Season 4, Episode 5: ‘405 Method Not Allowed’
“It’s cool, dude. We don’t have to talk.” From Darlene Alderson’s lips to the creator, writer and director Sam Esmail’s ears: The fifth installment of the final season of “Mr. Robot” is almost entirely dialogue free.
It’s an attention-getting feat from the filmmaker, who is no stranger to such stunts. Recall that high-rise thriller episode that looked like it was filmed as one long take, for example, or the series’s perfect simulacra of 1990s sitcoms and 1980s slasher films.
This episode primarily tracks Darlene and her brother, Elliot, as they finagle their way into a secure server farm in order to hack the bank account used by their nemesis, Whiterose, and her Dark Army. One side plots tracks the outgoing E Corp chief executive, Phillip Price, and the compromised F.B.I. agent Dom DiPierro as they follow the Dark Army’s instructions. Another track’s Elliot’s therapist, Krista, who doesn’t realize she is being followed by the minions of Elliot’s old drug-dealing enemy, Vera, until it’s too late.
It all makes for a rather miserable Christmas Day for all concerned; indeed, the contrast between the characters’ stressful states and the compulsory joy of all the Christmas music they encounter is the episode’s best running gag.
The silence of Darlene and Elliot in particular is, in large part, a function of the stealth required for them to pull off their mission. After all, if you’re sneaking into a secure location in a largely empty office building while trying desperately to stay one step ahead of the security guards and cameras, you can’t go around yakking it up. Keeping the characters quiet enhances our sense of the danger they’re in.
And once the jig is up and the police arrive, Darlene and Elliot have other reasons to keep shtum. With some stolen athletic gear and a bottle of water, Darlene cleverly disguises herself as a member of the building’s gym and silently cruises past the cops to freedom, with no need to proffer an excuse for her presence. Elliot, meanwhile, has made a run for it, and he is too busy sprinting away from his pursuers to say much of anything to anyone.
Price and Dom, too, have reasons to be silent. He is effectively alone in the world, at such a high remove from the concerns of everyday people that to see him make small talk would be actively weird; she is so guilt-ridden and paranoid that whether she’s investigating the scene of the last episode’s shootout or standing around with her mother in her family’s busy kitchen, she’s a woman apart.
As for Krista, she’s too busy making last-minute purchases and adorably texting with her boyfriend to be very chatty.
Seeing just how Esmail will wriggle around the no-dialogue rule adds another layer of suspense. Scenes appear to start just after a conversational exchange, or end just before one. One moment we’ll be watching a scene unfold through you-are-there camerawork; the next, we see it through a security monitor, with no audible sound. And there’s a lot of texting.
I was so enthralled by the silence conceit, so intrigued by Esmail’s many workarounds, that it took me quite some time to realize something else was missing from this episode of “Mr. Robot”: Mr. Robot.
At no point does that garrulous alternate personality of Elliot’s, played by Christian Slater, show up. It stands to reason: Mr. Robot exists solely through internal dialogue with Elliot, occasionally taking the lead and “talking” to other characters when Elliot’s own milquetoast persona proves inadequately forceful or foxy. A silent Mr. Robot may as well not exist, and indeed, he is nowhere to be found.
What I didn’t realize until after I had time to fully digest the episode is that Mr. Robot himself is like an escape hatch for Elliot. As long as he’s around, there’s always an alternative approach for Elliot to take for any problem — all he needs to do is step back and let Mr. Robot do his thing. Without that Plan B personality hanging around, all the pressure falls squarely on Elliot’s shoulders to get himself out of the many jams he encounters during his crazy Christmas morning.
One of the craziest echoes a pivotal aspect of his relationship with Mr. Robot. Once he and Darlene are separated, Elliot texts her coordinates where they can meet up again. When he arrives there, with the police in hot pursuit, Darlene is nowhere to be found. That’s when he realizes that the coordinates he sent her map to two different streets — the one he is on, and a parallel one that’s a 20-foot drop down a sheer cliff face below him. His leap over the side to safety mirrors the time his Mr. Robot persona “pushed” him off a boardwalk at Coney Island to the hard sand below. Even when Mr. Robot isn’t around, his influence is felt.
It should also be noted that without the dialogue to distract us, the cinematographic chops of Esmail and his director of photography, Tod Campbell, get quite a workout. I was particularly enamored with the scene in which Elliot and Darlene hide in the darkened server room, illuminated only by the green flashing lights of the machinery and the beam of a security guard’s flashlight. Another highlight: their spiral sprint down a triangular staircase, which felt truly vertiginous.
And the bright, gray winter daylight made me realize how rare it is to see a filmic representation of Christmas morning away from the Christmas tree — the Christmas morning of people who have to work, and the people who go to those workplaces to shop. People like Krista, who gets stopped by Vera outside her apartment after her shopping expedition, with the episode’s second and final line of dialogue: “It’s time we talked.”
She didn’t have any lines (obviously), but that was the hip-hop artist Young M.A following Krista around at Vera’s behest. She’s a welcome sight.
I can’t decide what my favorite reference in this episode was. Darlene’s using Lolita’s full name, “Dolores Haze,” for her fake ID? A 3D printing shop called Kraftwerk, after the German electronic-music pioneers? The vampire capitalist Phillip Price’s picking up Dark Army instructions from a dry cleaner named after the “Nosferatu” director F.W. Murnau?
At one point in the episode, we see Dom’s Dark Army handler stab a stuffed dog as part of her taxidermist day job. That sure made me nervous when Dom took her family’s dog, still very much alive, for a walk. Fortunately, no pooches were harmed.
The moment when Elliot puts his hand over Darlene’s as they drive away to safety was, well, touching.
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