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With its dialogue-free stunt, Mr. Robot speaks volumes in a gripping heist

Photo: Elizabeth Fisher (USA Network)
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“Now that the world has made men speechless, not to be on speaking terms is to be in the right.”—Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia

The most frustrating thing about cliches is that they’re almost always profoundly true, but everyone has heard them so many times, they’ve been neutered and rendered trite by repetition and pedestrian application. “Actions speak louder than words” has been turned into a reductive version of “prove it, tough guy” when it contains much richer implications. It’s not just that we reveal our actual character by what we do, not what we say; it’s that we can communicate in more significant and meaningful ways without language, that the most potent forms of communication are rarely dialogue, and more often behavior. “I like you” versus a kiss, “I’m sad” versus a tear, “This is vitally important to me” versus holding on and not letting go—there’s no comparison. And for someone like Elliot Alderson, to whom words have almost always been a source of failure, there’s a beauty in silence. It’s a purity that strips away all the miscommunications (or the exploits, to go back to a key season-one insight) that get between you and the honest connection you’re trying to make with another person. Actions speak louder than words, because sometimes words don’t speak at all.

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There’s a similar purity in narrative to “Method Not Allowed,” Sam Esmail’s foray into the world of dialogue-free episodes of television. As anyone who’s seen the silent episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer can attest, stripping away people’s ability to talk imbues their movements and behavior with an added significance. When your primary method of conveying information to the audience is removed, it forces the show to up its game in terms of framing and action. So while the majority of this episode is focused on the heist at Virtual Realty, with Elliot and Darlene’s primary attention needing to be wholly focused on the task at hand, they and everyone else nonetheless get a chance to convey richer truths involving the state of their characters. Admittedly, some of this doesn’t change things much: Price, Krysta, and Dom are all still talking in a manner of speaking (no pun intended) via text message; but even they are allowed moments of silence to simply embody their realities, the actors pulling to the surface feelings and states of mind that are usually at least partly buried.

The interludes with others stop when shit gets real during the Virtual Realty job, though, and for that entire sequence, Mr. Robot gets as nervy and exciting as its ever been. There’s not always a lot of depth to Elliot and Darlene during the heist proper, as the focus is on the job, not the characters, so at first it comes across like a fun stunt that doesn’t necessarily offer a lot beyond the thrill of the crime. But the more I reflect on the episode and re-watch it, the more I admire it for stripping away all the bells and whistles that usually define Mr. Robot. Sure, there’s Wellick’s face on the side of the bus Elliot flees in, but it’s a meaningless Easter egg, just background to fill in the contours of this world as opposed to the symbolic clues that often litter the landscape of the series. The focus is wholly on the action and excitement, and it delivers in spades. There’s a completely different kind of challenge to that type of television, and much like the first episode of this season, Esmail proves he’s capable of orchestrating such thrills. For what it’s trying to accomplish, it’s hard to imagine this episode pulling it off much better than it does here.

Each step of the plan gets injected with the right amount of apprehension and anxiety. When Darlene’s falsified ID doesn’t work to gain access, it looks like the jig is up before it’s even begun, before Elliot goes leaping over the turnstile and we realize this was the plan all along. But then the smallest error triggers a series of events that end with Elliot fleeing for his life from the police: The control box on the elevator gets left open just enough to raise suspicion from the security guard. The light on the security code entry to the server room remains on, pushing him to pull up the fact that he supposedly accessed the room just minutes earlier. And from there, it all goes to hell—the police arrive, Elliot and Darlene are forced to barricade the doors and flee, but when the police are out front, Elliot sacrifices himself to allow Darlene the chance to escape. Her move is clever—posing as a member of the fitness place to slip out undetected—but his chase is tense and exhilarating and funny all at once. “Ave Maria” playing over the scene of Elliot slipping and falling across the ice-skating rink was good; his exhausted and exasperated look as he realizes the cops just went around it, and are back on his tail, is better. The final moment, where he leaps off the side of the road and manages to fall mostly unscathed to the ground below, where Darlene’s waiting to pick him up and drive away? The best. Their moment of reconnection, his hand on hers, just confirms what we already learned from the way they work together here—family means fucking up is okay. He fucked up. It’s okay.

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But family sometimes gets put on hold. Dom’s Christmas Day is a bit more frustrating, as she gets pulled away right as she’s about to head over to her parents’ house to celebrate, Janice instead ordering her to investigate the burnt-out Dark Army van Elliot left on the side of the road. Grace Gummer alternates soulfully between resigned grit in the execution of Dom’s work and despairing anger at the position she’s been put in by her blackmailers; for a moment, I was convinced she was writing down the location of the van monitoring her because she planned to call the cops on it as a little holiday fuck-you to the people who are doing this to her. Instead, she learns her old frenemies Elliot and Darlene are responsible; there’s a great moment where her face flickers with recognition, anger, and admiration all at once, and we wonder if the old enemy-of-my-enemy thing will be enough to keep her from turning the Aldersons over to Janice and the Dark Army.

Price, by contrast, just keeps right on being Price, as does Krysta. He follows the instructions that get him the invite to the next Deus meeting, which he now knows will unfortunately not include Tyrell Wellick. But he’s committed at this point—Price has chosen a side, and he’d rather go down swinging than capitulating to the one who killed his daughter. Poor Krysta, by contrast, doesn’t even realize she’s involved in anything. Fernando Vera chose her as a pawn in his campaign to land Elliot as a partner, so the unfortunate woman finds herself helpless in the face of forces far greater than she. Should’ve gone to family dinner with the boyfriend, Krysta.

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As these various elements marshal their forces and prepare for the coming showdown, it’s worth noting just how fleet Mr. Robot has become during this last season. Even in the more uneven episodes, there’s a momentum, a sense that things are moving at a speed far beyond the ability of any character, even Whiterose, to control them. Maybe this is a result of what was originally a five-year series plan being condensed into four, or maybe it’s just deft storytelling; either way, things are getting good and tense. This was a kinetic episode that evacuated most of the usual things we love about the series, and focused instead on raw action, to winning effect. You don’t have to speak, Mr. Robot—we know just what you’re saying.

Stray observations

  • Dom sees on her phone the news that Deegan McGuire has been released. I should’ve known better than to assume that was just some rando who wouldn’t come back into play.
  • Credit where credit’s due, the parody of WeWork called Kraftwerk is delightful.
  • For reasons passing understanding, the computer in Virtual Realty has the logon screen labeled “The Parmenides.” This is the name of Plato’s dialogue involving a debate over the theory of forms, and it is extremely abstract with little to no academic consensus about what it means, whether it supports or undermines Socrates, and I’m not about to dig deeper into it here. (I love The Republic, but come on, now, Esmail.)
  • The camera plunge down the stairwell as Elliot and Darlene sprint for safety might be my favorite shot of the whole episode.
  • The Nativity Scene people on the bus make a strong case for second place, though.
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About the author

Alex McLevy

Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.