A major singer finds her identity slipping away as the people around her exploit her talent, her body, and her mind.
A man tries desperately, and dangerously, to get in contact with a social media kingpin.
Two men, who've been best friends for many years, discover a new relationship through a VR video game.
Choose Your Own Adventure. If it even matters in the end.
A woman takes a trip through the Black Museum, where the attractions showcase the criminal side of new technologies.
A woman is left to survive in the Scottish Moors where metallic, robotic dogs terrorise anybody flesh and blood.
A woman's dark past intertwines with her present after an insurance agent winds up at her door.
After almost losing her young daughter, a mother has her implanted with a chip to monitor her whole life.
A woman starts her new job for a virtual reality gaming company, only to discover the Chief Technical Officer has strange delusions of grandeur.
Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 5: “Men Against Fire”
Directed by Jakob Verbruggen
Written by Charlie Brooker
* For a review of Episode 4, “San Junipero” – click here
* For a review of Episode 6, “Hated in the Nation” – click here
Stripe (Malachi Kirby) dreams of someplace better, a time before when he was happy and things were nice. When he wakes, he’s in a military barrack. The troops are rallied for a “roach hunt.” Just so happens to be Stripe’s first time out. We’ve got the typical bully, the nice girl, all those army archetypes we’re used to seeing.
Everyone is transported to a camp where people stay, speaking of encounters with the roaches. Their food and supplies have been torn up, now useless. People in the camp are scared, worried for what will happen next if the roaches come back.
The military crew are led by Medina (Sarah Snook), who takes them up to a local religious freak’s land where the roaches supposedly headed last the camp’s people saw. Armed with all sorts of gadgets, the soldiers start pressing down on the house in question. By all accounts it looks as if they’ll be able to take care of things fairly efficient and fast: “Optimal outcome – no shots fired,” Medina explains confidently before they prepare to lay siege to the man’s home. His name is Parn Heidekker (Francis Magee). He’s a little secretive, or just guarded. Either way, after a moment he lets the soldiers inside. He acts like there’s nothing going on. But is that what he wants them to think? Medina thinks that Heidekker’s religious conviction makes him even unable to turn against the “roaches.” She expresses the need to wipe them out, to stop kids from being born “like that” – are they feral, mutant people?
A great, creepy build-up leads to the upstairs where Stripe encounters some of these feral creatures. They leap from out of their hiding places. Guns are fired. Blood sprayed. Some of the creatures make it out of the house and into the woods. Stripe fights one viciously to the bitter end, stabbing it deep in the chest. And what is the strange glowing wand they carry? Like a sort of device to implant something? When Stripe picks it up, it shines into his eyes. Uh oh.
Downstairs, Raiman (Madeline Brewer), Medina and the others keep everything under control. Well, Medina does, anyways. Raiman toys with Heidekker. Meanwhile we see something is not right with Stripe after those green lights shined into his pupils. What is the purpose of that device? Does it infect people? Wait. See.
The soldiers torch Heidekker’s place to make sure no contamination makes it out of those walls. They head out, everyone congratulating Stripe on his two confirmed roach kills, especially the second knifing. Only I feel like there’s something far more sinister headed for ole Stripe. At the barrack, he slips back into that nice dream again, a beautiful woman (Loreece Harrison) speaking “I love you” to him sweetly. But the dream changes. He sees quick cuts to blood smearing everywhere.
Raiman and Stripe do a bit of training the next day. She’s pretty pissed about letting a roach get away at the house. Their interface, the technology they use, it’s not unlike a Call of Duty game. They’ve got the technological edge. Or do they? That device the roach at Heidekker’s place had with him is really fucking with Stripe’s head and his aim game. Everything is starting to feel out of whack for him, which Medina notices. She sends him out to get checked, just in case.
The soldiers are linked to an implanted vision that’s similar to virtual reality, where they can see 3D objects, such as the aiming with their weapons and so on. Doctor clears him, though Stripe tells him about the “flashlight“-like device the roach had. Nothing’s amiss and he’s sent on his way. To talk to a man named Arquette (Michael Kelly). He’s like a psychologist, of sorts. He has Stripe tell him about what happened during the raid. Arquette only talks him out of the spiral he’s been on in his head.
Stripe’s put into a nice deep sleep, to help him get over the slight shock of his mission. He sees his dream woman once more. They lay together, making love. Then the woman multiplies in his vision – two, three, four, five times. His implant glitches, causing him to wake. Something strange is absolutely going on, no matter what Arquette or the MD say.
Back over at the camp, Medina has a location from Heidekker on where the roaches may be located. Off they go on another raid. Their eye on the sky scopes out an abandoned building where it’s likely the roaches are hiding. All of a sudden, Stripe feels his implant glitching again. His vision, everything seems different. When Medina gets taken out by a bullet everything gets very serious. Stripe and Raiman are left together against a group of roaches in the nearby buildings. The roaches, using rifles, start taking down their technology.
When the pair move in Stripe’s implant malfunctions worse and worse. He’s disconnecting from the neural network, it seems. His normal, human functions are returning. Does that roach device break down the army’s implant? In the meantime, Stripe and Raiman infiltrate the abandoned building, finding more devices like the one that zapped Stripe. They stumble across a non-feral woman, who Raiman shoots down in cold blood.
Soon they encounter some roaches, and Raiman goes absolutely nuts, firing rounds wildly throughout the building, almost hitting Stripe and nearly killing more non-feral civilians. It’s become just like a game to her. So Stripe attacks her, trying to stop her from killing them. In the process, he takes a bullet and cracks her head open with the butt of his gun.
Stripe takes off with the non-ferals until he passes out at the wheel in the truck. The civilians drag him out to a safer place in the woods. To an underground lair. A woman tells him the truth: the army implant makes soldiers see civilians as roaches. Stripe can’t accept it, but she tells him firmly that “the implant made you see this.” Wow. I didn’t expect that, honestly. A nice little twist on what I thought had been happening. Still, Raiman is hunting for Stripe, and what happens when she finds him?
And what about the locals who say they’ve seen roaches? Perhaps it’s merely hatred, xenophobia, anger which drives them. One truly relevant approach to this episode, as we face a world wrought with such hate. It all started after the latest war. Policies were implemented. DNA checks required. Ah, sound familiar? At least it may sound similar to some of what certain people in certain countries have been suggesting as of late when it comes to members of particular groups. Y’know?
When Raiman locates Stripe he tries to explain the truth. That ain’t good enough. He’s been taken back to an army facility. Arquette’s come to have a chat, trying to convince him of the exact opposite of what the civilian woman had been saying. “The whole thing‘s a lie,” Stripe tells him. Arquette explains it’s all about making people more susceptible to orders, to fear. The implant allows soldiers to see something ‘other’ when looking at the enemy: “It‘s a lot easier to pull the trigger when you‘re aimin‘ at the boogeyman.” All comes down to being pure. A 21st-century vision of Nazi Germany’s eugenics. Only Stripe agreed beforehand to effectively be hypnotised, to the point he can’t remember any of what happened. One strong headtrip.
The army controls these soldiers, to the point they can literally take away sight with the implant. Arquette lays out Stripe’s options – go to jail, or have the implant reset and forget everything. But the soldier, he’s had enough. He would rather remember everything.
Or would he?
Arquette then allows Stripe to experience the raid at Heidekker’s place, to see everything as it really was, to feel the death, watch the blood flick over the walls. “You will see and smell and feel it all,” Arquette calmly explains.
In the end, he chooses to live in the army dreamworld. He sees flashes of that dream woman, their idyllic house. Yet none of it is real. Maybe it’s easier that way.
A genuinely powerful episode. Lots of questions concerning the ethics of technology, as well as military technology and strategies in the ever-changing 21st-century. So many things to think about. Did I miss anything? If so, let me know. Love to hear what others are digging and thinking of each episode. Brooker’s series continues its amazingness with a strong third season, each episode is a spectacle unto itself.
My favourite observation of this episode is how rhetoric can eventually lead to terrible things, as Arquette explains the timeline of how civilians became referred to as roaches. Remember this, America. Right now.
Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 4: “San Junipero”
Directed by Owen Harris
Written by Charlie Brooker
* For a review of Episode 3, “Shut Up and Dance” – click hereclick here
* For a review of Episode 5, “Men Against Fire” – click here
In the 1980s, or somewhere reminiscent of it, Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) wanders a city. She stops in front of a bunch of TVs playing Max Headroom. Everywhere around her people seem to be having fun. She follow some people into a big club. She doesn’t exactly look like she belongs, though pushes on through the crowd as the rock to old tunes, some play arcade games – and that’s exactly where Yorkie ends up, playing Bubble Bobble. A fellow nerd talks her up, but she replies she needs to get her “bearings” for the place. What does that mean: a simple social term, or a more broad meaning? I bet the latter.
This is only proved more when a woman named Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) uses Yorkie to help her out with a lurking dude. He talks about last week, et cetera, and it seems like this place it’s… temporary. Or something similar. Anyways, Yorkie and Kelly go have a bit of fun, a few drinks, in the background The Bangles ring loud through the club speakers. The ladies chat and get to know one another. Kelly admires Yorkie’s “authentic” look and that other people are only imitating what they think they should look like, not how they want. When the ladies step on the dance floor things feel strange, almost robotic and choreographed. This drives Yorkie outside. She’s like a foreigner in a distant land, unaware of the customs, the culture. Everything is nearly dream-like.
Yorkie has a semi-romantic encounter with Kelly, then rushes off into the night. We skip to one week later, as Yorkie dresses, listening to mixtapes of ’80s music and posing in the mirror. She goes back to the trusty ole stuff she wore last time. At the club already Kelly finds herself accosted by the creeper Wes (Gavin Stenhouse) again, as people start flooding in to dance and drink and party all over again. She rejects Wes, having previously had a night of sexy fun together. He isn’t happy. Too bad, dude!
Later on Yorkie shows up. She’s clearly attracted to and interested in Kelly. Plenty of quality music with INXS rocking. But Yorkie, she keeps on staring until she and Kelly meet eyes, over and over, across the room. In the bathroom they meet, which they follow with a nighttime drive. The city where they are – San Junipero – isn’t one we know as real. What kind of destination is it, really? For now, we see Yorkie and Kelly come together beautifully in each other’s arms. It’s actually the first time for Yorkie, in any way, with anyone. Strange, seeing as how she has a fiancee. The two women lay in bed, they talk, bond. Kelly talks of her bisexuality, stemming from conversation concerning her onetime husband. She also mentions just “passing through” San Junipero, only there for having a good time.
Is the city of San Junipero a place that exists solely for people to live out the fantasies they can’t in real life? Well, it’s very Cinderella-ish in that at 12 AM, things seem to stop. Or, they end. Until one week later, all over.
Back at the club after a week, Yorkie doesn’t find Kelly anywhere. The bartender suggests checking the Quagmire. It’s a nasty sort of punk-like club on the outskirts of town, like the refuge of people literally on the fringe in every way. Poor little Yorkie looks crazily out of place walking in, looking for her friend. There’s music, strange cages, BDSM, fights in a caged ring, hands groping in the dark. Yorkie runs into Wes, dressed much differently than last we saw him. And he doesn’t know where Kelly is either.
Finally, the revelation: Wes says he saw her in a “different time” like “2002” or the ’80s, the ’90s. Whoa.
This time, one week later is the ’80s, then the ’90s. Yorkie starts searching all the places they went together, looking for where the girl of her dreams went. She goes to 2002 specifically. Each time, the world changes accordingly, as we see different places and times and how things have changed, how they haven’t in some respects. Then Yorkie runs into Kelly, who isn’t so thrilled to see her. She only wanted to have fun. Yorkie wants something lasting, not a fling. It hurts her to understand this about Kelly: “Maybe you should feel bad, or at least feel something,” Yorkie tells her. Perfectly, after she leaves Kelly punches a mirror – not hurting her hand, or the mirror which goes back to normal almost immediately. Is there something further we don’t know about this woman?
Everything gets scary when Kelly sees Yorkie sitting on the roof’s ledge of the club outside. We find out that 80% of the “full–timers” in San Junipero are dead. Say whaaat, girl? Ah well. At least Yorkie gets laid again.
But she’s getting married in a week. And Kelly, she’s probably only got months to live. So, is San Junipero the afterlife? Sort of, like a digital age invention to help people ease into the concept of death.
When 12 AM hits, San Junipero is no more. An older version of Kelly goes to a facility where she visits an older, incapacitated Yorkie lying in a bed, hooked to a breathing tube and machinery. We discover Yorkie is “passing over” soon. All turns out that she came out to her parents at 21, then after a fight with them crashed a car, rendering her paralysed.
Kelly wants to go back in for a minute, to confront Yorkie about her passing. And then she decides to ask Yorkie to marry her instead. A truly gorgeous and tender moment between the two women. Tear worthy, indeed. Whereas so many Black Mirror episodes are often totally grim, which I dig, it’s actually nice to see something hopeful. Even if Yorkie is passing over into death, there’s still a beauty to it with how Kelly insisted on going back, to give her a real, genuine marriage with someone she loved. Heartbreaking and loving all at once.
After death, young Yorkie sits on the beach. She lets the tide wash up on her feet and rubs her toes, her fingers in the sand. Out in the real world, older Kelly heads back home to the facility where she stays. But not long goes by before Kelly’s out on the beach with her wife, the two of them together awhile. However, at 12 AM things are over for another week. Yorkie is lonely in San Junipero without her other half. Things break down when she belittles Kelly’s former marriage to her dead husband Richard. Suddenly, things aren’t so lovely or romantic. San Junipero isn’t as idyllic when put in context with Kelly and her loss. “You wanna spend forever somewhere where nothing matters?” she asks Yorkie.
This is a question about heaven, the afterlife: if death isn’t the end, then what the hell is death, actually? If there’s no end, there’s no meaning. If this is just one life before another, especially a fake one, then what are the stakes?
When she’s ready to go, Kelly heads to San Junipero after all. She and Yorkie drive off into the sunset together. Out in the real world, it’s all a bunch of machines with flash drive-like systems running different scenarios, as there are a ton of San Juniperos with different names, each one a place all of its own. Ah, the future of death and the afterlife! Behold its splendour.
Charlie Brooker is an impressive writer. His imagination never ceases to amaze me and for someone who isn’t huge on science fiction – though I do love to READ sci-fi more than watch – he sucks me into each new world he chooses to bring to life. This was another solid episode, one of the few with hints of hope at the edges. A solid rumination on the meaning of life, death, as well as how we deal with passing over to whatever comes after.
Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 3: “Shut Up and Dance”
Directed by James Watkins
Written by William Bridges & Charlie Brooker
* For a review of Episode 2, “Playtest” – click here
* For a review of Episode 4, “San Junipero” – click here
In a parking garage a woman gets out of her car, waiting. On her phone she gets a notification. She looks scared, or apprehensive about being there. She leaves abruptly, but where’s she going, and why is she there to begin with?
At a restaurant, Kenny (Alex Lawther) works as a busboy, cleaning up various messes and sorting out the kitchen. He’s a right sweet lad, too. Not treated overly well by the other males at work, but sometimes that’s life: people (especially young dudes) are shit. Kenny’s sister has his computer all muffed up with viruses and the like, so he goes about cleaning that up, as well. Always cleaning. But that program he downloaded, to get rid of the malware, is it also spying on him? Something, or someone, peers through the webcam at him.
Kenny and his sister sort of fend for themselves, a bit. His mother’s a busy woman. He spends the evening lounging after putting locks on his door to keep out the nosy sister. Upstairs, he hops online for a wank. All the while the webcam points directly at him. After washing up he gets an e-mail stating WE SAW WHAT YOU DID, containing an attachment with the video. Fuck me. Knew that was coming. This obviously freaks poor Ken out. He covers up the camera, but finds another e-mail requiring his phone number, or else his contact list receives the video. A little hesitation, and then he sends it off. They start sending instructions via text. Ominous. He’s utterly terrified. Such an ironic and ultimate invasion of his privacy. He spent all that time putting locks on his doors to keep the family, his sister particularly, out of his private space. When somebody merely waltzed digitally right into his bedroom. Nasty, nasty stuff. Dig that.
So what are the stakes, I wonder? What is the endgame for the person(s) tormenting Kenny? YOU HAVE BEEN ACTIVATED. OBEY OR WE LEAK VIDEO. These messages come via text, along with a location for him to go to, or else. This has got him playing hooky from work, and I’m sure that’s only the beginning. He races to his first location atop a parking garage – a familiar location. We can already guess exactly what was happening to that woman in the episode’s opener.
Instructed to wait, Kenny does. Not for long. A delivery bike appears. The driver gives Kenny a box, taking his picture. He’s also being forced to do “their” bidding. Once the package is verified, another task is at hand. Kenny must go to a hotel room and deliver the box.
In the room is a man named Hector (Jerome Flynn). He refuses the package, not wanting anything to do with it. When more orders come from the people behind it all, Kenny finally gets into the room. Hector’s confused as much as him, and the young man can’t explain it well enough. Until texts start coming through to Hector. At the same time they want Kenny to take his picture: “They said I had to do that.”
Each of them are getting instructions, in tandem now, it seems. The cake must go to a new address. A car waits in the garage for them. Oh, that old familiar image of the parking garage. And the car has keys laid on the wheel, just like the ones the woman at the start left. Oh, I love the writing in this episode! So fun. What an elaborate game these hidden people play.
Kenny and Hector go on their way, they’re headed just outside of town. The two of them bond over the extortion they face respectively. Having to get gas, they run into a woman on the PTA from the school where Hector’s kids go, and end up having to give her a ride. Because that won’t cause any trouble. Soon as they’re off, the messages start. They’re watching, and the car is going the WRONG WAY. The messages continue, advising them TURN AROUND. Only 20 minutes left to get to their destination. Hector starts doing some stuntman work to get his friend out of the car. At the location, they’re instructed to “look in the cake.” Hector digs out a gun, a hat, and some sunglasses. That’s promising. Along with texts questioning who will be the driver, and who the robber. Hector calls the former, quickly. In front of the car sits a bank. The equation is simple, although terrifying.
The older of the two talks his younger companion into doing the robbery half of their task. Pretty slimy how he does, but they’re both desperate and nearly gone mad with the prospect of what’s going on around them. Kenny walks into the bank, if not very reluctantly. He points the gun and asks for money, all the while pissing himself. Jesus, that is so sad. A teller loads his bag with cash and then Kenny heads back to the car. They take off fast, only to come across a stop for construction, as sirens blare in the distance. The coppers aren’t looking for them, luckily, and the fellas are on the way once more.
Hector and Kenny get to the final instruction once at the next location – Hector must take the car alone and destroy it, Kenny has to drop the money, alone, at a separate location. The two part ways on their new tasks, amicably in fact; Hector apologises for being so harsh. When pushed, people will be nasty no matter how nice they are on a regular basis. Either way, Kenny heads out into the woods someplace to drop the cash. He stumbles upon a gated area that looks god damn spooky, like the exact place you wouldn’t go if it were a horror film. Yet on he goes, ever daring young man that he is, and continues after the point marked on his smartphone. In a remote location he sees someone waiting, a man. He has a drone. “They” require it being set into the air before anything further. Well, the money is “prize money” for a fight between Kenny and this man. The drone is watching, recording them. In any normal circumstances, a good man wouldn’t beat a kid. But these aren’t normal times.
Oh, and we start figuring out nice little Kenny boy wasn’t exactly jerking off to anything normal, either. They were likely underage girls. Same as the man before him. Kenny tries using his gun to end the fight, although no bullets remain. The drone watches from above, as the man attacks the kid.
What about Hector, eh? What’s he up to? He arrives home to a sleeping family. And a Trollolololo message on his phone, meme face and all. Does it mean what we assume? His wife’s crying eyes confirm as much. The woman from the beginning, she’s also been trolled; her racist e-mails are leaked to the internet in all their glory. Everyone from the game has been blackmailed, then destroyed anyways. Even Kenny, as he crawls from out of the forest, beaten and bloodied, only to get a Trollolololo face and a visit from the police, a disappointed call from mother about looking at kids online. Wow. Now that niceness of Kenny from the first scene is way fucking creepy.
What a shocker of an ending. A nice parallel to the very first episode of Black Mirror, where a hideous act of extortion lead to a different though similarly queasy twist.
Another solid episode in this Season 3 lineup! I can’t believe the writing, some of the best of the entire series yet. Great, great acting, as well. Fine stuff all around. And what a look into the things anonymous people can see and do, how they can extort you, all from behind a computer screen, anywhere; maybe near, maybe far. It’s a stunning and shocking view of how our most private moments, what we think are private moments, can now, in a day and state of extremely technology, become very public in the sound of one click.