by Josie Kafka
Black Mirror's 90-minute mid-season finale is an interesting, if not particularly inspired, interrogation of social media’s hive-mind hatred and its consequences. The episode feels like a riff on Fringe and a depressing statement about the ways in which “freedom of expression” has come to mean “freedom to spout hate without considering the consequences.”
And since this is Black Mirror, there are consequences. Hundreds of thousands of them, all in body bags.
It takes us a while to get there, though. “Hated in the Nation” begins with the unexplained death of a provocative journalist who thrives on controversy. She listens to Enya and drinks red wine while reading social media’s #DeathTo threads about her. Enough hashtags, and the drone honeybees created to replace the extinct real bees turn into vicious brain-boring killers. She's the first to go, but there will be more.
There’s an allegory there, and not a subtle one. The ADIs, as the dronebees are officially called, operate independently but still act like bees, flocking to and building new hives, gettin' their pollination on. Work and sex—birds do it, bees do it, even we do it. The bees are programmed to follow patterns, much like social-media sheeple seem to be.
(Maybe I should call them “beeple” to keep with the parallels here?)
And that’s one of this episode’s most interesting questions: where do we place the blame? The obvious answer is with the man who programmed the dronebees to kill in response to #DeathTo trends. But what about the woman who defended her right to free speech, while demanding that a journalist practicing the same right be killed? There’s a lack of thoughtfulness there that is both topically relevant and frightening.
Despite that interesting premise, though, I thought this episode dragged. Ninety minutes may be too much for the main plot, especially given that some of the most interesting parts were just background, like the beautiful beehives that looked like they were designed by Le Corbusier riffing on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house.
Kelly Macdonald, who played Karin Parke, is always wonderful, but it took me the full ninety minutes to realize Joe Armstrong was lurking in the background as one of her colleagues; his version of Hotspur blew my mind, but he wasn’t given much to do here. Perhaps that’s because the threat was both diffuse—all people who use social media, all drones with backdoor programming—and hidden (the actual man behind it all). This was an episode with a lot of frantic typing and screen-swiping.
I also wonder if this type of plot has already been done to death: blame social media at first, then locate one individual who's the source of All the Problems. That seems to simplify some of the complex ways in which online communication and anonymity have tweaked our world. The most common threat of something like a #DeathTo trend is not that people will actually die, although of course that possibility is always out there. It's all the pain and fear caused before we even get to that point, as well as the way that hashtags simplify ideas into nothing more than "teams," shut down conversations, and reduce nearly everyone to either mean-spirited antagonists or defensive victims. "Nosedive" did a better job of exploring social media, I think, than this episode did, by resisting the attempt to allegorize it.
But this episode does have the stronger Black Mirror final twist. That Blue, Karin’s “shadow,” eventually tracked the Big Bad down was a kicker: Karin and Blue are now rooting for #DeathTo someone else and doing their darnedest to fulfill that threat. #irony?
Two and a half out of four colony collapses.
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)