Black Mirror S04E05 : Metalhead Review – An impactful but underwhelming episode

In my review for USS Callister, I had said that two episodes in the trailer launch caught my eye. One was USS Callister, another was Metalhead because of the fact that they were so experimental. Metalhead has a dystopian setting and is the first Black Mirror episode shot entirely in black and white. There is also another first for Black Mirror, as it has also never explored the post-apocalypse setting before.

Bella (Maxine Peake), Tony and Clarke are on some mission to break into a warehouse to find something that will help ease out the death of someone named Jack. This is a promise Bella made to her dead sister that she intends to keep anyhow. But sadly their ideas are cut short by a robotic guard dog, who kills Bella’s partners and then goes on a witch hunt for her. The rest of the episode follows Bella on her quest to save herself from dying at the hands of this “dog”.

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The reason that has made Black Mirror kinda scary these years is the fact that it has always been scarily close to reality. The Chinese government rolled out plans for a rating based system for its citizens last year which gave them positive or negative ratings based on their daily interactions, social media behaviour, credit points and many other factors, running them all through an algorithm to determine their final rating. Charlie Brooker explored this domain in the brilliant season three episode, “Nosedive” starring Bryce Dallas Howard much before the plans were announced, which caused a social media frenzy. Brooker himself says how often he has to tweak his scripts because of something happening which is almost like what he wrote in the script for an episode.

“Metalhead” was inspired by a Youtube videos of a robotics company named “Boston Dynamics”, which shows these small-sized robotic figures which could move around and perform tasks on its own, which if toppled, would get back up on their own. Brooker said he thought “What if one of these were after you”, which gave him the idea to write “Metalhead”. Any discussion about technology in recent times is dominated by artificial intelligence, and the possibility of a Skynet occurring in real life. Metalhead sides with that opinion, that one day there might be a possibility that we lose control on how intelligent these machines become courtesy of algorithms that we write for them.

There is no premise to this episode and you are just thrown into this dystopian setting with killer robot dogs, and that is something I felt was intentional. The reasons for the apocalypse is something that was left to the viewer. It suggests but does not clearly say, that the humans were mass murdered by these dogs, and they have taken over some country or maybe the entire planet. The dogs are villainous, and not only that, they adapt according to their surroundings, improvising whenever a problem arises in front of them. Ed Cumming from The Telegraph rightfully compared them to the classic Coen Brothers’ villain Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men in how devilish their agenda was.

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Metalhead is probably the only episode this season wrapped in the classic Black Mirror-ish nihilism. But you always feel that there is something lacking in this episode. You feel like this is more of an extended short film rather than a feature of its own. That being said, Metalhead is not a bad episode (no episodes of Black Mirror are, to be honest) and I am in no way downplaying the excellent performance of Maxime Peake, who solely had to rely on her expressions, most of terror and fear, to pull this episode through.

Famous television director David Slade, who has directed episodes for Breaking Bad, American Gods and Hannibal, takes the helm for this one and in an episode that featured so much CGI adaptation, along with the monochromatic tone, I would say he did a very good job at directing it. George Miller once said that there are two ways to direct post-apocalypse, either make them black and white or go all out on the colour. He chose the later, Slade opts for the former which proves to be a very good decision as all that desaturation sort of sows a seed of fear in the minds of the viewer right from the start.

At the end of the day, Metalhead shows us how as humans we just look for our own personal gains, rather than something that helps the human race as a whole. The same way Bella puts the three of them in danger to ease Jack’s pain. But for that, three members of a supposedly near extinct human race are risked. This behaviour is something that has helped us evolve in the past, and as per Metalhead, it will be the end of us as well.

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An aspiring programmer by passion, Tuhin is a serial procrastinator and is occupied with three M’s – Movies, Music and Manchester United. He is obsessed with the use of colour in films, something he pours out more often than not on his Facebook page.

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