. Vera has his own minions, Peanuts (Young M.A) and Javi (Jahneer E. Williams), who view both their boss’s flights of fancy and Elliot’s shattered psyche with wry bemusement.

The story beats seem standard at first. Elliot and Mr. Robot argue between themselves about finding an escape route and ensuring Krista’s safety. Vera holds forth in supervillainous soliloquies about his conquest of the island of Hispaniola’s drug trade, until he is told by a shaman that Manhattan is the island he should really set his sights on.

Peanuts threatens to shoot Elliot when his Mr. Robot persona takes over, while the threat of rape by Javi is held over Krista’s head when she and Elliot are deemed uncooperative. Elliot even pulls a gun on his captors, only to discover that they’ve already removed the bullets.

But there’s something about the episode’s ostentatious use of a five-act structure, complete with title cards and fades to black between acts, that portends more than a detour into crime fiction. The dread builds. And when Vera forces Krista and Elliot to conduct a therapy session, we find out what it’s building to.

At Vera’s insistence, Krista digs deep into Elliot’s past, into the day he fell from his bedroom window as a child. Elliot learned from his sister, Darlene, that he jumped through the window, though he had thought his father pushed him.

Krista asks him why his memories of the event are so foggy. Isn’t it a lot like the way he loses time when Mr. Robot takes over to protect him? If so, what was Mr. Robot protecting him from way back then? Why did he grab a baseball bat and swing it at his father, trashing his room in the process? Why did he hide his sister in the closet before his father came into the room? Why did he jump?

“Did your father sexually molest you?” she asks, every word audibly painful.

“Yes,” Elliot replies, realizing the horrible truth before our eyes.

The revelation poleaxes Elliot. Rami Malek bests even his own usually exceptional work in the role. His jaw appears to come unhinged as he writhes from the shock and pain, as if his emotional distress were a physical thing tormenting his body. For those who have experienced severe psychological trauma, the sight is uncomfortably familiar.

But in the end, the very severity of that trauma is Elliot’s salvation. Seeming genuinely moved by Elliot’s ordeal, Vera reveals that he, too, was molested as a child, and he encourages Elliot to embrace his newfound strength.

“Once you’ve weathered a storm like yours,” he says, “you become the storm. You hear me? You are the storm, and it’s the rest of the world that needs to run for cover.”

Vera is so engrossed with comforting and praising Elliot that he is taken completely unawares by a knife in his back, wielded by Krista.

It’s one last fascinating twist: We realize suddenly that Elliot must have seen her creeping up the entire time he appeared to be engaged in a one-on-one heart-to-heart with his captor. He was just waiting for the blade to get buried in the man’s body.

Once Vera collapses, the power appears to go out in Krista’s apartment, one light at a time. It’s not clear why, as the storm raging outside would have knocked out all the power in one shot. But as the credits roll, we’re left to contemplate what this revelation means for Elliot, and for the show.

For one thing, it finally solves the dilemma of the window incident. For most of the show’s duration, Elliot believed that his father had pushed him out of the window; the revelation last season that he jumped appeared to be a way to sand down the rough edges of his relationship with his father, and by extension with his father’s doppelgänger, Mr. Robot.

Now, however, we see that the truth is somewhere in between, and uglier than either of the other two options. His father did push him out of the window, in the sense that his behavior drove Elliot to fling himself two stories to the ground outside rather than endure his abuse.

Thus his entire vendetta against E Corp and its puppet masters — waged to avenge the death of his father — is called into question. So, too, is his relationship with Mr. Robot, whom Elliot will likely no longer be able to tolerate in the form of an avatar of his father.

With so few episodes remaining, this is a savage left turn for the story to take. But “Mr. Robot” has always been at its best when engaging in high risk, high reward maneuvers. Asking the audience to wrestle with something this horrific right at the root of the show is asking a lot. I wish more shows had this courage.

Random Data:

  • Rami Malek and his therapeutic foil, Gloria Reuben, are obviously the all-stars of this episode, but Elliot Villar deserves praise for his performance as Vera as well. He has the difficult task of playing a man who is both wise and stupid, sensitive and sadistic, caring and cruel, and who has to exhibit each of these qualities at different points throughout the episode. He has to make “Scarface”-style bluster and teary-eyed confessions convincing, and he nails it.

  • When Elliot showed Vera and his minions the trillions of dollars they could steal from the Deus Group, I actually thought for a moment that Elliot might really join forces with them, if only to use them as muscle against the Dark Army.

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