Welcome back to one of the best shows on television: Black Mirror. Season five came out to a metric tonne of buzz, not least because one had Miley Cyrus and another has Andrew Scott, whom I adored (in a completely inappropriate fashion) as the SexySweary Priest in Fleabag series two. This is his episode, let's dig right in!
Chris Gillhaney (Andrew Scott) listens to a meditation exercise in his car, inhaling and exhaling carefully until a beeping sound distracts. This is London in 2018 and he has a fare to go pick up. He waits until a woman hops in and they're off.
Wait. Did he drive to pick her up or was he already on the spot?
He asks her if she works where he picked her up, Smithereens sounds like a pretty popular company. She wishes she worked there, with the amazing facilities. "That's Billy Bauer money for you."
He eats in a restaurant, surrounded by people on their phones and the incessant clicking and tap tap tapping. He runs out.
Now Chris sits in a group therapy session, one woman is devastated over the loss of her daughter to suicide: she seemed so happy! Chris listens but doesn't contribute, approached after by the crying woman who asks him out for a drink.
They end up in bed, she finishes but he doesn't and isn't interested in her help neither, fanks.
*Oh I totally understand, GET THAT, GIRL!
He doesn't talk, our Chris, but he lets Hayley (Amanda Drew) work through her emotions about dating after her daughter died. A noise pulls her over to her computer, she's been trying to break into her dead daughter's Persona (obviously Facebook) account with different passwords as they won't give her access.
*I don't know about "Persona" but I do know that Facebook is very good about handing over accounts of deceased people to their family members.
She can get access and they'll turn it into a memorial account, but what she wants is to get into the inbox and see if there are any clues to what drove her daughter to suicide. She tries her attempts and is locked out for 24 more hours.
The next day, Chris is back waiting in front of Smithereens, symbolized by this logo.
He picks up another fare, this is Jaden (Damson Idris) and he needs a ride to the airport. A couple of minutes into the trip, Chris diverts to a side road, watching his passenger the whole time through the rearview mirror.
Jaden doesn't notice anything until they come to a halt next to another car under an overpass, he looks around to be confronted by Chris holding a gun in his face.
He's directed to ziptie his own hands together while Chris readies the other car. Jaden pleads with Chris, there's no money, he's just an intern!
It should be noted that Jaden is wearing a very flash suit and looks every inch the successful businessman, if a very young one.
Chris can't believe him, why is he wearing a suit if he's an intern??
While he's freaking out in the corner, Jaden is able to get his hands on his phone but drops it without being able to use it. Chris is back and ranting about the bloody young people at companies, "how is anyone supposed to get a sense of the hierarchy??"
"The whole Smithereens building is full of CHILDREN" with their beeping and booping on their phones. He's apoplectic.
Jaden makes a run for it, to be recovered quickly by Chris and placed, hooded, in the trunk of the second car. He has claustrophobia and is freaking the feck out so Chris relents and lets him sit in the back seat.
I think Jordan's phone was left behind, but he's got extreme motion sickness and is about to throw up.
On the way is a gas station with coppers WPC Najma Hague (Ambreen Razia) and PC Damien Bullen (Calum Callaghan) arguing over snacks, she can't help but notice the hooded man swaying about in the back of Chris's car.
Jaden throws up in his pillowcase.
Chris notices the police car following him and heads off on a side road, to be followed to a remote area by the cops. They pull him over as Chris calmly directs Jaden to stay down as WPC Hague calls in his plate.
As soon as their boots hit the ground, he peels off and leads them on a chase into a field while youngsters on bikes watch. The police retreat with the kids while Chris tries to think of his next move.
Jaden is shaky and covered in vomit, Chris takes his hood off to ask for access to Billy Bauer. (I assume this is a Richard Branson type person, given the comments about youth at the fictional company). Jaden has no idea how to accomplish this, Chris gets a possible contact name out of him but the phone....is in the other car.
Chris regroups by honking the horn for a minute straight.
He has another plan, Jordan can call reception and ask for Hannah the HR lady. Jordan doesn't know any numbers, of course.
(Look at him tapping away at his phone)
More and more police arrive on the road, S.W.A.T. team lead and marksmen set up while Jaden and Chris call Smithereens. Look at this set up!
Hannah Kent (Caitlin Innes Edwards) isn't in her office, what do they do now? They call her cell phone, that's what they do! She's wandering around a mall, oh no, wait! That's the fancy Smithereens office! She wants to know if this is a joke, but it isn't and we're all dying to know what Chris has to say to Billy Bauer that it's worth risking his whole life over.
Chris sends a picture of Jaden with a gun to his face, Hannah puts him on hold and finds Maryam (Maggie Bain) who gets them one step closer to Billy Bauer via Penelope Wu (Ruibo Qian late of OITNB).
Still more police continue to arrive, CS Linda Grace (Monica Dolan from so many things, but for me: Wolf Hall) is now in charge and directing everyone to pull back so it doesn't go poorly in the public.
Speaking of: the two young lads that were bike riding are uploading pictures as the police quorum.
Smithereens is doing its own investigation, they used Chris's cell number to track down his Smithereens account while he listens to a playlist on hold. "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" (apt) by Frankie Valli plays as Jaden pleads his case with Chris. He doesn't think Billy Bauer will pay a ransom for a one-week intern but I think it depends on how many people know.
The police are working through the ride-sharing company that Chris works for, everything, but EVERYTHING we do is tracked. Why do people not know this?
Penelope Wu hops on the line to ask if she can maybe get a sense of what what he wants so she can present it to...Chris is not f***ing around here, people!
Analytics worker Shonelle (Mirirai Sithole - I'm going to meet her on Russian Doll!) is working the line and Don (Quincy Dunn-Baker from wow, a lot of single episodes. Does someone have an inability to commit? Get back to me in comments, Quincy. Like on your birth certificate it says Quincy Dunn-Baker?) try to help COO Penelope, but comments like "so we know he isn't stable" isn't suppppper helpful Don.
Shonelle is a better help, she's got access to the microphone on Chris's phone and they're listening to him breathe and try to calm down.
WPC Hague and PC Bullen go to Chris's house looking for an Eleanor, but there's nothing there but overdue bills. It's papered with articles about Smithereens and Billy Bauer, I've clearly been misled by the English accents as this is about Jack Dorsey of Twitter.
We learn that Chris's mum Eleanor has died just as the press pulls up and Marksman Harris (Adam McNamara) sets up his gun.
We learn more about Chris, he's an unemployed teacher drowning in debt. He has no record but was a victim of a drunk driving accident where the drunk driver died. The FBI are calling, whuuut?
Agent Ernesto Cruz (Jorge Cordova) is the liaison for Smithereens, they're all on the phone too. CS Grace can't barely believe that her roadside traffic stop turned hostage taking has international implications and a whole lot of fingers in that pie.
Penelope and team have been analysing Chris based on his profile, he falls into the "high intellect, low income" subgroup, check out his wordcloud!
Ice bucket challenge?
CS Grace listens in a shocked exasperation as Penelope shares everything else they know: Chris's social media accounts have been dormant for awhile and he had assumed someone else's Hitcher (think UBER/Lyft) identity.
The whole investigation is being done from the Smithereens board room. They even know more about the drunk driving accident than the police do, the other person who died was Chris's fiancee. This was when Chris disengaged.
See, Smithereens thinks they have Chris's life taped and they do, but if we remember the lesson of Black Mirror S2:E01 Be Right Back, it was that people do not post their real lives online. They post idealized versions of themselves. I wonder if that will play a factor.
Police negotiator David Gilkes (Daniel Ings) has a theory, he thinks Chris isn't so much interested in money but rather having equal status to Billy Bauer. He's going to employ that strategy to get Chris out of the car.
*I could not disagree more.
David calls Chris on his bullhorn and tries his phone while the Marksman tries to get a clear shot. Jaden is lined up right behind him.
David isn't used to having someone like Chris explain his job to him, his flustered talk does nothing for the situation. Chris scares him back into his car as the Marksman again tries to line up a shot. Very close this time.
Smithereens puts FBI Agent Cruz on hold, see that? All the investigation and what we consider "police work" is being managed and handled by a huge social media company. They have the control over the data AND how they're sharing it. The police and FBI look like outdated amateur fossils.
Billy Bauer is on a ten-day tech detox, this is only the 6th day. Penelope is reluctant to step into that, which again: she has control over the information and the overall outcome of what happens. She's a private citizen who is more powerful than the government of two (2) countries.
Tipi (Crystal Clarke) is dispatched to interrupt Billy Bauer's (Topher Grace!! I love Topher Grace, he was excellent in Traffic and stellar in one of my very favourite movies: In Good Company) techdetox.
Chris logs in to
Chris asks Jaden about his life, remembering his fiancee in flashbacks as he does. He cries, then gathers himself as Jaden suggests he give himself up.
Billy picks up his phone and calls his team and the FBI. He wants to talk to Chris, and he doesn't care if Chris asks for money, he doesn't think it's about that. It doesn't feel like its about money.
Jaden's worried about his mum, she's going to be so worried. Chris tells him he has nothing to worry about, it's a replica gun, not real. This is overheard by both the police and of course Smithereens, will Billy still call?
I hope Billy still calls. I want to know WHY.
The police get into position for a strike while the phone feed is patched through to Billy's phone. The kids overhear the police talking and one of them posts it on his feed. Guess who's gonna see that right away?
Jaden looks out the window and sees the police creeping closer, they're both in real trouble if bullets start flying.
Chris reads it on his feed and opens his window to tell everyone that the gun is actually real. Finally he does what I expected and fires a shot into the air, to be hit immediately by a sniper's bullet.
It's only a graze, he's okay. He lets everyone know they have five minutes to get Billy on the phone.
Billy asks to be patched through immediately, poor Fibbie Agent Cruz advises against and is dismissed as inessential.
Imagine being able to decide what to do in a hostage taking and having more power and influence than an FBI agent.
Penelope refuses to give Billy Chris's number so he has to do it himself, invoking:
Billy calls. He asks Chris to release Jaden so they can talk, but Chris thinks Billy will hang up if he does. He wants Billy to listen to him. Chris has to get his thoughts in order, he's rehearsed this.
Chris used to be a big user of Smithereens, and one night, when his fiancee was tired and napping and he was driving and bored (because we get bored every ten seconds, don't we?) and a notification popped up on his phone and it was just a Like but that split second was all the time it took for the other car to hit them.
It took her two months to die, the drunk driver died too and took the blame with him. Everyone comforted him
and while he's crying and sharing this devastating secret with Billy, Billy is reading a message from Penelope about some psychologist strategies to deal with Chris.
Do you see that? All he wanted was for Billy to listen to him, but Billy is busy being distracted by an electronic message of talking points.
Chris isn't having that.
So Billy closes the computer and walks to stare at the desert while talking to Chris but he has no idea what to say to him. Chris wanted to tell him because he's the one who made it this way. Billy is the one who made it impossible for people to take their eyes off them, who made it addictive and himself a billionaire at the same time.
"Bit of user feedback for you there."
Billy doesn't know how to stop it, he started it but now it's taken on a life of its own and he's like a "bullshit frontman." There are departments with dopamine targets!
Chris stops him mid-rant, he doesn't give a f*ck. He just wanted to say his piece.
*Ahhhh watching Andrew Scott
Billy asks desperately for something he can do for Chris so that he doesn't kill himself, but Chris doesn't want anything. Just for his life to be over. Billy begs and Chris thinks of one thing: Billy knows the guy who owns Persona, right? He can help that fellow griever get into her daughter's inbox!
Chris cuts Jaden free and releases him into the wild as Markswoman Jones (Alice Bailey Johnson) lines her scope up with his melon.
The police wait while Jaden pleads with Chris to not kill himself, he had an uncle who killed himself and it ruined the whole family. He goes as far as to fight Chris for the gun, oh no.
Markswoman Jones has a shot, and it is authorized. Hayley types in her daughter's password as we try to breathe. The shot misses and when another is queued up it's Hayley's keystroke appearing to pull the trigger and we get credits.
Everyone watches in slow motion as beeps and horns honk across the world, notification of a death or a resolution just another point of entertainment, to be scrolled past on to the next thing, maybe read at a traffic light.
Billy returns to his techdetox and we're out without knowing what happened to Chris OR Hayley's daughter. Boooooooooo! Come on!
I guess it doesn't matter, how ridiculous is it that Chris was probably killed while trying unsuccessfully to kill himself? I hope Jaden didn't get hurt. Why did Hayley's daughter kill herself?? I know you'll think I'll just find out and scroll on past, but I really want to know! Fine.
This episode was pure Black Mirror bread and butter, nothing we didn't know already but presented so beautifully with an impossibly engaging story. What would you do if your inattention led to the death of a loved one? How would you deal with the compassion people heaped on you?
They have proven that social media and its apps are addictive, and designed to be so. A little while ago I listened to a podcast called The Butterfly Effect by Jon Ronson. In it, he explored what happened when PornHub made accessing vast amounts of pornography convenient and free. How did it affect everyone in the porn industry? One episode dealt with the way PornHub is designed, it is literally A/B tested just as Chris said, as is Facebook and everything else out there, to find out what colour/variation makes people click faster or more frequently. There are armies of tech analysts out there working on exactly how to make the sites more addictive without ever having set foot on a porn set.
Another thing I found interesting in that podcast is that it showed how PornHub went from being a mere facilitator to actually leading human behaviour. They found that people who were willing to view pornography (especially for free) were more likely to contemplate an affair in real life. They found that by running ads for Ashley Madison in large quantities and watching people climb what they called the "yes ladder."
That ties in with what we saw here, Chris talking about being bored every ten seconds, here's a test for you. When's the last time you watched an entire show without checking your phone? The last time you drove without checking your phone at the stoplight? I did a version of a tech detox for three months last year, it was very difficult to adjust to not having the constant flow of information (to usually ignore, to be honest) but after a while life became much more calm. I have to remind myself sometimes to stop checking Twitter compulsively: there's nothing of real value in my phone. Then I pick up a book.
What about all the data the fictional Smithereens had on its users? No way that isn't true, yet we still use it, plug in our information and our likes and dislikes, where we ate, where we're working out. There is nothing we won't share to get a little bitta attention, how do you maintain your integrity when you want a bunch of hearts?
It's interesting to go back and watch the first rants with the awareness that Chris is self-flagellating, not standing against technology as an institution. It reminds me of the movie Falling Down, where Michael Douglas's character goes from Righter of Wrongs with much fanfare to a very disturbed fella in need of some quiet far away from everyone else. Once you descend into the particular, all stories are like that, aren't they?
Obviously we have to touch on the influence that social media has in the world as far as news goes; Facebook infamously had a huge effect on the last election in the US. What we saw here was a tech company having enough power to hang up on the F.B.I. The FBI! That's like Apple refusing password access to a bomber's phone, isn't it? That happened irl omg.
Thanks again, Black Mirror, for making me think and for giving me over an hour with Andrew Scott, who is a fantastic actor. I hope he doesn't get stuck in romantic roles now that we all fell in love with him in Fleabag.
Until next time! Cheers