Who hasn’t felt like this at one time or another? It’s often difficult not to scream at the modern obsessions with smartphones and apps and noisy notifications and strenuous updates and infinite photos of funny cats. It’s a reality streaming with constant information that can’t be ignored, like a required dose.
In Black Mirror: Smithereens, cab-driver Chris takes this digital anxiety to the extreme. Andrew Scott takes the wheel, delivering a tensely unpredictable performance - turning from calm and concerned (like his Priest in Fleabag) to mad and unstable in half a heartbeat.
Andrew Scott delivers a tensely unpredictable performance as Chris
Chris has been warped, disturbed. Slowly and anxiously, the episode builds with amplified noises of smartphone clicks and beeps and pings – Chris can’t stay in one place for long. Even the buzzing from electric light-bulbs sears into his brain. He’s something of a mystery, and writer Charlie Brooker unravels the episode like a worldwide investigation into his mental state.
Chris waits outside Smithereens, a Twitter-like social media company, until one of its employees steps into his cab. Chris takes a detour through the countryside and… kidnaps the employee at gunpoint.
The episode shifts into a something of a negotiation movie like Phone Booth. Chris holes up in an empty field, with his hostage, a police team observing from afar. He demands to speak with Billy Bauer, the Silicon Valley founder of Smithereens, for reasons unknown.
The episode shifts into something of a negotiation movie
Soon, the rug is pulled from under the police by Smithereens, who are conducting their own investigation using their Internet means. There’s a worrying transfer of power to the corporation. They’re able to find information faster, and have a firmer grasp on Chris’s demands.
Although most Black Mirror episodes imagine a dark technological future, Smithereens is actually set in the past, in 2018. Instead of using the future to warn the present, Brooker is showing how things are. It’s not new that billion-dollar companies wield more information about people than world governments do, but, when shown like this, it's more real and more frightening.
But Smithereens isn’t controlled by a gaggle of evil capitalists who want to exploit people’s need for a certain product. Brooker finds an empathy, particularly with Billy Bauer (Topher Grace), who’s created this platform without realising the devastating consequences. There’s a bit of Zuckerberg about him, while also possessing that pretentious Silicon Valley xen.
Smithereens is about the danger of constant information, and what it’s turning people into. Brooker even makes a dark joke at the end, which challenges our own desires from the Internet. It's like he's criticising what we want from the episode: what we want to see, what we want to know. He looks closer at this present-day technology – not to condemn it, but to be cautious. It could be a matter of life and death.
Black Mirror: Smithereens is available now on Netflix
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On 05 Jun 19, 12:00 AM