I love a good anthology series and Black Mirror is certainly no exception. After a recommendation from a friend, I dove into the British speculative science fiction series with mild trepidation. I had been warned that the first episode, The National Anthem, was of an acquired taste and, it certainly was interesting. Determined not to be put off by the quite sensitive nature of the pilot, I was please to discover that the first episode was not entirely indicative of the rest of the series. The series itself is about the dangers of technology and their extreme use in the future, or even the near present. The black mirror refereed to in the title, well most of us carry one around with us. Look at your phone without turning it on and you will understand.
After three mind blowing seasons it looked like Charlie Brooker’s incredible modern Twilight Zone had ended, but then Netflix stepped in and gave Booker a chance to keep the series alive. Now with two additional seasons and a choose your own adventure movie under it’s belt, this is one that I look forward to with every new entry.
So, without further delay, lets talk about the latest entry, Season Five and the episode Smithereens.
Chris, a ride share driver, uses his ride share fare as a hostage against a major social media corporation known as Smithereen. Things go from bad to worse when his plan begins spiraling out of control. Taking a departure from his visions of the future, series creator Charlie Brooker reminds us of the dangers of the overuse and distraction that is caused by social media. Starring Andrew Scott, Damson Idris, Monica Dolan and Topher Grace, this is a real look at the ramifications of Social Media addiction.
Is it a ‘Good’ Episode?
In recent years social media has become the source of news and information for most people in the modern world. Most people have an app on their phone for one or multiple accounts to connect with the rest of their world. In this digital world it is all about status, about the likes, the hearts, the comments and the constant feedback we get from every post, every mention every distraction. The more people post and comment, the more we receive validation for our meaningless efforts on these platforms causing us to believe that our words, our images, our very selves are recognized in the endless void of the internet. These actions create a dopamine injecting positive feedback loop that keeps us coming back for more and that is what this episode is all about.
This positive feedback loop forces our brain to release small amounts of dopamine that gives us a small but significant high every time we are validated for a post or a comment. Think about the last time you received no ‘likes’ for a post on Facebook or one of the multitude of social media platforms, I am sure that, for a breif second there was a moment of sadness associated with the fact that no one responded. Now think about when one of your comments are liked or, better yet, commented on. You find yourself happy for just a moment, giving you the need to find more to comment on and connect with. This interaction, if left unchecked can become an addiction that most people do not even realize they have fallen under.
At it’s core this is the warning that Brooker presents us when we discover that it is the tragic results of Chris’s addition to social media that leads him to take a hostage from Smithereen in order to reach the head of the company, Billy Bauer (Grace). In many ways, this abduction was a final search for validation, for recognition before Chris accepts his fate. Without spoiling it too much, this episode goes deeper as it explores the responsibilities of the owners of these platforms for the people whose lives are so tied up in their product. Knowing that they have created addictive programs, should they also not be forced to protect those that are using them? Just how addictive will they be allowed to make these programs and where is the limit to these apps becoming nothing more than digital drugs?
As usual, this episode is filled with a marvelous cast who absolutely dominate the screen with every moment. I have loved Andrew Scott since seeing him in the Stephen Moffett series Sherlock in the role of James Moriarty and find myself excited to see him in any role he appears in. Once again, Scott does not disappoint. Teamed up with Scott is relative newcomer Damson Idris who you might recognize from a recent episode of Twilight Zone. In this one, Idris plays the captive Jaden who is an employee of Smithereen. While he does not have a big speaking role, he serves as a wonderful connection point for the audience to the situation and is fully believable in his role.
Rounding out the cast is Monica Dolan, who plays a grieving mother and Topher Grace who plays Billy Bauer the ‘Mark Zuckerberg’ analog in this tale. While both actors have minimal roles in this tale, their parts are far more important to the overall narrative and they both own their roles perfectly. Monica showing the grief and sadness associated with the loss of her daughter with Topher providing the expected disillusionment to his creation one would expect from someone who has watched their Frankenstein’s Monster be unleashed into the world.
While I was shocked to see that this episode was set in the modern day, it is a stark observation of how addicted we have become to the current social media platforms. This episode serves as a reminder that the life around you should be far more important to you than what is on that black mirror you hold in your hands. Having written this, I think I need to head that message and go play with my dogs for a while.
Till next time,
Late To The Game 6/8/2019
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