As expected, the recent installment of Black Mirror, called “White Christmas,” is mind boggling in all the most cleverly and delightfully nightmarish ways. Series creator and writer Charlie Brooker has really outdone himself this time, delivering the most spine tingling episode of the series to date. Starring Jon Hamm, Rafe Spall, and Oona Chaplin, this Christmas special is one near feature length television spectacular that begs many an addling repeat. Truly a marvel of a dystopia.
In this episode, the technological horror Brooker introduces is a little silver orb installed right next to the eye that brings the smartphone right to the iris. Everyone’s a user now, and from the comfort of their own immediate consciousness can snap photos, pull up Facebook style data, and even block other people so that they become white, murmuring silhouettes to the recipient of the block. Also, copies of people can be installed into “cookies,” small egg-shaped devices that house a coded version of an individual.
The genius of the episode is not in the technological feats, but in their uses. Hamm plays Matt Trent, a sinisterly smiling man whose job it is to torture stored copies of humans into compliance so they can be used as labor for an entirely digitized world. One part of the story focuses on Trent breaking the will of a rich woman’s copy until she unemotionally buttles the house of her real self. Hamm is brilliant as the suave and falsely empathetic manipulator; it’s like seeing Don Draper in 1984.
At the heart of this nightmarish view of technology abuse is, because Hamm is involved, seduction. In the first part of the episode, we see Trent, along with some webcam onlookers, coaching a hapless man through an attempt to crash a Christmas party and pick up a mysterious woman, all via eye and ear sharing technology. Trent casually flips through personal information and delivers it to the man, giving him all the tools to gain the upper hand in the seduction process. There’s even a dystopian nod to “tits or gtfo,” which is a reminder of our disturbing relationship with social technology. Everything goes awry when the object of said seduction turns out to be schizophrenic and poisons them both, implicating Trent in the murder suicide, and revealing his sordid illegal sex dealings to his wife and the authorities.
All throughout the episode, information technology is mercilessly used to gain the information needed to create a fake sense of empathy; Trent’s talent is deceptively listening to his marks, knowing full well the verdict and outcome he’s seeking but playing the part of an empathetic friend. The manipulative depths Brooker writes in this episode are to be marveled at. Everything is deception within deception, with a handsome grin covering up truly terrifying dystopian machinations.
Brooker excels at honing in at where our technological addictions are taking us, and this episode is no exception. Social media and communication technology is practically installed in our minds already, and the more information gleaned from social technology, the more power we feel we have to seduce and dominate. The terror of trapping a copy of our consciousness in a cutely named pocket device–Santa demands his cookies–and coercing dangerous information from it is right around the corner. We’ve been merrily seduced into a technological culture where our deepest secrets and desires are easily accessed, and being blocked on social media is the emotional equivalent of social death.
“White Christmas” stands as the second best of the series, eclipsed only by “The Entire History of You”, and may actually be one of the best Christmas movies ever made (move over, Love Actually). The end of the episode in fact mirrors my personal relationship with the holiday. Hamm’s main task in the episode is to seduce a confession out of Spall’s character Potter, who’s been trapped in a cookie himself after committing a murder. After Hamm’s able to extract said confession, Potter must remain in the digital purgatory for thousands of years (in simulated computer time) listening to “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday”. Eternal Christmas, the punishment that keeps on giving. Bravo, Brooker, bravo.