In these reviews I’m relaxing my usual position on spoilers. It is strongly recommended you watch before reading.
An evening several months ago I sat on a bridge out of town watching the sunset. A man walking down the footpath struck a conversation, he was a teacher, a birdwatcher, he seemed dissatisfied with his life. His brother owned a company, something to do with tech; his sister was similarly successful, living in Europe now. He was single and I think he was oversharing.
After finding out i had studied acting the conversation moved onto youtube, ‘That’s how you get your name out there.’ I asked what he watched. He described a young couple, somewhere sunny, documenting their lives. They own a yacht, ‘It makes me so angry when people say they don’t deserve it. He worked on an oil rig, you know? That’s hard work. And now they’re happy people just can’t accept it.’ I think it was the thing he sounded most passionate about. I think they were the thing he was most passionate about. The conversation ended shortly after, he had a class to teach the following morning and I, being unemployed at the time, finished watching the sunset before going home.
I’m not sure he was a happy man.
Nosedive is the first episode of the third season of Black Mirror. It imagines a world in which people are rated by their peers for the quality of the interaction that they provide. Be courteous, polite, helpful, and the person who you’re talking to may give you five stars. You might want to give them five stars too, your rankings go up. Which is good, a society that deems you unfavourable can be a hard one to live in. In this world Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard), a 4.2, longs to raise her ranking. The rent she shares with her brother is coming to an end and an extra .3 would get her a discount in the right part of town.
I guess she’s a little reprehensible, her brother says as much, and there is a measure of the crass to her openly transactional approach to the relationships she cultivates. However choices made throughout the episode open the character up to us. Primarily a great performance from our lead, throughout she brings to the fore a physicalisation of the differences between her characters private and public personas. It’s broad at times but remember that in this world every contact is underlined with threat. Her character wears her femininity as a literal armour against the world.
She gets a call from an old friend (4.8) inviting her to be the maid of honour at her upcoming wedding. An easy opportunity to get positive feedback (and I love the use of that word repeatedly used throughout the episode, feedback) from a high profile crowd inflating her score to put her with reach of the place of her dreams. This don’t quite go to plan though and we reach the reason for the episode’s title. A moment while we pause here though, while the majority of the performances are super cool that of her childhood friend, Naomi, in this scene is really weird. The character basically comes across an unhinged, which we understand may be a part of the later revealed manipulation, but it never comes up again. Even in later calls in which the character is completely lucid there’s no follow up on what went on in this first one. The character never manages to cohere, ever after we discover her lyin ass ways there’s not enough building work there for a satisfying demolition.
So, speech prepared (with a single choreographed tear) she makes her way to the airport. Due to a series of mishaps on the way her score is lowered to the point where she is unable to book a replacement for her cancelled flight. An outburst at check in leads to her getting docked further. Props to the dude playing the security officer here, he’s got just about the most openly comic role in the whole thing a nails it, perfectly embodying the contradictions inherent in this world.
The episode sorta goes into the weeds for a while here. Firstly we see how lower ranking citizens are disadvantaged and at least to my eyes it doesn’t really make too much sense. Now up until this point we’ve been looking at privilege; at how if we’re good, we’re good. Handwaves and bonuses and little favours to help those in the right place along. Now we’re into the negatives, you can’t enter this building, you can’t rent the new cars. It wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t so real. The problem with codifying privilege is that you implicitly codify the opposite, all the racism, sexism, all that shit. The character is presented as having deserved it, not like really deserved it, but there’s a clear chain of cause and effect we can follow and that’s not the way it works. Exploring this stuff doesn’t feel responsible when it is so totally divorced from the reality it is supposed to be commenting on. How does this system affect minorities? I don’t know, we never get to see that.
Structurally the episode falls a little too in love with the road trip for the next ten minutes too. The problem’s at the script level too here, it’s like we stepped into The Straight Story for a while here as the level of incident flies through the roof. That’s not to say that any of the scenes are bad, we just get a handful of perspectives thrown at our face because there’s nowhere else to put them. Of them the sleazebag at the charging station is put across the best. The person who follows their own code out of a sense of moral superiority while neglecting the real world consequences of their actions all put across in one line. That’s economy that could’ve be used with truck driver Susan who takes a long time to reveal what we pretty much assumed at the beginning. Cosplayers got the short end of the stick too, and the last minute save with the quad biker comes completely out of nowhere.
So in the middle of this we get the reveal. Naomi is gaming the system as much as Lacie, and given her new, lower, score she don’t want her doing the speech no more. Lacie is determined to give the speech anyway, she’ll get her respect back. She gets to this wedding and implodes, it’s a good read of the script but there’s not quite enough substance in there to really make it revelatory. She’s supposed to be being chased around too but the geography of the space isn’t quite made clear enough for much to be wrung out of her evasion tactics. The wedding guests aren’t much pleased and the weight of their feedback finally drop her to zero.
The ending, right. She’s jailed, maybe for trespassing I guess, maybe for hitting zero? Her contact lenses that feed into the tracking system is removed. She finishes by trading insults with the man in the cell opposite. I don’t want to say it’s a sex thing, but it is totally a sex thing. We’ve been hearing throughout about her dissatisfaction at being single. And anyway, the editing is basically orgasmic.
I guess one of my main issues is one that’s going to come up a lot watching these. The aesthetic’s all wrong, I think director Joe wright spent a lot of time watching youtube makeup tutorials and I see where he’s coming from but it’s all wrong. It’s ignoring the fact that today there are people making a living off of being young and happy and white, and none of them look like this.