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.
MAJOR SPOILERS TO COME.
The first ep of the new season is ‘USS Callister,” following Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons) as he finds an outlet for the frustrations of the real world (socially awkward, not smooth with women, a business partner who walks all over him) in a Star-Trek-esque mod to his virtual reality MMOG called “Infinity.” Despite having apparent financial and occupational success, Daly is still very unhappy with the social aspects of his life so he takes it out on the characters in his game. What we find out is that these characters aren’t some well-crafted AI, but actual digital representations of his co-workers (he got their DNA from coffee cups, etc from their desks). So when Daly assumes the role of Captain Daly, his childlike tirades and dehumanizing abuse of power is being inflicted upon fully-sentient (albeit digital) beings with full memories of their IRL lives – anyone who has skipped ahead to Rolo Haynes’ Black Museum understands the full implications of this technology.
While Captain Daly enjoys years of god-like, abusive power over his digital crew/co-workers, forcing them to re-enact the cheesy plots of Space Fleet (a legally safe knock off of Star Trek) complete with forcing all of the female crew to kiss him at the completion of each adventure. So, yeah – he’s a real charmer. What makes the mandatory kissing even creepier and indicative of the ridiculous nerd-bro culture currently running amok is that it is out of “faithfulness to the source material” this happens. Daly even goes so far as to ken-doll everyone in the game (no one has any genitals) because Space Fleet is “family-friendly.”
The forced kissing and de-genitalization of these sentient digital beings all in the name of “accuracy” is a perfect fictional example of the kind of ludicrousness that ensues when nerd-bros get stuck in the past. They put endless amounts of energy towards the reverence and preservation of their “pop culture history” no matter what the cost. Sounds a lot like those yahoos who think statues of slave-owning soldiers are more important than living, breathing actual human beings walking the Earth today, but that’s a whole other thing.
For Daly and militant nerd-bros alike, the idea of “source material accuracy” is just a pathetic cover for being snide and abusive towards people who don’t want to play along with his sad outlet. Control is the only thing he’s actually loyal too. Having complete and total control over his digital slaves is the real pop-culture high he’s getting from all this. Control over reality, people and their actions – it is the classic mentality of “I’m smart/talented/rich, I shouldn’t have to take other people’s thoughts into consideration,” that has been prevalent throughout history.
If Daly cannot attain that IRL, he’ll make it happen in the game – no matter what. If he can’t torture someone into compliance, he’ll create a digital copy of their kid to blackmail them into doing so. Such is the case with Walton (portrayed by Jimmi Simpson who gives two amazing monologues in this ep). When Daly cannot force him into being his little puppet, he digitally clones his son and then throws him out of an airlock – threatening to do it again if Walton doesn’t comply. A grim, albeit hyperbolic, example of how desperate, single-minded people fixate on maintaining control over their pop culture irrelevancies in a way they can’t with real people and how vicious they can be towards those who don’t share their mindset.
What Daly doesn’t count on is Nanette Cole (Cristin Milioti – probably best known as Teresa in WoWS) who, when digitally copied into the game becomes enraged at the idea of someone being so cold and callous in the pursuit of reliving some childish fantasy. Milioti as Cole is absolutely a force to be reckoned with. She goes from audience surrogate (showing us just how dismal the glossy, nostalgia-sheened world of Daly’s Space Fleet mod) to absolute bad ass in charge. Between Walton’s sadness turned bravery and the sense of powerless she first displays, contrasted with a Die-Hard sensibility for escaping the Space Fleet mod, the way this episode unfolds takes a very tired gimmick and hits it with some rocket fuel.
Especially because of Milioti’s performance, the audience is locked in to the plight of this rag-tag group of Space Fleet crew members and their desperate ploy to escape the clutches of a power-hungry madman! Even the resolution of them having to traverse through an asteroid belt to escape via a warmhole is something straight out of the 1960’s but leave it to Black Mirror to infuse something classic with new life. Unlike Captain Daly, who wants to preserve his pop culture obsession in a timeless, never-changing state, Black Mirror takes something sacred to pop culture (like Star Trek or The Twilight Zone) and honors it by adapting with the times and letting it grow/evolve into something more relevant and timely to today’s world.
Had your fill of all the spoilers we just dished out? Think we painted nerd-bro culture with an unfairly broad brush? Yeah, well – nobody cares. But you can still follow us on Twitter @Official_FAN for hotlinks to freakin awesome articles like this one.