Men Against Fire is a super interesting episode of Black Mirror, as they mostly are, exceedingly topical as always. Rolling S3:E5 after the break.
We open with a beautiful woman (Loreece Harrison) looking at us, she's in Stripe's (Malachi Kirby) dream and it's RUINT when Raiman (Madeline Brewer from The Handmaid's Tale!) rudely wakes him up. Medina (Sarah Snook) is already briefing them on their next mission; there's an infestation of roaches at a nearby village. Rai is excited: they're going on a Roach Hunt!
Ten bucks says there are no bugs anywhere in this show.
Stripe gets hazed by Lennard (Kola Bokinni) about his first hunt and they're off to the village where a dirty, dirty villager (Kave Niku) fills Medina in: they think the mess and food stealing was done by roaches, they may be still around someone named Heidekker. A young mother begs Stripe to not let the roaches come scare them anymore, she has a child that is frightened.
Like, really BIG roaches?
The army has a LOT of cool gadgetry on display, including voice translators that clip onto clothing and the transmission of intelligence through their eyes. The main piece of technology is the mask that the soldiers wear, it enables all of that sharing but it's freaking me and Stripe out. Which is weird, does he not know he's in Black Mirror?
Time to attack! They converge on a farmhouse, Medina questioning Heidekker (Frances Magee), Stripe and Raiman checking out the basement.
Lenn finds a raven in the house, it's the oddest vibe. So grim and dark, the house covered in biblical-themed paintings with all kinds of dead people in them.
Medina talks and talks and we find out a little more about Roaches: they have a sickness in their blood, an illness. And while Heidekker and others may think they're doing the right thing by not handing over the Roaches, "every roach you save today" causes incalculable losses of human life later.
The basement is a roachnest and everything comes into play all at once, Stripe and Rai finding the zombie-like Roaches and Heidekker slashing Medina with a small knife.
Stripe kills one immediately, he's holding out a little green flashy-thingy like on Men in Black, you know what I mean? Is that a weapon? A female Roach gets away, another Roach jumping on Stripe so he can't follow. Stripe gains the upper hand on his attacker and kills him brutally, then stabs him to pieces in the aftermath.
He picks up the green flashy-thingy
For sure that means something. Let's find out what.
Raiman taunts Heidekker, singing loudly over top of his praying and there couldn't really be a better example of the stereotype of brash American military, could there? Disrespecting foreign beliefs and cultures.
Heidekker just keeps praying, it's Stripe who takes the bait. Rai stands him down and then they're done, it's time to torch the house and release the raven outside, in an oddly solemn ritual-feeling move by Len.
Stripe brags about bagging two Roaches on his first mission and glows under Rai's praise, just a feeling but I bet he comes to regret that very much.
I love Madeline Brewer, she's just perfect in everything I've seen her in. Except maybe Mad TV but I blame Mad TV.
Stripe dreams of the beautiful woman again, he's gotten to second base I think! She's in lingerie now and there's the suggestion of simulated sex, not just smiles outside in the wind. The dream glitches and he wakes up.
It's time for practice on the shooting range, Rai is disappointed that she missed the female Roach and needs to up her count soon.
Wait...are they repaying soldiers for kills with wet dreams? WTF? This is a video game?
Stripe's vision goers wonky again while shooting and leaves the range. He couldn't keep up with everyone during physical training, either, prompting a "strong and pure" encouragement from Medina, who sends him to the Sick Bay.
The doctor (Simon Connors) clears Stripe physically but knows from nothing about green flashy-thingys and sends him to see Arquette (Michael Kelly from House of Cards!) for a psyche evaluation.
Stripe recounts his last mission to Arquette, using human pronouns for the Roaches, which Arquette notes out loud. Is he cautioning him or just remarking on it? No way to tell, but he wants to know how killing Roaches made Stripe feel; was there a euphoria, he suggests? Maybe, but there wasn't any regret, which surprised Stripe. So.."why are you here?"
Arquette prescribes a good night's sleep, which means that the beautiful woman is now completely naked and able to talk, but only to say "f*ck me."
BECAUSE THAT'S NOT PROBLEMATIC
A hand covers his view in the dream and draws him to watch...another clone of the same woman? And then there are clones crawling out of nowhere and everywhere. The dream glitches and Stripe wakes up, looking all around him to see his fellow soldiers sleeping that same creepy, twitchy sleep.
The soldiers drop off food and aid for the villagers and head off on another Roach Hunt, someone's spotted the gang by the forests in the Projects.
Really? By the Projects?
Medina lays out the plan of attack, but Stripe is acting weird and not paying attention. He can smell the grass all of a sudden, has anyone noticed that nothing smells like anything?
Suddenly, Medina is shot and they're trying to find cover and figure out who is shooting at them. It's a Roach on the second floor, so they run into the building to flush him out.
They find a lab where the flashy-thingys are being manufactured, they're meant to work with the eye somehow?
Stripe finds a dirty young woman with a baseball bat hiding in a room, he lets her go just in time to see Rai shoot her in the head. Suddenly they're in a gunfight, Stripe confused because he can see these are people, not Roaches. There is no stopping Raiman.
Hold on, what if the Roaches are just people and the green flashy-thingy exposes that? Like a reverse version of They Live?
Behind the couch is a woman and her son, Stripe gets into a fight protecting them and gets shot himself before knocking Rai out. He runs with the woman and her child in the army vehicle, before passing out at the wheel and being dragged into their underground lair.
OHHHHHH. The young woman Caterina (Ariana Labed) explains; it's the soldier's implants that makes the Roaches look like monsters, it's also designed so that they don't understand the Roaches.
JFC so that poor bastard was just trying to get Stripe to see him downstairs in the basement, pointing that flashy-thingy at him. And Stripe shot him, and then brutally knifed the other guy to death. Jaysus.
Stripe tries to poke holes in her theory; the villagers don't have implants, why do they think the Roaches are monsters if they can see plainly that they are people?
Caterina explains: it started with DNA testing and a REGISTRY (emphasis mine), soon everyone was afraid of them and their different blood, it was considered a weakness, a sickness that could not go on.
I can't think why that sounds familiar *coughHITLERcough*
She carefully takes his gun.
Just as Raiman drops into the underground and murders everyone but Stripe.
Arquette comes to see Stripe in the hole to apologize for not finding the fault in his mask. Stripe had to see all those terrible things, like that their enemy was human like them, but Arquette brought coffee! He also brought a flashy-thingy, they know what it is now. It interferes with the mask's masking of reality and does just what we thought it did above (See The Live reference).
Arquette explains the necessity of the mask, it turns out that people are generally not disposed to murder fellow humans. The kill and actual shoot rates were very low in the first few wars, so the military knew what it had to do. The problem was that people didn't want to kill people that looked like them. So the military "adapted."
It's not just the eyes, the mask blocks out smells (like someone emptying their bowels when dying) and the screams. Stripe can't believe that they're talking about it so calmly, so detachedly, these are humans they're killing.
Humans with blood that showed them to be predisposed to things like cancer, MS, ALS, sexual deviancy, Arquette counters. It's Hitler 2.0 without an obvious bias against skin colour, since Stripe is black and and so are other soldiers.
Masks "let you do it." Stripe is "protecting the blood line," he's practically a goddamn hero.
Stripe does not feel like a hero, he feels like getting the eff oot of here and back home. But he agreed to the implant, doesn't he remember? A video is shown of a much more lighthearted Stripe agreeably signing away his rights in a video Stripe doesn't remember making.
He's scared now, how much manipulation of him and his memory have they done? There's no way to know, but they aren't done yet. Stripe starts knocking things about in a fury, to be stopped when Arquette takes away his eyesight to show him who's boss and to lay out his options.
A) Stripe can agree to have his mask re-set and he'll forget everything, including this conversation
Stripe chooses B) but Arquette gives him one more chance to reconsider, showing him
OH NO. He's going to show him that attack on the farmhouse without his mask. He murdered two people there, he was so proud of those brutal kills.
as compared to
JFC the shooting and the stabbing, oh the stabbing in the neck and the face of those innocent people. Stripe cowers on the floor, screaming for it to stop then finally just lays there, almost comatose while Arquette croons in his ear about erasing that memory and all the rest. He just has to say the word...
Stripe is discharged in his uniform, so honourably, dropped off in front of his run-down and graffiti-covered house. It appears beautiful to him and his dream girl is there, waiting for him in slow motion as he cries. She doesn't exist any more than the flower baskets do and we are out.
You probably don't have to guess how I feel about war, but let's break it down for a mofo anyways.
Of course war is about demonization of the enemy, in this case literally. It was sort of heartening to hear that people had trouble killing each other for some arbitrarily declared conflict most usually rooted in money.
I am not anti-army, just anti-war. I think one of the most important things you can do is sign up to defend your country and I don't think it's at all like any other job, thanks friend of mine from another job who thought the military got too much recognition.
TOO MUCH RECOGNITION
And it would be very difficult to be anti-war in World War II, what about Hitler, whose ideologies absolutely threatened all but the very few?
Let's think about how that relates to the rest of the world we live in. Who else do we demonize? I don't think history will look back fondly on how we've treated transgender people as a whole, once everyone understands fully that THEY'RE JUST PEOPLE.
How about refugees? They're people but as a whole, society tends to assign them and their lives a different value than the ones we assign for ourselves. We got ours, you aren't having it, go get your own and starve to death for all we care. We might not say that outright, but that's what refusing food and shelter to persecuted persons is saying exactly. Maybe they come from far away, look different, pray to a different god, does that means we can scale their humanity? Or is it a matter of scarcity and we have to take care of ourselves first and other later?
My point is not that we should feel bad for not taking in refugees or feel angry for not feeling bad, I'm just pointing out some of the Othering we do on a regular basis. Islam anyone?
One more note: the young mother who asked Stripe to get rid of the Roaches BUT THE CHILDREN escaped me at first because I didn't realise she was talking about someone she recognised as a person. What's that quote..
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing
And that's it for me until next time, cheers!