Metalhead

I have a feeling Metalhead, from Hardy Candy and Hannibal director David Slade, is going to be a polarizing episode among Black Mirror fans. For one thing, it’s deceptively minimalistic. The episode wastes no time in setting up a story, or a theme, or even its characters. Instead, it launches head-first into an unrelenting black and white nightmare that plays hell with your nerves.

Set in (presumably) some sort of post-apocalyptic dystopia, Maxine Peake (The Theory of Everything) plays a survivor out scrounging for supplies who finds herself up against a four-legged robotic monstrosity that won’t let up. It’s sort of like Cujo, if Cujo the rabid dog were a rabid robot.

Anyone hoping for wit, or twists, or some sort of allegory here is going to be shocked to discover how stripped-down Metalhead is. Yet the episode’s pulse-pounding, nightmarish scenario might just sink its fangs into you. A key element to making Metalhead work is the eerie, atonal score coupled with an uneasy sound design. I was reminded of the constant machine-like whirring that seemed to always be present in David Lynch’s Eraserhead. This is pure nightmare fuel, and sometimes that’s enough.

Rating: 8 out of 10

USS Callister

I’ll have to tread lightly here, because USS Callister is not the episode it’s being sold as. The scant promotional material associated with this episode has teased that it’s a send-up of the original Star Trek TV series – which it is. But don’t expect a Galaxy Quest-style parody here.

USS Callister is set in two distinct locations: the boring, mundane real world, and the world of the USS Callister, a Star Trek-style space opera set aboard a spaceship piloted by a Shatner-esque captain, played to perfection by Jesse Plemons. Cristin Milioti plays the latest addition to the USS Callister crew that already includes Jimmi Simpson and Michaela Coel, among others. But the crew of the Callister are hiding a dark secret that threatens to undo everything.

While dipping into your standard Star Trek parody zone – wooden, womanizing captain; hokey plotlines; cartoonish alien adversaries — USS Callister is really presenting a disturbing commentary on male toxicity. Plemons’ star captain is your prototypical self-proclaimed “nice guy” who is anything but.

Director Toby Haynes has helmed several Doctor Who episodes and there is a distinct Who-ish flare to this episode. It also runs at feature length, which may try the patience of some viewers, especially since the episode begins to spin its wheels near its conclusion.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Crocodile

John Hillcoat, who directed the bleaker-than-bleak films The Proposition and The Road, helms this, the bleakest episode of Black Mirror season 4. Crocodile has a killer premise: Andrea Riseborough plays a successful woman who finds a tragic event from her past coming back to haunt her. Unfortunately, she inhabits a world where there exists technology that essentially turns one’s memories into mini home movies. As Riseborough’s story unfolds, and grows increasingly more unpleasant, we are also presented with parallel narrative featuring Kiran Sonia Sawar as an insurance claim investigator who uses the memory projection technology as part of her job.

Looks can be deceiving. While Crocodile deals with unpleasant material from the start, there is an air of pitch black comedy to the proceedings. At first. There’s a Coen Brothers by way of Hitchcock-like atmosphere at play as the story unfolds, with one unfortunate situation leading to another as Riseborough gets more and more in over her head. But there’s an abrupt, unrelentingly brutal left-turn in the narrative that the episode never quite recovers from, which is a pity.

Riseborough is sensational here, a live-wire growing increasingly more frazzled. Sawar is charming, creating a working-class heroine we can really relate to and root for. These performances, coupled with the clever storyline, should have made for the best episode of the season. But Brooker’s script can’t quite juggle all the elements that are up in the air here, and the end result is ultimately lacking.

Rating: 7 out of 10

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