Netflix’s Black Mirror: ‘Smithereens’ Review

Andrew Scott and Damson Idris in Black Mirror: 'Smithereens'

Smithereens is overlong, tiresome, and I’d say meandering but like its hero it reaches a destination within half an hour and just sits in place waiting for something dramatic to happen. And then it does and it’s not worth the wait at all.

Saying that a Black Mirror episode feels disappointingly pedestrian is probably a real backhanded criticism coming from me, given how I tend to really despise the overtly outlandish ones. It’s a series that I like to be in a contemplative mood. When it’s big it too often forgets its roots in social satire — becoming distant and inhuman.

Here we see what it’s like when it gets too small. What does this really amount to aside from an hour fifteen minute road safety ad. We got this same talk in secondary school, folks who killed their friends on the road came and cried in front of us urging us not to make the same mistakes. I love Andrew Scott, and I’m more than happy to watch him do the same act, but it’s no doubt one that I’ve seen before.

I’ll say it’s not a total waste outside of that. The moment he finds out that he kidnapped an intern is a wonderful little turn, Damson Idris is perpetually undeserved by the script (I mean, who isn’t here) but the five minutes where he gets to play the least helpful kidnapping victim opposite a barely competent criminal are pretty golden.

Unfortunately, after things get stuck in the field, there’s very little opportunity for things to be interesting or fun. Two threads crop up over the next 45 minutes that would be interesting if tugged at more.

Firstly, Scott’s character wants to talk to the CEO of the social media network that he kinda blames for ruining his life. We see the call escalated up the company until it hits the COO who attempts to manage things herself. The amount of information she has access to is invasive and scary and at the moment she’s introduced seems all about ready to avail the police of the situation.

And like why not? She knows more about the situation than them, knows more about the people involved and, thanks to the network at her disposal, is in a far better position to keep up. It’s her, not the police, who manage to establish an audio feed inside the hostage scenario.

There are conversations whenever it comes up in the news. Facebook deciding that it’s its moral obligation to hand personal data over to the cops. What happens when that’s not enough, I mean these networks seem to be slowly getting more and more concerning and so what happens when they don’t just want to play with the cops? What happens when they think they can do it better?

It’ll be spun of course, they’ll call it a partnership, ‘social networks help the Met with their smart analytics’ and then we all get fucked. There’s a line where she asks why the police didn’t have him pegged as a potential threat, all because he lost his fiancee and stopped posting on social media. The concept is there, just sorta unexplored.

Same when we finally get to Topher Grace as the CEO we’ve all been waiting to see. The joke initially is that he’s some fucking @jack-esque figure, who clowned his way to the top and is now desperately trying to rationalise his existence in that rarified air.

His underlings are so concerned about interrupting his 10 day silent meditation session, that they don’t realise that this dude is some hollow megabastard who’ll be just thrilled at being offered some new realm to play God in.

He literally, in his Nevada desert mind palace, flowing white robe, is an evocation of Jesus in the goddamn wilderness. He starts digging through the back end of his social network while quipping about God-mode. And despite the advice of his management team, the assorted law enforcement agencies present, he pathetically, whiningly, demands that he be able to speak to the unstable criminal — who he does not know — because he’s the centre of his own damn universe.

It’s a wonderfully cutting piece of work, the man just got done playing a neo-Nazi.

And then the script has the gall to humanise him. To make him the one sane man who’s able to resolve the situation and anything interesting suddenly evaporates. Oh, I was supposed to be on this guy’s side? Disappointing.

I should stop expecting any more maybe. The focus of Black Mirror isn’t social satire anymore, that doesn’t sell I guess. What does, from the interminable hints that we’ve gotten this episode and the last, is building some kinda internal mythology. A cinematic universe that rivals Kevin Smith’s for self-indulgent pointlessness.

Trying to figure out the nuances in this series of ‘bad’, compared to ‘just something I don’t wanna see’.

I think this is both.

Black Mirror season 5 is currently available to stream via Netflix.

Image courtesy of Netflix

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