October is over, Halloween came and went in the blink of an eye and now we’re officially deep in Christmas season. Of course, fellow horror addicts consider Halloween more of a lifestyle than a holiday, but damn did that month zoom by.
This year, Michael and I attended Shriek (the women of horror directors fest concluded with American Psycho) and won the costume contest! Wednesday Addams and Lurch FTW. (Pics!) Halloween night was spent with my kids; trick or treating, Beetlejuice, and eating enough candy to cause real concern for my health. Sadly, I didn’t watch a movie after the kids went to bed, as per tradition, because I was so goddamn tired that I just passed out. I am also ashamed to admit that I failed miserably at the October movie challenge. I got two movies in on my list before life was like “lol you aint getting that done.” Also I feel like all the amazing horror on TV has really fucked up my movie mojo.
This brings us to our topic today: Black Mirror. Now, I am sure many, MANY people would not consider this show horror, more dark sci-fi but when you get right down to it the line between the two is too fine for me to distinguish. Also I was honestly floored by the quality of this show and this is my only real platform to geek out about these things so for all intents and purposes, Black Mirror is horror.
I am going to be discussing each individual episode in separate blog posts because there is way too much to dissect in each one. There are spoilers because it’s hard to talk about the finer points of the episode without them; if you haven’t watched and don’t want to know how these end, stop reading and go watch!
The first episode, entitled Nosedive, takes us to a world in which social media is not only prevalent but it’s actually a central part of life, a marker of one’s worth. People have ratings attached to their profiles, ratings that determine what doors are (opened or closed) for them. High rating? Here’s a better social circle, access to jobs, apartments, car rentals, and the privilege of being treated like a human being. Low rating? Social pariah. Please see yourself to the door. No, I am sorry, you can’t board this plane, and it’s for people with scores of 4 or higher. The thing that struck me most about this world is how easy it is to, as the title suggests, nosedive from a “respectable” rating to a 0. The protagonist of this story is a chipper woman named Lacey with a comfortable score of 4.2. She lives her life carefully and cheerfully, giving high scores to everyone she comes across and posting carefully chosen and staged photos. Later in the episode, after Lacey posts a well-thought out photo to get the attention of a high-ranking childhood “friend” named Naomi, she is invited to be the maid of honor at Naomi’s wedding. Lacey is ecstatic! This is an opportunity to get high scores from some of the highest ranking people in this social network. These scores will lift Lacey’s own score to a level where more is possible; a better apartment (in a “lifestyle” community), better hair, a handsome partner. Lacey sees this as her ticket out of her comfortable but mediocre life.
It’s no surprise that things do not go as planned, however, even Michael and I were shocked at how quickly things went from bad to worse in such a spectacular fashion; Lacey gets low scores after an argument with her brother, an accidental bump into a neighbor, and a disgruntled taxi driver. This sequence more than any really demonstrate how subjective these scores are, how little they reflect anyone in any meaningful way, and how completely trapped the characters who care about their scores are. By the time Lacey makes it to the airport, her score is low enough that she can not even get a standby seat on her flight. Because she sees this wedding as one of the most important events of her life, she is understandably upset by this turn of events. But in this world, being upset in public is grounds for massive down voting and Lacey leaves the airport with an even lower score, a score that puts her squarely in the “lower class” camp. Not yet a social pariah, but someone to be ignored and written off. Her score prevents her from renting a working care and she is left needing to rely on strangers to get to her destination. Unfortunately for Lacey, her score has dropped so much since her journey began that now Naomi (who we later learn is not really a friend. More of a cruel mean girl) calls to tell her not to bother to come, that her presence would be a disaster. Of course, Lacey doesn’t process this information; she still thinks that the strength of her speech will pull her back from the depths of social ostracism. It doesn’t, of course, and when Lacey shows up to the wedding reception, covered in mud and disheveled, she gets abysmal ratings from everyone instantly. Her unhinged behavior, which is really just a desperate grab for affirmation and love, gets her thrown in jail, where she can finally let go of her sugary-sweet exterior.
The messages of this episode were not subtle at all, but somehow they still worked. I wanted to view Lacey as a genuine person, a person who actually cares, who does kind things because she’s kind, not for the reciprocal high ratings but when you critically examine Lacey’s behavior, you realize there’s nothing she does that confirms this. It’s clear that everything she does is for ratings. And the show is written in such a way that we can’t really fault her for it; it’s just the system, the way things are set up. When Lacey gets a call from Naomi telling her not to come, she has this realization that her “friend” isn’t actually her friend, that nothing between them is genuine. Naomi calls Lacey out on this; Naomi hasn’t been the only one to throw genuine connections out the window for ratings. After all, isn’t Lacey counting on high ratings from the bridal guests? Would she attend this wedding if Naomi were a 2 rather than a 4.8? If she didn’t have a circle of high ranking friends to offer Lacey?
There’s this moment between Lacey and a truck driver she hitches a ride with that I love. At first, seeing the truck driver’s low score, Lacey is hesitant to even accept the ride. Even though her own rating is on par with the truck drivers, she still can’t let go of the social conditioning to see lower rated people as less-than. Once they are driving, the truck driver divulges that she used to be a high 4 herself, and how quickly a rating can plummet for arbitrary offenses. She tells Lacey how freeing it is to not have to constantly be “on” for good ratings. What’s fascinating to me is how Lacey can’t seem to grasp this, even though everything the truck driver is saying has happened to Lacey. She insists that she can still pull her life together, even though it’s clear by this point that she can’t.
At first, Michael and I were rooting for Lacey to wake up, realize the whole system is a scam, and wreck the fuck out of the wedding. But I actually think the episode made a more bold statement by having her stay in the delusion, despite her experiences slapping her in the face, holding up a neon sign telling her to break free from the system. We are social animals, we need other people, even when those connections are plastic and based solely on carefully curated snapshots of our lives.
Even though some might find the ending bleak, I personally thought it as a happy ending, Lacey and an unnamed man (a man who looks quite a bit like Lacey’s fictional digital partner in the “this could be you!” ad from the lifestyle apartments) shouting obscenities at each other from across their jail cells. You can almost feel the freedom in their voices.