[Spoiler Alert: If you have not seen the Mr. Robot tv series on USA Network, stop what you’re doing. Go find it, watch it and come back. Otherwise, serious spoilers ahead.]
Season 4 – Episode 1 (401 Unauthorized)
The big question with Mr. Robot is whether it is or isn’t about time travel or time manipulation. Over the past year, this column has explored the time travel clues and possibilities episode-by-episode throughout all three seasons. This month, we’re in new territory with the premiere of the long-awaited Season 4. From the new season’s opening moments, it’s clear that time travel as a theory is still very much on the table.
This episode starts out in an unconventional way. We begin with the familiar “previously on Mr. Robot” intro with flashbacks and snippets from Season 3. The last of these flashbacks was the scene from Season 3 Episode 10 between Angela Moss and Philip Price.
Price says to Angela, “Look, it’s not possible what she’s talking about. Angela, this so-called project of hers, it stems from an obsessive psychotic denial of reality. She has murdered countless people to fulfill—this ridiculous fantasy.”
Angela initially accepts Price’s explanation. She says tearfully, “The Cyber Bombings…all of those people. That was my fault. She used me for that. I have to believe that there was a purpose.”
Price answers. “Pettiness. It was a dig at me. It’s that small, unfortunately.”
Angela pleads. “No. It’s not over. It can’t be. She was gonna bring my mom back. We were gonna be reunited.” Angela goes on to ask, “What are you gonna do to her?”
Price says, “What are you asking?”
Angela answers, “Retribution. I want it.”
Price says, “I’m afraid your only move here…accept that you’ve been conned. Find a way to live with what you did.”
At this point, the flashback from Season 3 Episode 10 concludes and the scene between Angela and Price continues to play out as we find ourselves transitioning seamlessly into Season 4.
In this continuation, Angela says, “No. You’re wrong about her project. I know it’s possible. I’ve seen it. And I know how to take it from her.” Price looks discouraged and turns away. Angela says, “Don’t you get it? With everything that we know, this is what we have to do.”
Price interrupts. “Shut up.”
Angela continues. “We can expose her. We can tell everyone what she showed me.”
“Shut up! Sh-Shut up!!” yells Price.
“No,” says Angela. “And if you’re not gonna help me, I’m gonna do it on my own. And there is nothing you can do or say to stop me.”
Price says somberly, “I wish you hadn’t said that.”
In rapid succession, we then learn that Price has been wearing a wire, that Whiterose has been listening in on the entire conversation, and the Dark Army has arrived to neutralize this latest threat to Whiterose’s project. With that, Angela’s fate is determined.
Unpacking this further, we can only conclude that Whiterose’s time-altering project is something real. Price would never have gone to such lengths trying to convince Angela that what she was shown was all based on lies and delusions. Angela’s own certainty about the reality she could expose about Whiterose’s project was a tangible threat to the project itself and to Whiterose’s ambitions.
Moments before the Dark Army descends on her, while Price breathlessly suggests Angela beg for her life and relent to any of Whiterose’s demands, Angela says to Price, “Shh. You’re panicking right now. Remove all emotion and you’ll do just fine. Isn’t that what you’re good at?”
At that moment, Angela turns to stare at the Dark Army henchman still off screen and a distance away. She says to Price, “I’m not gonna run.” She walks over and sits down on a bench facing the expansive landscape and says, “You should probably leave.”
Angela’s reaction is certainly an act of bravery in the face of her inevitable demise. In contrast to how Price reacts, she demonstrates strength and resolve with her circumstances while he appears powerless, weak and victimized. For Angela, is it simply bravery or is she preparing to die as a true believer? If she is fully embracing Whiterose’s project and its capabilities to defy the limitations of a human lifetime, is Angela expecting, anticipating and knowing that she will be coming back? Is her resolve born out of the conviction that death—her death, anyone’s death—is something that can and will be overcome?
Let’s hold that thought and jump to the 38-minute mark in the episode. Elliot/Robot gets a text. Robot says, “It’s Darlene. She says it’s about Angela.”
We jump to Elliot meeting Darlene at his apartment. Darlene says, “Um, I think I figured it out. Okay, I am—I am really onto something. Just wait until you hear this. It’s kind of a breakthrough.” She asks about Elliot’s dog, Flipper, then says, “I think I saw Angela.”
Robot confronts her. “We talked about this already. Angela’s gone.” Robot/Elliot makes the observation that Darlene is on something—some level of drug intoxication.
Darlene says, “Don’t make this about that, okay? Just listen to me! Okay, I need you to hear this.” Elliot tells Darlene he’s listening. Darlene continues. “Okay, um, I was—I was walking by one of those shelters, and I think I saw her. Okay, I-I-I-I tried to catch up with her, but it was crowded, and I lost her, but—okay, but this is proof, right? This is proof. Maybe this is why they never found her body. Maybe she’s still alive.”
Elliot says, “That’s not possible.”
Darlene says, “No, I am telling you I saw her. She was on the street, same red cart, same bathrobe, exactly the way we saw her in that security footage just before she got into that van.” Darlene keeps talking through Elliot’s interruptions. “Maybe she escaped. I swear I saw her. Maybe if you would just help me, we could find her together. We just need to canvass all of the homeless shelters.”
Elliot is having none of this as he doubles-down on his theory that Darlene’s observations have only been fueled by her doing “a little too much coke.”
Of all the characters in the series, Darlene has been consistently down-to-earth no matter how high she ever was. Let’s suppose for a moment that Darlene did actually see Angela. Setting any other explanation aside, maybe Angela did come back. Maybe when her timeline was ended by the Dark Army, she picked her life back up at an earlier point. Angela was shown something that proved to her beyond any doubt that time and lifetimes could be manipulated. In that room with Whiterose, Angela met a younger version of herself. And we—the viewers—haven’t been shown what Angela witnessed. We only have Angela’s incredibly forceful conviction that something seemingly impossible is in fact quite possible. If Elliot can’t yet believe that, maybe we—his imaginary friend—can.
Season 4 – Episode 2 (402 Payment Required)
This episode opens on the colorful bars of a tv test pattern framed by a retro-styled television set. The picture quickly cuts to an array of historic visuals narrated by Philip Price. It’s a global history lesson in the consolidation of world wealth and resources in the hands of one controlling individual—Minister Zhang/Whiterose—who sits at the head of a shadow organization called the Deus Group. The important thing we learn about Zhang/Whiterose’s ruthless drive to the top is that it was not driven by greed. As Price describes it, “His pet project which we’d belittled for years had been the singular purpose of the Deus Group all along.” This time-hacking, secret project—a billion-dollar machine built clandestinely under the Washington Township Nuclear Power Plant—has been Zhang/Whiterose’s sole ambition. We still don’t know exactly what this machine is or what exactly it’s designed to do, but the inference throughout the Mr. Robot story arc is that it has something to do with altering time, reality or existence. While there have been ongoing time travel references throughout the series, the big news at the start of Season 4 is the confirmation that this mystery machine is indeed central to the entire plot.
Along with time travel clues and references, clocks of all kinds appear frequently throughout the series. At about the 19-minute mark, Darlene and Elliot are in their recently deceased mother’s room in an assisted-living facility, where the clock on the wall is still broken. In Season 2 Episode 9, Elliot noticed the clock and said to his mother, “I’ll see if they can fix the clock. Looks like it’s broken.”
There’s an even more engaging clock reference in the scene between Price and Zhang. During this heated conversation, in the shots of Price, there’s a loud ticking clock on the wall to his left. As the argument between the two reaches a boiling point it appears as if the clock skips a beat and the minute-hand looks as if it momentarily goes in reverse.
One of the significant challenges in Mr. Robot is deciphering which story elements are core and which elements are peripheral. This makes much of our time travel analysis equally difficult. If time travel is a central riddle, it’s surrounded and interwoven with multiple other riddles. We’re assembling a puzzle with either too many or too few pieces. So, consequently, we’re often left to guess our way to some possible explanation.
Before we close out this first column of the new—and final—season, let’s end with some further speculation.
We’ve speculated before in previous columns about some sort of possible connection between time manipulation and the death of someone or something. Remember the fish that died in the strange room with Angela, Whiterose and a young Angela? We wondered then if the fish had to die in order for young Angela to jump to another timeline. That still sounds a bit crazy, but we’re in the world of Mr. Robot.
In this new season we’ve been introduced to the character of Janice, the taxidermist, who aside from being delightfully and frighteningly sinister, is in the business of bringing things back from death to a new existence. In a quirky scene in Season 4 Episode 2, at Janice’s taxidermy shop, a customer comes in and flops her dead pet on the counter and says, “I want Beatrice with me forever.” This is also the episode where Elliot and Darlene’s mother dies. Whether she died from natural causes or died at the will of Whiterose is uncertain. We can venture down any number of rabbit holes. In Season 4 Episode 1, Whiterose’s new assistant implores her to keep Elliot on a short leash and keep him trained not to bite his master. Whiterose says, “Very well, then. Send him a reminder of what’s at stake.” Was the photo of Angela the reminder? Was the sudden death of his mother the reminder? Or, taking another path, did Elliot and Darlene’s mother have to die so she could be transported to the boardroom to orchestrate a meeting between Elliot, Mr. Robot and a third personality?
It might be easy at this point for time travel theories to get a little lost in the shuffling of all of these enigmas and crisscrossing riddles and puzzles occurring on several potential planes of existence. All we can do is hold onto the clues and keep looking at the clock.