Netflix’s Black Mirror is in its fourth (and best) season, which just hit the streaming service last week. For those not in-the-know, it is basically approaches the idea of Twilight Zone/Tales from the Crypt anthological storytelling from the perspective of how future technology could completely ruin us. If you need a quick refresher of the eps for this season, check out our preview here and a review of the first ep USS Callister here and Arkangel here.
Yep – major spoilers to follow.
This episode is the most hands-off when it comes to the whole “spooky, scary, technology is evil, social commentary” stuff that people mistakenly believe Black Mirror is really all about. When Mia and her friend Rob “I-Know-What-You-Did-Last-Summer’d” a bicyclist which comes back to haunt her 15 years later as Rob suddenly has a crisis of conscious thanks to a stint in AA – shit really pops off. After Mia has put the whole thing behind her and went on to have success both in family and work, Rob threatens to put that all in jeopardy by sending an anonymous letter to the victim’s widow, letting her know her husband’s really dead. They get into it and Mia accidentally kills Rob, disposing of his body shortly thereafter.
Simultaneously an insurance investigator, Shazia, begins an investigation into an accident involving a man being struck by an automated pizza delivery truck (which turns out to be a real thing that Pizza Hut wants to roll out- automated trucks, not hitting people with them…we suppose). This accident occurred outside of the hotel Mia killed Rob and she actually witnessed the accident. Shazia uses a device called a Recaller that can recall your memories and record them for use in insurance-related claims (so, it can’t be used for blackmail or whatever). Her investigation eventually leads her back to Mia and some serious murder ensues.
People generally put too much emphasis on the technological side of Black Mirror’s stories. While it is fun to think about the feasibility of future tech actually existing, the meat of these stories are more deeply rooted in humanity (or, rather in-humanity in this case). In “Crocodile,” Brooker uses the Recaller simply as the connective tissue for the two leads and less as a warning sign or harbinger of doom. Even the title of the episode itself, “Crocodile,” implies some kind of menace for the device but it would appear the term applies more closely to Mia herself who uses similar hunting patterns as the reptile. She’s generally an ambush/opportunistic predator, waiting until her victim is in an unexpected state (basically blind-siding them) before striking. When she murdered Rob, she had him in a weakened state. The death of Shazia happened when she was tied up and her husband and child’s murder were perpetrated by Mia when they were both totally unaware of her presence.
John Hillcoat (director) seems to acknowledge this parallel in Mia when she’s in the hotel by almost camouflaging her against the wall the same way crocodiles hide their bodies amongst the murky, brackish waters waiting to attack. In another scene, as Mia approaches Shazia’s husband while he’s in the tub, she’s covered her mouth and nose so that only her eyes are showing as she creeps up behind him – very similar to how a crocodile will only expose its eyes above water just before an attack. She also strikes mainly at night (or in the shadows), similar to how crocs have superior night vision.
The Recaller device also shares some odd similarities to a crocodile. The device unfolds in a manner which is similar to a croc opening its massive jaws. Just as they are known to have an extraordinary sense of perception with all five senses, the Recaller can draw out memories based on sight, sound (the song playing in the street) and even smell (the smell of the brewery in the air that night). At a more basic level, the basal ganglia (aka “the reptilian brain”) is responsible for eye-movements and cognition and it is even speculated that it is the gatekeeper as to what does and doesn’t enter the working memory (thank you, Wikipedia).
No matter what the reasoning behind the episode’s title, it ends up being a doozy of a story. As previously stated, Black Mirror has gotten a rep as being the “evil technology” show, but really the show is more “the evil humans using morally neutral future tech for greedy/selfish/desperate means.” Though that is a bit wordy, so Black Mirror is definitely a better title for the series. John Hillcoat is known for his stripped down, grounded stories about the harsh realm we call the physical plane of existence (The Road, Lawless, The Proposition) and that serves him well in “Crocodile.”
Barbarous is a word used to describe the tone and feel of Hillcoat’s movie and never is that more apt than in bringing to life the dark recesses of writer Charlie Brooker’s creative mind. There is a barbaric nature to Mia’s violence. It is lacking the poetic justice or hyper-stylized beauty viewers have come to expect. Just like the animal its named after, this episode doesn’t use murder for dramatic effect or for any sense of grander purpose beyond the primordial, savage and cruel thought – “survive.” Unlike crocodiles however, our concept of survival extends well beyond simply staying alive and into something much more pathetic and trite by comparison.
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