Black Mirror: Metalhead Review (Spoilers!)

For many, this episode has been described as the weakest of Season 4. I liked it, and enjoyed it a lot more than Hang The DJ which fell very flat for me, but I can see its problems.


Plot Summary

Three people are driving through a post-apocalyptic wasteland heading to a warehouse to recover a mystery item for a dying member of their group.

Inside, they come across a ‘dog,’ a mechanical security guard that kills anything that moves without hesitation. Two of the group are killed brutally by this dog, but Bella (Maxine Peake) manages to initially escape it.

The rest of the episode is a cat-and-mouse survival horror story which ultimately brings Bella to hold her last stand in a house that belonged to a couple who committed suicide to, presumably, escape the dystopia the wold has found itself in.

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Review

First of all, it wouldn’t do to overlook Maxine Peake’s fantastic predominantly solo performance. Her acting, mostly without any traditional speech, keeps the audience immersed in the story throughout and not many actors could achieve this quite like she did.

The main problem with this episode is its lack of imagination surrounding the plot. Very little happens and though the story, as it is, is well told, a lot more could have been done with it.

I found myself asking, ‘why?’ a lot during this episode. Why were the Dogs so keen on killing everything? Why did they exist in the first place? Why had the world gone to shit? Why had their group survived so long and who were they?

Charlie Brooker often likes to leave his themes open-ended to give his work an element of mystery and a point of debate, but a little context could have made this episode a lot more interesting.

The Dogs were not particularly compelling villains as they had no apparent motive – and while a robot doesn’t need a motive, it surely would have been programmed with one to make it act the way it did, even if that motive had long since been lost to time.

Bella seems more hardened than the other human characters who are killed off at the beginning, but we don’t know what she’s faced or seen that they haven’t and so it can be difficult to empathise or identify with her, even though the performance is excellent.

I’ll delve into some theories in the analysis, but all of them surround scenes that I wish I could have seen, rather than simply imagine.

There’s also the curious angle of shooting the episode in black and white. It doesn’t add a great deal to the story, apart from making the landscape grimmer and more imposing. Dr Strangelove uses black and white to make out of focus characters appear to be more in shadow. Schindler’s List uses colour sparingly throughout its mostly black and white run to emphasise the most dramatic moments in the characters eyes and to suck warmth from the film when depicting the holocaust. With this episode, there’s no clear reason for its lack of colour and it feels somewhat like a student film, using it to mask lazy filmmaking.

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Analysis

In the final shot of the episode, we see that the package the characters were trying to retrieve contained white teddy bears, implying that the dying member of their group was a scared child.

While this shot’s primary function is to resonate emotionally and add an extra bit of darkness to an already bleak story, the fact that it is a white bear is a nod to the Season 2 episode, White Bear, in which the eponymous bear belonged to a murdered child.

The conclusion that I’ve drawn from this is that the Dogs in this episode are a product of people’s paranoia. I imagine that with the news often involving kidnappings, torture, rape and murder, people and especially parents would invest in a new product that would protect their homes from any intruders.

However, it would only take a few people forgetting to deactivate theirs, and a few people using theirs for more nefarious purposes that could set off a chain reaction where most Dogs’ owners are unable to tell them to stop and they are left following the orders to guard and kill forever.

Cities would be impossible to navigate, but small communities could exist in the countryside where Dogs would have no programmed need to investigate, unless tracking something.

Hence Bella’s ultimate decision to kill herself having been shot with a series of trackers that even if she removed them all would be covered in her blood and make her easily traceable.

But besides perhaps fear and paranoia being destructive, this episode has little to say or discuss and will probably be one of the more forgettable Black Mirror stories.

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