How long can you go without touching your phone? How often do you use your social media accounts to send an update? When was the last time you took a break from technology? Have you accepted the fact that you are an addict? Are you ready for therapy?
In the second episode of its fifth season, ‘Black Mirror’ goes back to the storytelling where it doesn’t rely on some futuristic tech to bring some ominous future and a hard-hitting message for its viewers. It uses the present-day scenario, with the life that we currently live, closely mirrored in to reveal a dark reality that today’s Internet-addict generation needs to pay attention to. If you haven’t seen the episode, head to over to Netflix. You are also in for a treat if you love Jim Moriarty from ‘Sherlock’. Andrew Scott gives another terrific performance; the best moments of this season come from him. You don’t want to miss his rant.
Summary of the Plot
We first meet Christopher (Andrew Scott) sitting in his car listening to a meditative voice, trying to calm his mind. In one of the moments that his mind wanders, he thinks about a car crash. We are provided with the thing that drives this character. His meditation is interrupted by a message that he receives, a request for a pickup. Chris is a Hitcher driver (Uber of ‘Black Mirror’). The first question he asks her is if she works at Smithereen. When she says no, we can see the disappointment in his eyes.
The next couple of scenes give us an insight into his psychology. He is clearly unnerved by the extent of everyone’s indulgence with their phones. No one looks up, no one talks to each other. They like, share, comment and move on to other things. Chris is also a part of the group therapy where people dealing with a loss in their life come to share their burden. Now we know that he lost someone in that car crash. There he meets a woman who has lost her daughter and is obsessed with finding out the reason behind why she committed suicide.
The next day, Chris waits outside the Smithereen building. A man (Damson Idris) boards his taxi and on being asked if he works at the place, the man says yes. There is a minor glint in Chris’ eyes. Now, he begins to execute his plan.
From the initial looks of it, ‘Smithereens’ feels like a story where a man is hell-bent on revenge. He goes through all this trouble, something he is thoroughly prepared for, just to get through to the creator of Smithereen, Billy Bauer (Topher Grace). The story takes a thrilling turn where we don’t know whether to trust Chris or not. We find ourselves rooting for him, despite the kidnapping, because Scott masterfully relays the brokenness of the man he portrays. With the calls made from one employee to another, he is finally able to find his way to Bauer, who had been on a 10-day silent retreat.
Throughout the episode, we wonder why Chris wants to talk to Bauer. We know there was an accident and that someone close to him died. This leads us to presume that Bauer was somehow involved in the accident and that he is the villain of the story. But, as it happens in most, if not all, episodes of ‘Black Mirror’, we don’t get a villain or a hero. We get people who are like us, struggling and suffering from the things that could easily happen to us.
Turns out, Bauer is actually a very friendly, helpful and sensitive person. The only reason Chris wanted to get his attention was that he wanted to make a confession. He wanted the world to know that the car crash had happened because of him, that he was responsible for the death of his fiancée as well as the other man in the car, the one who was blamed for it. He creates this shitstorm because he has had enough of his guilt. He wants to tell the truth and be done with it.
Moral of the Story
Social media has become a regular part of our lives. It is part of the routine now. The one day you don’t open your Instagram… wait, who am I kidding? You never do that! In one scene, Chris takes out his frustration with the current generation and in a rant that is as funny as it is food for thought, he says that this generation is so deeply addicted to social media that our noses are constantly in our phones, and if the sky turned purple, we wouldn’t notice it for weeks!
However, by the end of the episode, we come to realise that all that he had said about other people, all the complaints and the sullenness he had wasn’t for others, but for himself. He had been one of those people, never leaving the side of their phone, jumping at it on the sound of every small beep that notifies them of something. He was one of those people until he had to pay a heavy price for burying his nose in the phone. In the case of texting and driving, he loses focus for just one moment and his car is hit by another. Chris leaves all his social media accounts after that. He is disillusioned by it and the fact that the rest of the world around him continues to behave like his previous self makes him angry. Who are you going to lose before you wake up?
Another thing that ‘Smithereens’ points towards is the fact that there is a legion of people working in a department specifically built to keep you glued to your phone. This isn’t something that we have heard for the first time, but a reminder of such things every now and then is never a bad thing.
Chris is a depressed man who could never come to terms with his loss, mostly because he was the one responsible for it. He never meant to hurt anyone; he wasn’t going to hurt Jaden. He just wanted to get his guilt out into the public, he just wanted to tell his story so no one else would repeat it. What happened to him is heart-breaking but it is not the most distressing thing. That comes as the final scene of the episode.
Jaden becomes sympathetic to Chris and tries to stop him from killing himself. The police outside don’t know it and thinking that Chris is trying to harm Jaden, they ask their shooter to take a clear shot of Chris. The trigger is pulled but we never get to see what happens. Who dies- Jaden or Chris?
‘Black Mirror’ isn’t interested in solving that mystery. What it is interested in showing is how this event and its outcome, no matter what, just ends becoming a notification in everyone’s phone. People see, like and share the story, maintaining its flow till it reaches everyone. And when that is done, they move on. This is what we do to every story around us, no matter how important of frugal. In the end, we will all become a feed in someone’s story, never to be seen again.