Black Mirror: 3.03 Shut Up and Dance
Black Mirror season three continues at the helm of another directorial stalwart, James Watkins, director of The Woman in Black and writer/director of Eden Lake, an incredibly solid horror filmography, and a very British one at that.
In the third episode, thanks to his little sister's poor tech skills, shy fast food worker Kenny's laptop has gained some malware. Taking over his webcam, filming him taking care of his teenage urges, Kenny is blackmailed by the nefarious hacker. But it's not money they want; it's obedience. And Kenny's not alone in this network. One of the victims in this elaborate network is Hector, played by Jerome Flynn of Game of Thrones and Ripper Street. They have to work together in a chase game of tight deadlines and no explanations.
While the previous episode, Playtest, might have more overt horror tropes, Watkins builds the horror of this scenario quickly and more terrifyingly. The shame, the panic, the tension. To what ends will Kenny and Hector go to extricate themselves from the situation? To evade the shame that plagues them? We ask ourselves throughout, as Kenny meets people who've truly done bad things, how bad is his shame really? Compared to what everyone else has done, his is surely the bagatelle offence of a normal teenage boy? This question isn't resolved until the final moments of the episode, when everyone truly has shut up and danced. When the eternally unnamed and unseen extortionist delivers not an ounce of reprieve to his victims. Only, a troll face and damnation.
The third episode of this season of Black Mirror is an uncomfortable one; between Watkins' direction, and Alex Lawther's falling apart as Kenny it's beyond solid. But between the themes and the ending, the audience is left almost wishing not to have seen it. Ideas of shame and guilt, of the unknown harasser and of unknown guilt, thematic comparisons to season 2's episode White Bear can easily be made. And that includes the emotional tug we feel when all the facts of the plot are known to us. This can be Black Mirror at it's strongest, not the nigh-luddite sentiment of 'isn't technology awful', but 'as humans, aren't we awful'. Not just for what the clearly guilty people have perpetrated, but for our reactions to their guilt. How far we're willing to go.