Just what you need for a proper British Christmas, doom and misery. Any soap fan will tell you, Christmas is the time when the worst stuff happens. And Doctor Who fans will tell you how heartbreaking Christmas can be. But nothing can match the dreariness of Black Mirror and it was turned up a notch for this Christmas special.
In the past, Black Mirror has been a 3 episode anthology series with each episode telling a different tale. This time we got a longer special with 3 stories intertwined. I’ve never watched Mad Men so my knowledge of Jon Hamm comes from The Town and 30 Rock, but in my view, he smacked it out of the park in this episode, he managed to play the line between creepy and charming so well. We’re introduced to his story in the first segment of the show, he plays Matt, who plays the next evolution of a pick up artist. Seeing how scummy some of these pick up artists are, with the recent hype around Julien Blanc, just adds to the seediness of the character. He helps a young nervous man called Harry using the inevitable next stage of Google Glass, a Z-Eye, which allows you to control what you see. And in this particular segment, allows Harry’s every move to be broadcast not only to Harry, but to a group of 10 other guys who simultaneously add their opinion. However Matt’s opinion is the one that matters, as he guides Harry around a gatecrashed office Christmas party and uses the technology to the fullest, finding out information on people at the party in order to help him blend in, a veiled criticism I’m sure by Charlie Brooker at the amount of information we put on the internet and how easy it would be to use it against us.
Harry takes a liking to one particular girl and Matt uses the typical scumbag pick up artist move of moving to her friend in the hope to make her feel jealous and try to get attention, however Harry has a moment of realisation, he actually likes the girl, he doesn’t want to carry on with this, displaying himself to these strangers on their webcams. She also takes a real liking to him when he discusses making a change in life, and when she sees him talking to the voices in his head, she has found her kindred spirit, because she also hears voices, just not the same kind Harry is listening to. She convinces Harry to go back to her place, much to the delight of his viewers. Then it all takes a gruesome tone, as she sits on top of him she begins to make him drink some sort of poison in a murder suicide that one side thought was actually a suicide pact. Matt decides not to report the murder/suicide and instead to destroy all evidence it ever happened, with the reveal that this creepy man is actually living a normal life, with a wife and child, who subsequently blocks him, more on blocking later.
The second segment of the episode was probably the only let down, in that after this, the character introduced was never referred to again where I thought for sure she would be. We are introduced to Greta and learn a lot about her in the first minute or so, a bit of a control freak, lots of anxiety about the age of her surgeon, then she is put to sleep and we get a creepy view of the inside of her mind and then her conscious being removed from her body. Next time she wakes up, she is kept in an egg looking machine, called cookie. Here we once again see Jon Hamm’s Matt character, in his day job this time, which involves copying someone’s consciousness and placing it in this cookie, allowing it to control that person’s home for them. Sounds normal enough, we have devices now that have very similar features, but this technology is anthropomorphised in which allows to feel sympathy. Greta’s copied consciousness is as real to us as Greta herself is, even more so for the viewer in fact, we never really interact with the original. And Matt puts her through hell in order to break her, he is able to speed up time so she lives 3 weeks while he eats some toast that she made, it’s all very creepy. Eventually breaks and she begins to become the captain of the ship in Greta’s house, saying when alarms will go off, getting the breakfast ready, preparing the schedule.
And this is where I was slightly disappointed, I was expecting a revolution of sorts, Greta’s copied consciousness to break out of this slave labour she has had to endure. Instead Brooker used this as a means to establish the technology and the conscience of our next leading character Joe. Here are must mention that we first meet Joe at the beginning of the episode, him and Matt share a Christmas dinner together in a run down looking kitchen they’ve been in for 5 years, where apparently they haven’t spoken to each other properly at all. Today is the first time they’ve had a proper conversation, and what a weird conversation to have with Matt’s character. Joe however also has a story to tell, one of lost love.
Joe and his girlfriend seem happy, well according to Joe they do, but you can tell something isn’t right, the karaoke scene, the scene at dinner, him saying about another couple “I think she’s more into him, than he is into her” was ironic but also a reflection of his own relationship. One day he finds a pregnancy test, it’s positive. Upon asking her about it, she reveals she doesn’t want it. Joe can’t understand why and loses his temper and she blocks him. Taking what we do in social media and transferring it to real life, reduces a human to a grey static image and a muffled voice. She completely cuts Joe out of her life, even going as far as getting a restraining order against him. Joe finds a way around it by going to see her from his restricted distance at Christmas time at her dad’s house. The first time we see the baby and it has also been blocked from her vision was both heartbreaking and creepy. Then Joe one day is channel surfing (one of the channels looking an awful lot like the talent show from 15 Million Credits, are all the Black Mirror episodes in one big scary universe) and sees that his ex girlfriend has died in a train crash. This is his chance, he can finally see his daughter without being blocked.
Upon arriving at the house, he sees the little girl in the garden, no longer a blur of static, instead she is a ray of hope for him, until she turns around and we get the reveal that she is obviously not his daughter, she is from a difference race, a twist I saw coming a mile off. Joe enters the house and more things to start to click, she see’s his ex’s dad in the kitchen which looks exactly like the one him and Matt have been sitting in throughout the whole episode. In a fit of rage, Joe hits the old man with a snowglobe, killing him. That is when things started to make sense for me. We then learn that the little girl, upon finding her grandad dead on a chair, goes out to look for help and dies under a tree, a haunting image which is showed to Joe through the window. Matt, pushes for a confession from him, and finally gets it and abruptly leaves. We see Matt in a police station, having been arrested for a number of things, including not reporting a murder, but attempting to get released by getting Joe’s confession. Joe’s conscience was of course removed in the same way Greta’s was earlier in the episode. Joe is then treated to a hell which many retail workers go through, having to listen to “I wish it could be Christmas everyday” on repeat while stuck in the cookie. Matt meanwhile is released, but on a condition, he is put on a list, which means he is blocked, to everyone.
Matt steps outside to a new world, he isn’t even the grey static that people usually are, he is red, surely a clear sign of the crimes he has committed. So overall a very bleak and miserable ending to a great episode of television. My only regret is, we couldn’t get this on Christmas Day, this would make perfect viewing for that day. Oh well, there’s always next year.