I can't believe I missed this episode of Black Mirror for two reasons: firstly because I didn't start getting snotty about recapping only episodes I could stand until the third season but mostly because it has Jon Hamm in it. I am a big, big fan of the Hammaconda and I would have watched this in a heartbeat. Perhaps fate lent a hand, as I found White Christmas on Christmas Day 2017 and some of the other parts...were far too relatable. You'll see what I mean. Rolling after the break!
We open with a tired looking Potter (Rafe Spall) waking up and touching a picture of a woman before heading out into the kitchen where a cheerful Matt (Jon Hamm) is making lots of food and cooking Christmas dinner.
Potter is leery of Matt, although they've apparently worked together for five years in the frozen wasteland. Matt asks what he did to get stuck out there?
Speaking of: it was -32 degrees Celsius last night, on Christmas even! Come on!
ANYWAY, Potter flips it around; why is Matt there? Well. You see, Matt was a guru for money, but decidedly NOT a spiritual guru.
A Pick Up Artist type, it seems, and we get to see him coach Harry S. (Rasmus Hardiker) through an earpiece while looking through his eyes. That's a Black Mirror trademark, here they are called ZedEyes and will involve all kinds of important plot points later on.
Matt's niche is helping young men lacking confidence crash Christmas parties to pick up women. Harry wangles his way into a conversation with Matt's help, fending off Dawson (Ian Keir Attard) to focus on Amy (Verity Marshall) because he likes Jennifer (Natalie Tena from Game of Thrones!!! Oh she was excellent).
Side note: this is the exact problem with PUAs; why would Harry not talk to the woman Harry actually is interested in? Why try to use psychology to manipulate another person into liking you? Why not treat her as a person instead of a target? You don't even know if you like her as a person, you've just seen her across the room and decided she must be manipulated into your pants and that makes zero sense to me! RANT OVER
It didn't work on Jennifer anyway, she was uninterested being noticed or drawing Harry's eye, she wandered off on her own, an attractive outsider. Matt advises a change in tactics.
So not only is Matt watching every single one of Harry's moves, so are 8 other guys, Pie Ape, Fappuccino, I_AM_WALDO, and so on and so forth.
Matt doesn't tell Potter that, though. Back to the story, Harry's working a new angle as a cynical outsider as suggested by Matt and it's going well. A couple of strange notes, Jennifer mentions she was only able to enjoy the last Christmas party because she was on drugs, which sounds like a joke, but she doesn't seem the joking type. She's not on them any more, yay says Matt and Harry!
Back in the frozen hinterland, Matt is making potatoes in a way I have to try (boiling then roasting? Interesting!) but Potter's staring at the clock. Has it been there the whole five years?
We're with Harry and Jennifer again, in a quiet corner chatting. This is her third Christmas party, but also her last. She's been contemplating the change forever, but now is time to make the move. He encourages her to cross that bridge, it's just about changing states! The shock of the new is all she's afraid of, and all those voices coming telling her to do it or not do it. He tells her to go for it!
She heads to the bathroom, and Harry has a moment of panic. He feels like he's cheating, he would have never had the courage to talk to her without Matt's smarmy help. Jennifer finds Harry chatting out loud in an agitated fashion, this pushes it over the edge for her and she invites him back to her place.
Everyone but Harry is very excited about this.
They get back to her place, she's raring to go, directing him to the bedroom as she gets drinks.
Harry is almost frantic in his need to disconnect from the group, this is too real. She's too real and he doesn't want 9 strangers watching him get his swerve on with a girl he really likes.
Too late! She's back with the drinks and she needs him on the bed. She whispers "I can't f*cking wait" in his ear and the watchers start rubbing their "hands" together.
She feeds him a drink of "f*ck them" while explaining that she stopped taking those pills "they" gave her and Harry's encouragement to just do it and she's murdering him. She's murdering him and everyone is watching but nobody knows what to do.
Matt pulls the plug, wiping and destroying everything in his computer room and heading downstairs to set it all afire when Sophie the Giraffe outs his movements and wakes up his wife Claire (Grainne Kennan) who takes a "dim view."
She blocks Matt, which looks like he's become nothing but a pixelated outline with staticky feedback. This is reminiscent of S3:E5 Men Against Fire.
Now she can't hear or speak to him and he can't hear or speak to her. That's it, no more communication and it goes back to the ZedEyes that cannot be removed.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Black Mirror's The Entire History Of You episode which starred the new Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker! Those ZedEyes featured heavily.
A loud noise startles Potter, is it his turn to talk? Silence can be oppressive.
Not quite yet, first we get some more of Matt's backstory. Guess what his job really was? That PUA stuff was just for pocket change on the weekend, see if we can figure out his real gig.
We're at the hospital with Great (Oona Chaplin - from Game of Thrones and M15!) who doesn't quite like her toast that way, is that all right?
A painful operation leads to an out of body experience, literally. She's a small widget called a Cookie, which looks a lot like a Google Home or a Siri or any number of household helpers.
There's our Matt again, he's helping Cookie Greta come to terms with what she is.
A blank cookie was inserted into Greta's brain where it learned all about how Greta likes everything, from her toast to her coffee and now Cookie Greta is supposed to put all of that information to use to make Greta's life exactly how she likes it.
Cookie Greta does not take this news well. She does not know she's just a code.
Matt gives her three weeks to think about it, then six months. The trick, he explains to Potter, was to break them without snapping them and it appears 6 months was just right. Cookie Greta complies so set up is all complete!
Matt takes a moment to hit on Greta before we switch to Cookie Greta starting off her mistress's perfectly designed day. A lifetimes of servitude for our AI.
Potter is horrified, that's barbaric. Matt is surprised by his empathy, he can tell Potter is kind, which confuses him. "A good man who has done bad things?"
Potter stares. He wants to talk, you can see it, it's right there on his lips and in his eyes, but will he?
He does. We're in the past with a curly-haired Potter and his girlfriend Bethany (Janet Montgomery), being cautioned by Beth's dad Gordon (Ken Drury) who never liked Potter, never.
They go to karaoke, where Beth seems mostly embarrassed by Potter's rendition of Black is Black. Beth forlornly sings "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)" from Black Mirror S1:E02 15 Million Merits!
They're kicked out of the bar because Potter is drunk, he explains to Matt that they weren't perfect, but were good together, you know?
The next time we see our couple, they're having dinner with a recently engaged couple and Beth is grimly drinking instead of talking. The couple is Gita (Zahra Ahmadi) and Tim (Dan Li) and they work with Beth, maybe why she's not happy to see them on her off hours. She goes to bed and Potter cleans up and finds a positive pregnancy test.
He's so happy it's painful to watch how NOT-happy she is. She doesn't want this baby, and at first his reaction is understandable but then...then he says she's a cold b*tch that would kill a kid because it doesn't suit her plans. She blocks him.
Potter is frantic, stalking her place of work and staring at old photos. It doesn't work, though, when there's a block it affects all images, including the ones from the past. It's as though all his memories have been vandalized.
He saw her once by accident, and she was still pregnant. Why???? He approaches her, but it didn't go well as she can't understand him, ending up in jail and now there is a legal block. That means he can't come anywhere near here without being arrested.
He knew her dad's address, so he started sending letters. He also knew she came there for every Christmas Eve, so that year he hid up in the woods and watched his former girlfriend and baby, neither of whom he could actually see. He couldn't even tell if it was a girl or a boy, the block completely covered that but it was still better than nothing.
So he kept coming back.
On year four, he could make out that his child was a daughter and he started to bring gifts. Before he could go up there again, he saw the news of that Beth had died in a train crash. The block dies with the person, so we all immediately thought: now he can see his daughter!
Right after we also all thought: it won't be good.
He bought a snowglobe as a Christmas present, marking it from Daddy and wrapping it up to bring to his daughter.
Oh but there is no way this is his daughter as she's at least partly Asian, which explains so much about Beth's affect on the few occasions we saw her. She must have been in love with her Asian co-worker that was there during all the shared scenes including that ill-fated dinner.
So many years of pain and hope distilled into confusion and rage.
Potter goes in to ask where his daughter is? WHERE IS HIS DAUGHTER?? It starts to get tense, so Gordon sends the wee girl upstairs, holding a knife while Potter unwraps the globe.
I never realised how heavy those things must be until the moment when he struck Gordon across the head with it.
Potter drives away as Gordon dies, crying for himself and not thinking for one moment about the little girl left alone with the sole person nearby in this cold, isolated hinterland: her mortally wounded granddad.
Matt presses now, what happened to the girl? She waited in her room until Boxing Day, when she realised nobody was coming, so she gave her granddad her present and walked out in the blizzard to get help.
She did not get to help.
Matt pushes as Potter cries and begs for God to forgive him; does he confess? He does.
Matt is gone with a "I told you I could get it! BOOM!"
And we're in a police station where Matt has been working to get that confession from Potter's Cookie for 70 minutes, or 5 years in Potter's mind. The sergeant mocks Potter with the knowledge of his brain's betrayal.
This is part of a plea bargain for Matt, he got the confession so now he doesn't have to go to jail. He is on the registry, though, which means that he's blocked for everyone. He walks outside to see only pixelated blurs of which he is one, but red, so everyone knows he's dangerous. Could you live like that? Without being able to see people, just shapes? No interaction, like Greta Cookie, silently serving alone but with images at least.
One of the detectives takes it upon himself to torture Potter's Cookie for Christmas, 1000 years of nothing but "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" playing at volume and a silent little girl lying frozen under a tree outside.
We got a few cute things; one of the commenters watching Harry was called I_AM_WALDO from S2:E3 The Waldo Moment and the song from 15 Millions Merits, the eyes from The Entire History of You, it was practically an anthology!
So here we're talking about ethics of the enslavement of AI as consciousness, how far is too far when it comes to personalization? It's not a new argument, but I do love how they've presented it as a direct attack on Google Home/Siri/Alexa. I refuse to have anything Smart in my home and dumb down every electronic I have besides, but I'm not dumb enough myself enough to forget that everything is still being tracked.
I owe Rafe Spall an apology, he was in all ill-fated series called Roadies by one of my very favourite directors, Cameron Crowe. I recapped the season opener Life is a Carnival which was memorable in that it was so, so very bad. The writing was terrible, the acting worse and the only one I singled out besides Luke Wilson (seriously, dude, wtf??) was Rafe Spall because it was awwwwful. I see now that the direction/writing must have been the culprit because he was excellent in this and I'd like to see more. I also hope Cameron Crowe has regrouped; he's a true artist and I love his work. He's had a couple of unfortunate years.