Black Mirror: Metalhead
December 29, 2017 8:17 AM - Season 4, Episode 5 - Subscribe

At an abandoned warehouse, scavengers searching for supplies encounter a ruthless foe and flee for their lives through a bleak wasteland.
posted by fearfulsymmetry (59 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure whether the very final shot was absolutely necessary, but Maxine Peake is terrific, and it's a great action movie. At this point we pause before watching the last one, and I realise we've just watched five episodes, all very different, I thought. The series so far works as a very long portmanteau because of the variety (of outcome as much as anything else - the ones that are grim are grim in very different ways, and not hopeless, and so far this series I log two cheerful endings out of five).

For me, this is already the best series of Black Mirror so far, but opinions will probably differ. They usually do.
posted by Grangousier at 4:22 PM on December 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Previously. This is revenge for the hockey sticks right?
posted by adept256 at 6:21 AM on December 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Jesus, that was grim...but good. I think that this and USS Callister are the strongest episodes of this season.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 11:32 AM on December 30, 2017

I loved how raw and simple this was. I enjoy Black Mirror most when it's pretty much just pure horror flick (see last season "Playtest") as opposed to the super on-the-nose "but what if technology did xyz/future is closer than you think oooooh" stuff.
posted by windbox at 2:06 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Two things:

1.) I don't think I've ever found a robot dog as terrifying as this one; and

2.) I've made the mistake of reading comments on this episode elsewhere, where one of the complaints about the episode is how there's almost no backstory, and OMG CHARLIE BROOKER OWES US AN EXPLANATION.

Ugh. We know everything we need to know. There's a large number of Boston Dynamics-esque killing machines out there that got turned loose and/or went wrong somehow, and they've been killing everybody for a while. That's it.

(Although it does raise an interesting question--how long, exactly? Long enough that the owner of the house at the end opted to kill himself, but not so long that the power and water have stopped working.)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:54 PM on December 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

I was watching this and really hoped there wasn’t a twist or explainstion it’s just “we shouldn’t build murder bots” and there wasn’t really! It’s just an action movie and directed by Hannibal’s David Slade Who is well known for his stark B&W photography.
posted by The Whelk at 5:04 PM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

(When she retched at the smell of the dead homeowners I took that to mean the collapse happened very hard, very fast and in the relative near past.)
posted by The Whelk at 5:05 PM on December 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

The dog it is based on
posted by k8t at 6:47 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

All I could think of when she ran the battery down was, when she jumped down from the tree, cover the bloody thing! Solar powered demon robot dog, surely that's obvious.
posted by h00py at 8:50 PM on December 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

I wasn't super thrilled about the lack of explanation (though totally accept that this sort of thing comes with the territory), but the ending shot saved it for me. I almost think it makes it another hopeful story: "The future is terrible because Reasons, but hey, people are still people, and will still risk everything for sentimental reasons. It's gonna be ok."
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:22 PM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

The end read as the opposite of hopeful for me. This was the end of humanity.

1. The (presumably) dwindling population saw fit to send out three members for a toy--not food, water, medical supplies. That signifies that there is no future so everyone's just going through the motions until death comes. Why not risk your lives for a toy? Whether you get it or not, it all ends the same way: despair and death.

2. The fucking stupidity of losing three people over a toy. They didn't even have guns or armor or a plan (hint: spray guns). It was probably that level of stupidity that led to the development and release of killer bots. Such stupidity can only lead to despair and death.

I quite liked this episode. All hope is futile.
posted by jojo and the benjamins at 1:44 AM on December 31, 2017 [21 favorites]

I will admit that "it's gonna be ok" is also the sort of thing you might tell people when it's totally not going to be ok, so maybe they got me on that one.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:02 AM on December 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

I hope I'm not alone in finding murderbot dog a little cute. It's even wearing a little pair of pants on its back legs!
posted by paper chromatographologist at 9:19 AM on December 31, 2017 [6 favorites]

When I watching I was like 'ha, so this is Boston Dynamics But Too Much'... and then I googled and it is...

Brooker came up with the episode's central idea by on watching videos of Boston Dynamics' robotics products such as BigDog. He found that there was something "creepy" in how the products, if knocked over, would look helpless as they worked to regain their stance.

(I was looking up the director after his name rang a bell but I could not place him... it's David Slade - The Future Of Horror until he made Twilight movie after slagging the series off.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:54 AM on December 31, 2017

I feel like there's a future with jump cuts of us all sitting around watching Black Mirror in our comfy living rooms and then....robot dogs
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 7:11 PM on December 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

There are few [real] things that freak me out more than Boston Dynamics robots so I had to nope out of this one, no matter how much I like Maxine Peake.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:28 PM on January 1

I found this episode to be really fucking boring. Chalk it up maybe to I don't like Action that much, but I found there was very little to hold my attention. I paused it like 5 times. Most Black Mirror episodes have at least made me think a little. This might be my least favorite ever.
posted by likeatoaster at 4:04 PM on January 1 [4 favorites]

I admit that while I found the robodog super creepy, I got a little bit crouton-petter about it after it lost its gunleg. (Poor little guy, you lost your gunleg. You can still get the nice lady anyway. I believe in you!)

That said, why is suicide the alternative to trying to find the tweezers in the bathroom? Many bathrooms have a few different sizes of tweezers.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:25 PM on January 1 [6 favorites]

Mister Moofoo, she could barely got away from one robo dog and she must have known that others were coming. She's on foot with no hope of rescue. Le fin.

Actually, I never thought the bots looked like dogs. With the shiny tops and the scurrying legs and their ability to go flat, they really looked like bugs more than anything else.
posted by jojo and the benjamins at 8:41 PM on January 1 [10 favorites]

Fair point. I probably would have been shot down in the middle of a frantic tweezer search.

And I think the dogs should have barked. Not an attack-dog bark but a horrible badly-sampled high-pitched happy bark.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 9:29 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]

The trackers hooked themselves into her, she would have to cut deep into her throat to get the tracker out.
posted by kittensofthenight at 12:27 AM on January 2 [8 favorites]

I have a friend who is incredibly creeped out by Boston Dynamics' robots and this episode is like his nightmare fuel. I can't wait until he watches it so I can laugh maniacally at him.
posted by xyzzy at 7:02 AM on January 2

xyzzy: I am not the friend of whom you speak but I share his feelings and therefore I am angry at you on his behalf. :)
posted by elsietheeel at 9:21 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]

Loved/was terrified of the dog with the knife...
posted by armacy at 11:47 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

I too thought the murderous robot beetle dog was adorable. I loved watching it trot around and move it’s whole body to look around. I laughed when it did human-like murder things like trying to run her off the road with the van or grabbing the knife. And I especially loved how it unplugged the car-hacking device from the dashboard USB port with a little flick of its paw. Boston Dynamics needs to make Aibo 2.0 so I can have one around the house! Preferably without the shotgun or flechette launcher.
posted by ejs at 12:53 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

Yeah no. That was terrifying.
posted by Space Kitty at 1:11 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

I thought she gave up because one of the trackers was near the artery in her neck and she wouldn't've been able to get it out without nicking it. She was about to start on the ones in her face and then saw that one I think.
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 5:21 PM on January 2 [8 favorites]

Boy they really should have ended it with a couple robodogs converging on the house.
posted by fleacircus at 10:07 PM on January 2

I found this episode incredibly boring. It was basically one woman being chased for forty minutes. Maybe if there had been dialogue or some sort of mystery it might have been improved. Or maybe if something had happened other than "robot dogs scary". If there had been weird unexplained things, such as upside down trees or adverts for body replacements.

Worst episode of the entire series, in my opinion.
posted by daybeforetheday at 10:39 AM on January 3

I found this episode incredibly boring. It was basically one woman being chased for forty minutes.

The fact that it was a woman being chased for 40 minutes is exactly the reason why I found this terrifying to the point that I tried to skip ahead to peek at "is the beetledog going to kill her eep"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:41 PM on January 4 [5 favorites]

the people that found this boring, how ADD are you? the majority of horror films are filled with quiet moments that build up tension, and they usually last twice as long.

Boy they really should have ended it with a couple robodogs converging on the house.

there was a couple that were running up to the front gate in the panning shot. not sure if it was just my TV or others experienced it but there was quite a bit of jittery during that overhead pan out from the house. I had to pause it to confirm they were other dogs running up to the house.
posted by numaner at 9:00 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]

unless you meant that's where they should've ended the episode, not with the teddy bears. i think i can appreciate either ending. but showing the bears gave the story a little more context while at the same time making it as hopeful or as bleak as you'd like.
posted by numaner at 9:01 PM on January 4 [2 favorites]

No, see, people with ADD can pay attention to stuff... it just has to be stuff they actually give a fuck about. I, personally, can’t get super revved about watching a woman being hunted by anything for 4 minutes, let alone 40. Call me crazy but it’s just not my idea of enjoyable entertainment.
posted by palomar at 6:24 AM on January 9

Metalhead's appearance reminded me mostly of a flea.

If anything, although it certainly looked creepy and realistic based on the current version of ambulatory robots, it was far less efficient at killing people than I imagine the real-life version would be. For starters, why not explosive charges instead of tracking darts? I understand they needed to give humans a fighting chance for the show, but the real things will be a lot scarier.

Having people employ murderous autonomous machines that kill in retaliation for stolen property does strike me as quite realistic though. I was expecting some sort of twist that we were only seeing one side of society in a world where these devices are fiercely protective of property and those who own it, while everyone else trying to survive gets hunted down for stealing essentials.

Was disappointed that the only thing that could even slow it down it was not really expensive perfume.
posted by subocoyne at 11:58 AM on January 9 [3 favorites]

unless you meant that's where they should've ended the episode, not with the teddy bears. i think i can appreciate either ending. but showing the bears gave the story a little more context while at the same time making it as hopeful or as bleak as you'd like.

That's what I meant. During the show I predicted there'd be at least 10 dogs in the final shots and that the box would be full of dolls. I'm not particularly smart, or the kind of person who likes to guess endings, so if I can see it coming I figure it's definitely too much.

Having people employ murderous autonomous machines that kill in retaliation for stolen property does strike me as quite realistic though.

Oh I didn't catch that implication of a security system run amok, that would have been cooler to er flesh out a little more.
posted by fleacircus at 2:24 PM on January 9

Is it coincidence that the dog was waiting right behind the box of teddy bears? Like, was the warehouse owner expecting someone to try to steal the bears in particular? Are they valuable in general (and why)?
posted by AFABulous at 7:45 PM on January 9

IIRC, the final scenes showed other bots elsewhere in the warehouse. This was just the first one they stumbled across.
posted by jojo and the benjamins at 8:11 PM on January 9

I don't know if those were warehouse bots or patrol bots like the ones roaming around investigating outside.

Note there are no police officers per se. All of this stuff is being guarded by robots that can persist even after any authority over them has dissolved. I don't think we ever get an indication that they're phoning home or being ordered in any way. There may be no other people around, but those teddy bears are going to stay safe.

I think I get the criticism. This is the pulpiest episode by far, and part of the Grindy Action Horror genre are those "NO DON"T DO THAT" moments that can seem contrived or concealing gaps? Like "Why the F did she slip down the tree?" Well, I guess she was asleep and slipped, but also to provide a scare. Horror is filled with dumb people!
posted by rhizome at 12:58 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]

After watching the final episode this season, the fact they were after Teddy bears takes on a potential new significance.
posted by subocoyne at 10:43 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

loved it, combined homage to Duel and Cujo... and shot in black and white, with one human protagonist, it's fair to call it a silent movie.

I had some issues with suspension of disbelief with regard to the flea-dogs' apparent security protocol authorization perimeter and ability to access J. Shotgun Moneypound's final retreat in the highlands at the End of the Worrold, and come to think of it why was there power and water in the house and... oh raight aim acht the frridje feetchin' a beeyuh, aye
posted by mwhybark at 1:52 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

I pretty much got what this episode was going to be straight away. The dead pigs screamed zombie/pandemic breakdown of society. So much so that I yelled at the screen when the guy jumped in the van to "check in the back!"

Then, when I saw the drone/dog I knew it was going to play out like the first Terminator or original West World movies.

Was there any significance to her saying there might be batteries or "horse hearts" (?) in there to convince the guy to join them?

Re: the ending. I was kind of surprised it went the Citizen Kane route - I said to the screen at the end "ohhhh Bo-Bo!" I guess it was all about giving a little happiness to someone when you know everything is doomed.

Not too sure I agree with the theory that they're autonomous security bots gone bad. Seems odd to equip one with a gun - but this is coming from a NZer who doesn't believe the cops should have lethal stopping power without serious limitations.

I guess it's not an important point, but I just assumed an invading force had deployed them to wipe out the resident population to make way for occupation by the invaders. Hence the army of dogs patrolling everywhere. Also why we've seen the couple who had given up. This explanation jibes more closely with the zombie association above - some dogs lay dormant until they're triggered by the arrival of the humans (or pigs as they may be.)

We've already seen targetted (and not so targetted) assassination by drones. It seems a natural progression that they'd eventually be used as a mass murder tool.

Grim stuff indeed.
posted by Start with Dessert at 12:02 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

For power for keypads and gates, solar panels and batteries could maintain it. And the water could still be running, either by solar powered pumps, or something like a water tower, where the water pressure is maintained by gravity alone.
posted by ShooBoo at 12:21 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah well the battery part I understood well enough but what about the "horse hearts"? Or did I just mishear it?
posted by Start with Dessert at 1:28 AM on January 14

Not “horse hearts” but “all sorts” (the virtue of watching with subtitles).
posted by ShooBoo at 12:09 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]

I had to watch just about every episode with subtitles. They were talking so fast and those accents were thick!
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:54 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]

Ahh, thank you. That makes sense. I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how horse hearts were useful.
posted by Start with Dessert at 3:53 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

"horse hearts" enters my miscellaneous show-analysis vocab, though, so thanks!
posted by mwhybark at 4:14 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]

> the people that found this boring, how ADD are you?

I have AD/HD and really enjoyed this episode. I did have to pause it several times and do other things for a while; it was so visual and dramatic that it really demanded full attention. So I needed to recharge a couple times, because...

> No, see, people with ADD can pay attention to stuff... it just has to be stuff they actually give a fuck about.

Nope. Just the opposite in fact, one of the more damaging “secondary” problems of this condition/brain type is people judging how much you care about things based on how well you remember or focus, because that's how they work. It can be very hard on relationships and jobs.

So it's a bit rude to use diagnosable psychological conditions as shorthand for personality traits. It does us no good to be flanderized into simple, wrong stereotypes in the vernacular.
posted by traveler_ at 6:18 PM on January 15 [5 favorites]

It's always weird to me when people get upset about a lack of exposition.

Like, curiosity is good! Great, even! It's a mark of a good SF world when you start wondering how it got that way. And sometimes how the world got to be the way it is can be the point, I'll grant.

But sometimes a SF story is just a thrill ride, and stopping in the middle of a thrill ride to watch a five minute informational film on how the ride was constructed rather kills the effect. I feel very strongly that this is the case here, and I'd put this episode alongside "15 Million Merits" as being an episode where the backstory is probably quite interesting but also completely un-germane to the actual story being told.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:20 PM on January 21 [6 favorites]

But anyway my headcanon is that this is all Jeff Bezos' fault.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:24 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]

From your lips to God's ear.
posted by rhizome at 4:22 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]

no no no nooooo

God might misinterpret that as a prayer for this outcome as dramatized
posted by mwhybark at 4:45 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

a wee bit more on horse hearts. Ms. Jane Banks once shared some of her requirements for a perfect nanny:

"If you want this choice position
Have a cheery disposition
Rosy cheeks, no warts!
Play games, horse hearts"

Which has had me chuckling all day. Mind, she didn't actually specify equine bloodpumps; but one of the benefits of this lovely mondegreen is the ability to perceptually overwrite the intended phrase.
posted by mwhybark at 4:50 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]

Karen Black.
posted by sonascope at 5:14 AM on January 28

"Horse hearts" is clearly a reference to the Dothraki marriage ritual, proving that Black Mirror and Game of Thrones are a shared universe. 😐

Several easter eggs/callbacks in this one [imgur]. On the screen of the van while the lad is booting up his hack tool, we can see a file reference to "callister" and also reddit\easter.egg.sys running from an OCZ Vertex drive, and later as she rummages in the house there's a postcard from San Junipero.
posted by glonous keming at 5:03 PM on February 3 [2 favorites]

But anyway my headcanon is that this is all Jeff Bezos' fault.

I thought that was the direct implication of the episode. Something (it doesn't matter very much what) has destroyed humanity and caused a number of resource crises. The super rich have also died, but their security systems remain in place - sort of like how the bunker house still had reliable security systems. It reminded me of Autofac by Phillip K. Dick, where capitalism shambles on like a zombie still making whatever remains of humanity miserable.

This was one of my favorite episodes in the series, because it didn't try too hard to moralize, and most of the story is left up to the viewer to connect the dots. Until that incredibly stupid twist at the end that makes the main characters seem like dullards. But, well, that's Black Mirror for you.
posted by codacorolla at 9:20 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]

This episode was gorgeous and it sounded amazing! The badUMchik badUMchik badUMchik of a robot dog with a missing leg on a wooden floor. The contrast of breathing and whirring during the pursuit.

Also, I can definitely understand going for a supply run rather than spending the time in a small hideout with a dying baby and his mother. I don't think it was entirely about the stated aim...

I was slightly taken out of it by the amount of kinetic energy that the bot was getting out of a small investment in solar panels. If they're that bloody good, they should be on all the cars! On the other hand, that bit of impossibility will make it easier to sleep, because that was a grim and terrifying episode. Hope the season finale is a bit more upbeat :-) /s
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 2:10 PM on February 15 [1 favorite]

Grim. Might watch an episode of Handmaid's Tale to lighten the mood.
posted by biffa at 12:19 PM on February 19

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