Black Mirror: Shut Up and Dance

“How old?”

I binged the first three episodes of Black Mirror. And when this one—the third—ended, I shut off the TV and walked away. I felt betrayed. I felt toyed-with. I felt vaguely dirty, like watching this was somehow akin to doing what the characters in the episode had done.

All of that is intentional, of course. Black Mirror enjoys our discomfort and seeks to provoke it. The first episode was about a man having sex with a pig, for goodness sake! “Shut Up and Dance” is meant to make us question our ideas of empathy and punishment.

The premise is patented Black Mirror in that it portrays complex people navigating a world in which technology is more of an obstacle than a tool. Kenny (Alex Lawther) gets caught doing what many young men do when they’ve got a laptop and a closed door. A threatening entity claims it will send a video of him doing it to all of his contacts unless he runs a series of complex errands whose meaning is not entirely clear until the end.

Throughout the episode, I kept saying to myself “But he’s just a kid!” I even said it aloud when Hector (Jerome Flynn, who plays Bronn on Game of Thrones) forced Kenny to be the one who robbed the bank. It all seemed like too much, and Alex Lawther communicated Kenny’s anguish so perfectly that I assumed that anguish was just due to teenagers being self-conscious.

That’s the joke, of course. That’s the rug that this episode wants to pull out from under us. Kenny wasn’t overreacting to being caught masturbating. He was reacting to being caught masturbating to child pornography.

So: I was tricked. I was tricked into empathizing with a pedophile. I was tricked into feeling bad for him. And I was tricked in the most perfect way—by feeling pity that a child would wind up in such a terrible situation.

It’s masterfully done and horrible to watch. This show usually leaves me depressed; this episode left me feeling almost ill. I couldn’t rewatch it to write this review. I still haven’t managed to watch the fourth and fifth episodes, although I’ll do it because I should—and because they can’t be as miserable as this.

Congratulations, Black Mirror. You managed to create the most unpleasant hour of television I’ve ever watched.

Either zero out of four, or four out of four, Bronns. Because they did what they wanted to do, and they did it perfectly.

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?)

2 comments:

Mallena said...

Yeah, add this to the list of Black Mirror episodes that I never want to watch again, along with National Anthem and Playtest. I've heard the next eps are good, we'll see. I like the sweet but sad ones like Be right Back, and Fifteen Million Merits; though I guess Merits was mean-spirited also, in the end.

Anonymous said...

Is it bad that I still sympathize with Kenny after the reveal? The guy's just a kid after all, he's a late developer with a maturity level of about 14. If he'd actually abused a kid that would be another matter, but he was only guilty of thought-crime and possessing illegal material. Nothing a bit of counselling and a few years maturing couldn't fix.