Black Mirror Season 4 Round-up

 

Arkangel

(aka overprotective parents are bad)

Mum almost loses child in a playpark. Mum gets a location chip installed in her child’s head (which also acts as a POV camera and health monitor, amongst other disturbing things). Child grows up. Mum agrees to stop keeping tabs, but as the chip can’t be removed she promises to stop using the tablet the chip is linked to. Secretly, Mum doesn’t stop keeping tabs on child. What ensues is pretty much exactly what you would expect.

There are no hidden surprises in ‘Arkangel’, apart from a tiny shocker in the third part of the episode. What is shocking is the normality of Marie watching her young daughter every second of the day. Though we are told that the Arkangel chip is not being expanded further than the trial (and has been banned in Europe – good old EU), Marie has incorporated seamlessly into her daily life and doesn’t seem to think about the implications until Sarah is a little older. A trip to the doctors confirms that Sarah is not developing as fast as other children, is uncommunicative and is showing signs of autism. Marie explains that she has restricted Sarah from seeing things which may be upsetting – another feature of the chip. Advised to remove this function to help Sarah develop properly, Marie does.

As a teenager, Sarah seems to have come away quite unscathed by the invasive procedure and subsequent helicopter parenting. But as Sarah begins to want more independence, Marie reverts back to the tablet – eventually discovering Sarah losing her virginity via the POV camera. Ew. Of course, it all comes out in the end and Marie loses Sarah forever when she leaves home, fustrated and angry with her mother. The narrative has come full cycle.

My one massive gripe with ‘Arkangel’, though, is the inattention to detail regarding the possible pregnancy twist. Marie slips her daughter Plan B contraception (we know this because we see the empty pill box) as she is worried that Sarah is pregnant. It’s heavily implied that Marie bought the pill because she saw on the tablet that Sarah’s body was showing signs of pregnancy. The morning after pill and abortion pills are NOT the same thing, and do not work in the same way. This is a massive fuck up on behalf of the writing/researching team – I am thinking that perhaps there were few women involved in doing both for the episode.

It’s disappointing because, for the most part, I enjoyed ‘Arkangel’. I fully believed the slippery slope Marie was on with the temptation to spy on her child a plausible thing she can do. It harkens back to ideas about the nanny state, surveillance issues and an individual’s right to privacy.

USS Callister

(aka fanboys are bad)

Look, here’s the deal with ‘USS Callister’. If you are a Star Trek fan you are either going to love it or absolutely hate it depending on what kind of Trekkie you are. If you are a convention-going middle-aged man who resents the new series for straying from the Kirk ideology of thumping everything with a double handed punch, you’re not going to enjoy ‘USS Callister’. If, like me, you loved Trek for its diversity, it’s messages of global unity and the tribbles – then you are in luck (I’m joking, sadly there’s no sign of tribbles on Callister).

The reason that Star Trek fanboys may take umbrage with ‘USS Callister’ is because the episode’s protagonist-turned-antagonist Robert Daley is one – think pieces are already forming berating the episode for reinforcing stereotypes about trekkies (see here). I think they have missed the point. Daley, co-founder of tech company Callister Inc, isn’t a terrible person because he loves Space Fleet (the Black Mirror stand-in for Trek). No, Daley is a terrible person because he expects to be treated like a God when he treats everyone in his life like shit. 

Daley doesn’t seem to bad to begin with. He’s upset because the receptionist doesn’t smile at him but he is more annoyed that the co-founder of Callister Inc, and presumably former friend James, is more liked than he is. Oh, and that James constantly tells him to do his job. Daley becomes even more frustrated when he spies James talking to new coding recruit Nanette, especially since Daley has the hots for her. I felt a bit bad for Daley until co-worker Shania (the amazing Michaela Coel) gives Nanette a warning about Daley being a bit of a creep. Yes, Daley is one of those guys, I thought and in the very next scene I was proved correct.

See, the thing about women in work spaces is that there’s a certain solidarity. If a co-worker tells you to watch out for the office creep, you heed that advice because it’s guaranteed to be true. Daley isn’t just a creep though, oh no. Daley, it turns out, is stealing DNA from his co-workers and uploading it to his own VR creation. As Nanette finds out when she is cloned into Daley’s game and finds others including James, Shania and the receptionist on the bridge of a Space Fleet ship. They have all been digitally cloned, destined to live out the rest of their lives under Captain Daley’s command. The game is his to control, and as Nanette discovers – mutiny comes at a high price.

Ultimately, in between the jargon of coding language, Trek references and all kinds of rage from Daley, the cookies (that’s what Black Mirror calls digital copies) win and are free to begin their lifelong cyber-space adventure. Daley is essentially left comatosed, the Fleet team are given gender neutral costumes (hooray!) and the voice of Aaron Paul makes a guest appearance as an angry gamer.

Altogether, ‘USS Callister’ has some wonderful performances, some brilliant references to Star Trek (old and new) and the triumph of, for once, defeating the bad guy. ‘USS Callister’ is essentially the story of a geeky girl beating a wanna-be gamer-gater at his own game, and doing it in style. Geeks across the world are upset at Daley’s representation, but Nanette is a self-confessed coding nerd and she’s a pretty great character. So, instead of being annoyed that Daley is an utter creep, a DNA violator and a generally selfish person (I mean, I don’t know any white men with those traits…..), why don’t we look to Nanette for the nerd representation we all desire?

What’s not to like?

The Black Museum

(people are bad)

‘Black Museum’ goes straight for the gut punch. It’s a deliciously dark anthology episode which gives us three horrifying glances into the lives that Black Museum owner, Rolo Haynes, has intervened with. The episode follows Nish (Letitia Wright)’s journey through the museum, as led by Rolo. She appears to be an innocent tourist intrigued by the grotesque exhibitions of the museum, but Nish has a hidden agenda. As ‘Black Museum’ nears it’s climax, Nish’s true identity is a satisfying reveal – pulling together all elements of the story told so far.

The Black Museum itself is full to the brim with easter eggs for the Black Mirror Fan. Of course you will notice the iPad from earlier episode ‘Arkangel’ and the DNA replicator from ‘USS Callister’. There’s also a video of Victoria Skillane from S2’s ‘White Bear’, a robotic bee from S3’s ‘Hated in the Nation’ and the body of Carlton Bloom from S1’s ‘The National Anthem’.

Rolo takes Nish round the museum, first explaining the story behind a neurological transmitter which was used by a doctor to enable him to feel the exact pain of his patients. The doctor in question became so addicted to feeling pain that he begins to harm himself whilst wearing the transmitter, doubling the pain he felt. Rolo then shows Nish a soft toy monkey and reveals it’s tragic backstory. Medical scientists had been working on a way of transferring a person’s consciousness to another brain. When Carrie has an accident and left in a coma, her husband Jack agrees to have her consciousness transplanted into his own brain. As expected, it doesn’t end well. Jack, stuck with Carrie’s voice ever-present in his brain, ends up hating her and Carrie is unable to do anything other than look on at the life she could have had. At its worst, aided by his new girlfriend, Jack opts to have Carrie’s consciousness removed from his brain and put into a stuffed toy monkey. Of course, the toy monkey cannot talk, so Carrie is left with very limited options for communicating with anyone ever again.

So why does Rolo have all of these items? As it turns out Rolo was in charge of recruiting people/clients/patients to try these experimental procedures – often because they were critically ill or unable to afford treatment. ‘Black Museum’ articulately explores the intersection of class, race and poverty throughout the three storylines- but none more so than the last one. Wrongly convicted ** is sentenced to death by electric chair for the murder of a young woman. In a bid to live on in some way, he accepts Rolo’s offer to have his consciousness (or soul, if you prefer) put into a very realistic looking hologram. Rolo’s intentions are not wholly pure though, and Clayton’s hologram is to become the main event at the newly opened Black Museum, of which the proprietor is Rolo. Museum visitors are given the chance to electrocute Clayton themselves, complete with a souvenir of the moment so they can savour it later. The catch? Clayton can feel every moment of his torture, and has to relive it every day.

As if this isn’t twisted enough on it’s own, Rolo later opens the exhibition to right wing bigots, powerful men and what we can assume are members of the KKK exclusively, when usual customers begin to tire of the attraction. Clayton Leigh is black, and Brooker doesn’t miss this opportunity to hammer home the realities of racism in the USA today.

‘Black Museum’, as well as being a nostalgia filled ride for Black Mirror fans, is also a commentary on how humans treat each other, and how technology can allow us to do or say things we wouldn’t even consider without it. Clayton’s hologram others him, allowing tourists to feel removed from the pain he is so clearly in. It also reveals a nasty side of what we may otherwise consider to be ‘normal’ people, who revel in the opportunity to torture a black man behind bars.

The twist is sweet and satisfying, Letitia Wright performing the perfect 180 at the crux of the episode. Monkey definitely needs a hug now.

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