Black Mirror: 3.05 Men Against Fire

Men Against Fire concerns a troop of soldiers, set up to hunt and control 'roaches', the opening moments giving the appearance of Starship Troopers. The roaches steal and spoil food from an impoverished and hungry people. But these roaches are not alien beasts or vicious monsters despite their apparent appearance, but sick people, poor, hungry and dehumanised by the language used to describe them.

Our main focus is on new recruit, Stripe, played by Malachi Kirby, formerly of Eastenders and Doctor Who. During his first encounter with the seemingly feral roaches, one shines a light at him from a jury-rigged device, an encounter that changes everything from thereon out. The device messes with his MASS system, an augmented reality system that overlays his vision with tactical information. This is the second time that season 3 of Black Mirror approaches this technology as a topic. Playtest also covered it, albeit from a different angle.
The Mass system rewards soldiers with sexual dreams when they've performed well, as well as providing the tactical benefits; not quite command and control of the soldiers, but carrot as well as Pavlovian trigger. An addictive emotional high to steer the soldiers towards the 'correct' behaviour. But that's not all the Mass does. In a well-telegraphed 'twist', the Augmented Reality also changes the appearance of enemies of the state to that of the feral roaches. It's not just the nomenclature that dehumanises them, it's the visuals that the soldiers see. None of this comes as too much as a surprise, it's apparent from quite early on that this will be the case. And again it reminds of Frederico Heller's Uncanny Valley which covers the very same theme.

When Stripe realises they're slaughtering civilians, he turns against his troop, rescuing some of his former enemies, and subsequently hunted for his crime. The episode title refers to a book, Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command, where it states that during World War II, 75% of soldiers did not fire their rifles, even under immediate threat, and most of them, when they actually fired, rather aimed above the enemy's head. This episode though is less about a conscientious objection, it's about duping soldiers to be able to attack their dehumanised targets without guilt, without the risk of remorse. A removal of choice, a lie to facilitate a genocide. A DNA-led cleansing of 'sub-standard' humans: Eugenics.

This episode is perhaps the weakest so far, not in terms of ideas, visuals or acting necessarily. But the reveal was telegraphed from way too early, and the conclusions and 'lesson' expositioned far too heavily by House of Cards' Michael Kelly.

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