Black Mirror: 3.06 Hated In The Nation
Twitter hate mobs. Horrible mobs descending on people, wishing them death and more from the safety of their homes without fear of repercussions. But what if they were acted upon, and what if, in the style of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, those tables were turned? The last episode of season 3 of Black Mirror is the longest in the season at 90 minutes, and it was almost inevitable that Brooker would tackle this subject, having been subject to a few of these mobs himself in the past. This episode is directed by James Hawes, whose past work has included Doctor Who's The Empty Child and The Christmas Invasion, for which he won a BAFTA.
Kelly Macdonald, best known for her roles in Trainspotting, State of Play and Boardwalk Empire, plays DCI Karin Parke, summoned to a hearing to discuss her involvement in a case the previous year. Investigating the case of the murder of Journalist Jo Powers after numerous online death threats, Parke teams up with new partner, Blue Colson who has transferred from a cyber forensics department. Blue is played by Faye Marsay, best known for The White Queen and Game of Thrones. There's a link to the episode White Bear, Blue having worked on the case in the past.
Powers died under mysterious circumstances, the 'hashtag game' of #DeathTo seemingly an unrelated bagatelle; after all, the internet is only going to find a new target for their hate the next day, it's not real. Until the next day, there's another death, another victim of #DeathTo. And slowly the murder weapon becomes clearer: An Autonomous Drone Insect (ADI), developed under government contract to counteract the acute collapse of the bee population, now used to target public hate figures. Enter Benedict Wong, fresh from his role as Wong in Doctor Strange, here as NCA officer Shaun Li. And between them they reveal the pattern: The Game of Consequences, an unpopularity contest where the 'winner' dies.
The stakes, and the tension escalate with every new victim, with every attack of what turns from individual drone bees into full swarms. Someone has hacked the whole ADI population, seemingly for a macabre form of mob vengeance. All made possible by the fact there's a backdoor to the system, so the government can spy on people. Technological backdoors have of course been in the news this year, when Apple and others came under scrutiny for refusing to install a backdoor to their communications systems for security purposes.
Of course, the goal of this system isn't specifically to murder figures of hate, it's the opposite. That's just the lure, a trap to hunt down anyone using social media to wish death on another. Anyone who used the hashtag #DeathTo goes on a list, accumulating data until it's time to reverse the direction of the kill swarm. Death to Haters, in the Game of Consequences. 387,000 people who wished death on their fellow man and were punished for it by a vigilante. A bittersweet ending for a bittersweet TV show.
As well as twitter hate mobs, Brooker tackles a lot of topics in this episode: bee Colony Collapse Disorder, government restrictions on facilities for the disabled, drones, self-driving cars, tabloid clickbait antagonism and government surveillance. But it's the culture of hatred that bears the majority of the focus. Whether stoked up by newspaper columns, enacted via social media or forced back against those who do so. A culture of poison given voice, and action, and allowed to exist. A dangerous pressure valve in febrile times.
As well as a link to the episode White Bear, there's also a reference to the episode Playtest, implying those three episodes at least exist in the same world. Could it be that Black Mirror season 4 will be a less anthological affair? Several episodes set in the same world with the same actors? Time will tell.
But season three was a highwater mark in a series marked with clever, thoughtful critiques on society. The increase in budget and high profile talent have been utilised well rather than adding a veneer of gloss to the original series. And hopefully a new audience will have been attracted to the show; and will learn a little from it amidst their entertainment.