Black Mirror: Smithereens
June 5, 2019 11:14 AM - Season 5, Episode 2 - Subscribe

A cab driver with an agenda becomes the centre of attention on a day that rapidly spirals out of control.
posted by rhizome (32 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Did anyone catch the name of the canyon the boy king was camping at? Such a beautiful location.
posted by adept256 at 4:28 PM on June 5, 2019

Canyon was a fictionalized name, 'Furnace Valley, Utah'. There's a section of the Arches National Park in Utah called The Fiery Furnace, but it doesn't look like that. (Although it is very beautiful and you should go to there.)
It looked a little bit more like Death Valley, California to me; maybe someplace near the Zabriskie Point area from the view?
posted by bartleby at 12:04 AM on June 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

One of the very best Black Mirror episodes!
posted by growabrain at 12:07 AM on June 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm reminded of the ending of The End of the F***ing World, which is a similar police stand off ending with a gunshot, then credits roll. It's so ambiguous, you have to write your own epilogue. Which is rather bold, and something I don't think American writers would dare. Could you imagine if GoT ended with Dany and Jon standing before the throne, they each turn towards it then FADE TO BLACK. There would be riots!

I've seen a number of French films with the zero-epilogue ending, maybe it's more of a thing there. I think it's very generous to give the audience enough pieces to complete the puzzle on their own, with enough freedom for their own interpretation, and enough ambiguity to doubt their conclusions. The ending feels collaborative in this way, as if the screenwriters were kind enough to let us fill in the last page.
posted by adept256 at 4:48 AM on June 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

As an aside, I was once doing a design course where we were brainstorming road-safety ideas. We had this idea that if your phone is consistently reaching 20mph+ then your phone goes into 'driving mode', where all notifications are silent. With some exceptions baked in for passenger-like behaviour, we concluded 'why aren't they doing this already'? The answer is probably something to do with greed.

I recalled this when the question was posed 'what should I do to help'? Well, you could make it so your phone doesn't light up like a pinball machine while you're doing 80mph, that's a pretty easy place to start.
posted by adept256 at 5:02 AM on June 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

To me, the ending isn't about whether Chris gets shot or not (although holy hell I love me some Andrew Scott and that was a fantastic performance). The ending is about even after hearing this heart wrenching story everyone looks to their screen to find out what's going on, even Billy Bauer. Even though Chris's story is about the tragic consequences of looking at his phone! And for most people, even those who hear the story, it changes absolutely nothing. The world keeps turning and people, even in cars, keep looking at their phones. And Billy Bauer, who has God Mode, goes back to his "media fast."

I liked that they didn't show whether the mother got closure after accessing her daughter's Persona account. That we aren't given closure with that story either.

I really enjoyed the cinematography in this. Those shots where you can see the lines and freckles on Andrew Scott's face. Just amazing.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:38 AM on June 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

(although holy hell I love me some Andrew Scott and that was a fantastic performance)

His rant about interns and yuppies and suits was a complete joy.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 12:02 PM on June 6, 2019 [10 favorites]

Eh, I thought this was one of the worst episodes of Black Mirror - far longer than it needed to be, and I couldn't sympathise with Andrew Scott for checking his phone while driving. Like, FB has a lot to answer for, but probably not that.

Yes, everyone checked their phones for news of what happened because that's the way of the world. I actually worry about Charlie Brooker - how does he get through the day?
posted by crossoverman at 1:16 PM on June 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

I can't decide whether I think this was a good hour of TV or a really elaborate "don't text and drive" PSA. Andrew Scott was fantastic, I also enjoyed Topher Grace's performance (and barely recognized him with that hair, it was mainly his voice that gave him away!).
posted by Rora at 1:51 PM on June 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Well that was very straightforward. The episodes this season so far haven taken a long time to get the point, and then the point is pretty soft.

I guess I don't feel like I understand the implications of the juxtaposition of the mother logging into the Persona account at the same time the cops fire the bullet. If there is one; maybe it's just a dramatic flair and I'm trying to read something into it for the hope of just having more to think about w/ this episode.
posted by fleacircus at 6:02 PM on June 8, 2019

what if phones but
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 9:03 PM on June 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

As with “Vipers” I initially had a hard time with the slow pace on this one. There was generally just enough to keep me intrigued, even if the “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” hold music was anvillicious.

But the angle I took from the credits scenes was that ultimately none of this mattered. This intensity, this pain, these human emotions were indeed distilled down to a text on a screen (no matter what happened) that could be easily ignored. The people who saw it saw it, but by the time it’s on the screen of a random person playing basketball, it’s nothing.

I’m stitching together these three episodes (and Bandersnatch) as a prequel to how we get to what we see in earlier episodes. Here, highly human and emotional things get completely neutralized. It’s a contrast to “Vipers” and plays well with “Ashley Too.”

Probably could have been a half-hour though.
posted by hijinx at 7:41 AM on June 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Needs a "story by Daniel Mallory Ortberg" credit, because this episode was the definition of "what if phones, but too much."

I did like how deeply incompetent Chris was as a kidnapper, down to his very last action of trying to let Jaden go but leaving the child locks on.

Easter eggs: the Smithereen London HQ is on Skillane Street, and there's a reference to PM Callow and a hashtag about Ashley on the laptop's newsfeed.
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:44 PM on June 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

There's also a Bandersnatch Something across the street on the nav map.
posted by rhizome at 7:28 PM on June 9, 2019

I did like how deeply incompetent Chris was as a kidnapper, down to his very last action of trying to let Jaden go but leaving the child locks on.

That's if Jaden was telling the truth. Maybe Jaden was lying about the child locks to distract Chris long enough to get the gun away from him.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:35 AM on June 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Was this the first episode where we were told what year it was?
posted by amro at 7:05 PM on June 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I noticed that the people at Smithereen had much more information on the kidnapper (and got it faster) than the police & the FBI did, simply through having access to his social media profile.
posted by jontyjago at 4:22 AM on June 11, 2019 [6 favorites]

The parallel meditation was nice, with disruption happening for both of them.

We can't escape the distraction.
posted by armacy at 3:41 PM on June 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

FYI don't use Persona because they store their passwords in plaintext.
posted by condour75 at 7:55 PM on June 13, 2019 [16 favorites]

I noticed that the people at Smithereen had much more information on the kidnapper (and got it faster) than the police & the FBI did, simply through having access to his social media profile.

One of my favorite details in this episode is how the police just kinda hang back, like "whaddya think is going on?" They are the slowest of all the groups, slower even than the kids filming from the sidelines with their phones. That the Smithereen people have more info about the guy is kind of a no-surprise, but it really adds to the police's role as functionaries without leadership. The people most responsible for enforcing the law and ensuring an end of the conflict are the least powerful, even when there's a kidnapping involved.
posted by rhizome at 8:11 PM on June 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

...and yet what I *really* liked about this episode, and am curious how deliberate it was, is that within the confines of their roles, everyone was doing their job pretty well. I am so tired of narrative tension being hacked out from characters bad decision making, so it seemed refreshing.
The police officer who noticed something odd in the corner of her eye, the partner that trusted her, the experience to know he'd scarper when pulled over. And then unquestioningly following the boss's orders and doing some "door knocking" which in the absence of a trove of private user data is how they still need to get their job done, bar some look ups on the police national database.
The negotiator, a bit of a dick, but none the less doing his job as per his training.
The HR boss, suspecting a prank but none the less getting the police involved and calling the COO.
The lawyer worried about legal exposure.
The use of analytics to get a handle on the situation.

I suspect it *was* deliberate and the reason is just that Charlie Brooker is as bored of these narrative hacks as the rest of us. But it also felt like it was saying that working hard and being good at our jobs isn't going to safe us from the future that is coming.
posted by chill at 9:08 AM on June 16, 2019 [9 favorites]

This was an okay episode to me. It was basically just a "Don't text and drive" PSA done by a really good actor (Andrew Scott). I mean Smithereens didn't even seem as evil as its real world analogues.

Eric Forman with a manbun was amusing.
posted by Julnyes at 12:22 PM on June 18, 2019

Was this the first episode where we were told what year it was?

I wondered that at the beginning as well. I think it was, although there are one or two others that could plausibly be set in the present day, including "The National Anthem".

I guess I don't feel like I understand the implications of the juxtaposition of the mother logging into the Persona account at the same time the cops fire the bullet.

My take is this. Either Chris or Jaden or both might be dead. Hayley might get some resolution at long last, or whatever she finds in her daughter's account might finally destroy her. Chris checks his phone while driving and two people die, the guy in credits checks his phone while driving and the worst that happens is the people behind him are mildly inconvenienced. For that matter, we don't even know for sure that the accident was Chris' fault. He might have been fully in his lane and the drunk swerved across at the last second so there would have been no time to react.

The episode's not really about "what if phones but too much", it's about the fact that nobody is ever really in control of a situation because nobody ever really knows what the outcome of their actions will be. Like the Black Mirror version of The Good Place season 3.

I mean, Billy getting real with Chris worked out in this situation, but the hostage situation playbook that he flaunted exists because enough hostage situations broke the other way that people started to say, "Hey, maybe let's not do that any more." Right? All anybody can do is do their best, which everybody in the episode was -- including Billy when he followed his gut instinct that this wasn't a by-the-book situation. And then sometimes things still go to shit.

I mentioned "The National Anthem" up above, and there are actually some interesting parallels. Up until Chris talks to Billy, it kind of seems like he might be committing an act of terrorism against social media itself in the same way. But this subverts the expectation that we're watching "The National Anthem 2: Electric Boogaloo" in multiple ways, from Chris' incompetence as a kidnapper to the ending where we see people just going about their lives in the midst of this tense situation -- as opposed to the salacious story of the day being so all-consuming that nobody notices a half-naked princess stumbling through the London streets. It feels like Black Mirror looking back on itself and saying, "gosh, we sure were worrying about the wrong things, weren't we?"
posted by tobascodagama at 8:15 PM on June 19, 2019 [11 favorites]

I just wanted to come here and say I don't think this is a "what if phones but too much" story at all, but tobascodagama has said just that.

Chris and the mother were both trying to bear immense grief and, more to the point, guilt. In both of their cases, there was an attempt to find reasons why this happened, so they could stop blaming themselves. But Chris is also pretty aware that technology isn't the cause of what happened. Likewise, he is tempted to find a technological fix, but he mostly knows that technology doesn't have the answer he needs. Likewise the mother. There is no "fix" that will give them peace.

I don't think the episode is trying to say phones are the boogeyman but rather that it is tempting to look for boogeymen for things we can't understand or can't handle. A sort of un-Black Mirror ish theme perhaps, but it also seems key to understanding the Striking Vipers episode as well. On the surface, it seems like it is all about the game, but really the game is just what the characters point at because they don't know how to handle what is between them as human beings.
posted by nequalsone at 7:11 AM on June 25, 2019 [5 favorites]

As an American watching this, the premise almost seemed to be "what if armed police, but only when necessary?"

That said, I found it bizarre that the sniper chose to place visibly himself directly in front of the car and then complain when he didn't have a clean shot. Why not move into position to the side of the car? Clearly for narrative reasons, but still.

The moment where Billy started reading the hostage negotiation tips from his laptop screen in the middle of the phone call was a neat little moment of him also being distracted by a screen from doing an important real-time task.
posted by subocoyne at 12:37 PM on June 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

I was annoyed by the thing with the sniper as well. Not that I would have wanted a scene where the sniper explicates all the reasons why that was the only spot they could have possibly chosen or whatever, but something to justify the narrative expedience would have been nice.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:06 PM on June 27, 2019

I just couldn't get over ethical Jesus Mark Zuckerberg. I might have liked it but that was just a step or fifty too far.
posted by jeather at 6:09 PM on June 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ethical Jesus Jack Dorsey, maybe, but in general I don't think there's a prominent Chief Earth Officer type personality these days. We might soon, since pot is getting legalized and the internet industry is run by a bunch of people who never were able to have a guy. That powderkeg will result in something, for sure, but I don't think it has yet. So chalk up some prediction points for Mr. Brooker!
posted by rhizome at 12:04 AM on June 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Given that the app was supposed to be Facebook, I called him Zuck.
posted by jeather at 7:13 AM on June 29, 2019

I found it bizarre that the sniper chose to place visibly himself

The sniper was a she, not a he. I noticed and appreciated that.
posted by valeries at 7:19 AM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

There were two snipers. The one who placed himself directly in the guy's line of sight and then said he had no clean shot was a man. The other sniper who actually took the shot later (from the flank) appeared to be a woman.
posted by subocoyne at 3:47 PM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Painfully accurate part there when one of the world's leading technology companies has a speech transcribing phone and it autocorrects the word "fucking" with "ducking."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:38 PM on July 14, 2019 [4 favorites]

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