Review: Black Mirror Season 4 Episode 1 “USS Callister”

The science fiction genre is arguably cinema’s most allegorical, allowing for humanity as a whole to be represented and discussed. ‘Black Mirror’ taps into that, giving representation to a character in a science fiction video game, who believes he is undermined and belittled in real life. Yet, the show then uproots that idea with an excellent twist on the premise, making the protagonist a despicable player that develops past a troll and into a violent figure. Therefore tackling cyber bulling, online dominance and overall patriarchal control, the show superbly melds online thematic discussions with human ones, symbolic of the genre in which it is doing it. Jesse Plemons is excellent in the main role, as is the rest of the cast who brilliantly portray the comedic moments as well as the horrific scenes of grotesque manipulation and seizure. However, while the concept is spectacularly conceived and initially executed, the show eventually ends up taking on too much and saying very little. Significantly, a number of statements are made about how Plemon’s character, importantly a white man, does as he wish with the female characters’ bodies, and the feminist undertones of how the women fight back. Yet, unfortunately, the show also subjects the women to being the sexualised plot devices that it is on the surface rallying against. For example, while none get any backstory, one puts her own personal privacy over human morals to commit a crime without question in order to keep nude photos secret. This same character also uses her body to distract the protagonist. One may argue that she is using it in a manner that will helper her overcome the male, but the character is becoming continually associated with sexualised objectification and as a plot device. The ending also lacks an emotional vindication or punch, again confusing its thematic purpose. The main character is never taught the errors of his ways, never challenged by others in the real world setting, and his atrocities are never revealed. Ultimately, therefore, while the premise is excellent, the technical production superb, and a number of the world-building concepts work, the episode doesn’t end up saying anything meaningful, and gets trapped in its own commentary. 8.3/10

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