Warning: This contains spoilers. For our spoiler-free review of Black Mirror Season 3, click here.
Black Mirror’s fifth new episode, penned by Brooker himself, spends 10 to 15 minutes creating an interesting but not unfamiliar world in which technology takes the lead in a warzone.
With MASS implants in their heads, soldiers can be fed building blueprints, can see through the eyes of surveillance drones, and have communication holograms seemingly projected in front of them. All this for one purpose: hunting and killing “Roaches”. Black-eyed and sharp-fanged, Roaches were humans, before a disease turned them into infectious animals, and soldiers are tasked with exterminating every last one. This mix of technology and violence is where Brooker’s moral satire is most accurate, and when the penny drops, it’s as brutal as ever.
Driven by Malachi Kirby’s enthusiastic rookie, Stripe, and flanked by hardened soldier Ray (Madeline Brewer, Orange Is The New Black), Men Against Fire is an analysis of technology used for control, rather than enhancement. Brooker paints Kirby with only slight personality – enough to care for the character, but with enough room for half an hour of ruthless empathy in which the viewer is dragged into Stripe’s shoes and forced to endure his torment.
The episode’s big reveal isn’t a firework display of shock and puzzle pieces aligning – many will have guessed it before the drop – but it will chill the audience to no end. Discovering the humanity in their enemies make some interesting points on technology – Black Mirror’s token subject – but Men Against Fire is a powerful commentary on the use of propaganda and the conditioning of soldiers to despise an enemy. Any enemy.
However, no story of duplicitous brainwashing is complete without an intelligent, ice-cold figurehead and Michael Kelly’s twisted psychiatrist Arquette provides just that. Donning his House of Cards hat brilliantly, Kelly’s knack for dispassion shines, as he explains the reasoning behind the military’s disturbing use of the implant. The calm, figure-driven logic is, in theory, faultless, making the proceedings all the more upsetting. But when Stripe refuses to comply, Arquette’s limitless threats will distress even the most detached of thinkers.
Men Against Fire is a chilling critique of the propaganda disseminated to the masses about their enemies. It’s a foreboding, visceral episode in which the demonic monsters and bloody combat pale in comparison to the cold, hard logic of warfare.
Black Mirror Seasons 1 to 3 are now available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
For spoiler-filled reviews of each new episode of Black Mirror, click here.
Photo: Photo: David Dettmann/Netflix