Black Mirror: White Christmas
December 17, 2014 4:06 PM - Season 3, Episode 1 - Subscribe

I wish it could be Christmas every day

In a mysterious and remote snowy outpost, Matt and Potter share an interesting Christmas meal together, swapping creepy tales of their earlier lives in the outside world.

Den of Geek Review

Black Mirror interview: Charlie Brooker, Jon Hamm, Rafe Spall
posted by fearfulsymmetry (32 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh man as an American I'm really unhappy I can't find this anywhere. No DirecTV for me, either - are we Yanks basically screwed until it hits Netflix, then?
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 4:27 PM on December 17, 2014

In the meantime, watch Twilight Zone episodes, To See the Invisible Man and The Crossing. Imagine shiny futuristic toys, remove society's forgiveness, keep the regret by the baddies. The End.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 8:29 PM on December 17, 2014

Ah, thanks, I was trying to think of the name of that episode because that's immediately what I thought of, and I may have read the original story as I use to read a lot of Silverberg. It probably directly inspired a story of mine about a falsely accused man who had the words "sex offender" projected in front of him whenever there was another person in proximity. I've got to think it had some hand in inspiring this.

Of futuristic inventions, I love the idea of the block in the same way I was initially repulsed by the idea of a personal letter writing service in Her. I've come around on the idea of a letter service, because lots of people are profoundly inarticulate, in the same way the massive flaw with the block is that anything that effective could probably only exist in some messed up invasive dystopia that only benefits the rich.

Hamm is one of those goofball guys who you'd never know was attractive while they animated their face. That reminds me, I hope they're making more of A Young Doctor's Notebook.
posted by provoliminal at 2:02 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the review links. Gotta say, this episode was terrific. I loved the subtle Dickensian Christmas Carol narrative framing too - three Christmas spirit tales, updated for our age of digital dystopia. And that final scene (no spoilers) is pretty much exactly how I feel when I walk through shopping malls during the Christmas season.
posted by idlethink at 3:31 PM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Really? No spoilers? I'm honestly asking. In a thread specifically posted to talk about this show? Where, pray tell, if not here?
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 6:28 PM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

well, it seemed like it hadn't hit the US (and maybe other places?) yet, so I thought... but, sure, I guess I don't mind being inconsiderate to "we Yanks"...:) I am also rarely on Fanfare - just happened to notice the Black Mirror thread & wanted to leave my appreciation for the review links. So I might also probably not be au fait with the commenting norms round here.
posted by idlethink at 4:34 AM on December 19, 2014

73 more minutes of "God damn, Charlie Brooker."

I mean that as a glowing review.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:43 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

So one man gets trapped in a tiny kitchen whose sole window shows the image of a dead body and irritating music playing constantly. In his perception, this will go on for hundreds of years. The other guy has been digitally erased from everyone's perceptions; they just see a blank image and so does he.

In the TZ episodes I mentioned, both guilty characters show remorse and then their punishment ends. Although in To See the Invisible Man, his remorse is so thorough that he can't help but break the law again--to ease the cruelty of someone who now experiences the punishment he once endured.

Here, the punishment begins (or continues) for both individuals after their they've admitted their guilty and shown remorse. Why? The purpose of the punishment then was simply torture, never punishment or rehabilitation?
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 9:01 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

In neither case was that the official punishment: Matt believes he has bought his freedom by getting Joe to confess - the police turn the tables on him by saying a pardon is up to the Home Office and technically giving him his freedom but blocking him (effectively the same as putting him on the sexual offences register and branding him); The Real Joe is going to be tried in a real court based on what the Virtual Joe has said; what we see is the Virtual Joe being left to rot in the model of the world that has been constructed for him rather than simply being turned off. Because he's not real, he's not considered to be torturable. As both Matt and Joe are labelled "bad guys" anything that happens to them is fair game, particularly as neither the blocking nor what is happening to the Virtual Joe are seen to be proper bad stuff. The police are doing it because they can, and because they find it fun, or at least gratifying.

This seems totally congruent to me with the way that society is: if someone can be labelled as a Bad Guy, then they have brought whatever happens to them down on their own heads. By making Matt a Seduction Technique tutor and Joe someone who objects to his girlfriend having an abortion (archetypal Bad Guys for a modern, liberal, audience), Brooker is (I'd suggest) attempting to elicit the same ambivalence in his audience.
posted by Grangousier at 11:07 AM on December 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I love Black Mirror with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. Each new episode is delicious, nightmarish and perfect. I hope Brooker keeps making them 'til the end of time. That is all.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 8:03 PM on December 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

US Trailer
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:25 AM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pretty much the only television program I can think of where commercials add to the effect.

Can I stop screaming now?
posted by fullerine at 10:02 PM on December 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Gah, I don't think the point is suppose to be ambivalence at all. If anything, it's a retake on White Bear, making the point that punishment, and torture, have never been proven to be effective for anything but the spiteful gratification of those doing the damage, who never seem to seriously think about what it is they are doing. It's "social justice," carnival justice, but it's never been a real deterrent or rehabilitative or in any way effective for the subject.
The amoral regret free John Hamm is pretty effectively "blocked" from society, but what can anyone do to someone who understands the gravity of what they've done outside of what other people think of it? But then it seems silly to think of future justice when present justice is still pretty much a fable for a few privileged delusionals.
posted by provoliminal at 3:36 PM on December 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I loved this one, but it's about the bleakest thing ever.
posted by Catblack at 5:41 PM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Merry Bleak Despairmas, everybody!
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:51 AM on December 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Here, the punishment begins (or continues) for both individuals after their they've admitted their guilty and shown remorse. Why? The purpose of the punishment then was simply torture, never punishment or rehabilitation?

Well, yeah. I found it almost worryingly plausible. If there's one place we are currently willing to let the government abuse people, it's with sex offenders. I can imagine a Guardian report covering the high number of suicides and assaults of people on the register, and an in interview with someone who inadvertently ended up on it... and no-one caring. And as for the Cookie: I think a lot of people might not have a true concept of quite how horrifying being trapped in a space with absolutely nothing to do for an excessive amount of time would be.

This was my favourite episode so far, I think it really helped that this was essentially three stories in one, as Black Mirror has often been a creepy concept+twist, which often means the episodes can feel stretched. By having these bite sized narratives that lasted as long as they needed to, it worked much better.

(I gotta say by the way, that naked man on a horse story does seem like a terrific ice breaker!)
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:21 AM on January 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Loved it. The blocking and cookies are another two classic Black Mirror near future, totally 100% believable, and absolutely creepy technology concepts. Agree the three stories in one worked really well. I think Brooker described it as "our Treehouse Of Horror".

One question: about halfway through, when they're in the cabin, there's a loud metallic sliding/clunk noise. What's that supposed to be? Some outside noise in the police station? Sounded like a cell door but that wouldn't really make sense, there's no reason for the cookie to hear that.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:58 PM on January 2, 2015

One question: about halfway through, when they're in the cabin, there's a loud metallic sliding/clunk noise

There's a viewing hatch in his cell door... it's the sound of that being pulled back.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:41 PM on January 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yes, on rewatch, that's definitely what it is. I guess it's the cookie's subconscious remembering it.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:16 AM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just saw it last week, so late to the thread, but what an awful, awful universe. The block, while plausible, makes me wonder how often violence escalates because of said block.

Two things jumped out at me. I've often though about being able to replicate the human brain, and the dark side of that having your "mind" sold as, say, customer service software. Enjoyed seeing a similar premise shown here.

And I've had that dream, where I can't turn off a sound! No matter how hard I try. Usually it's an alarm clock intruding on dream, and eventually I wake and can stop it. But for thousands of years?! Hell. Hell.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:45 AM on January 12, 2015

An additional thought- this episode had little glimpses of ideas from previous episodes. Does that suggest it's all the same universe? If so, are these apparently affluent, "normal" folks living off a slave-class of people damned to peddle bikes for meow meow beans? Could Matthew end or partially end his exile by removing his "grain"?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:03 PM on January 12, 2015

I was lukewarm to eeeeh on the Black Mirror series as a whole but this felt like it really built on an established near future and was ...really good.
posted by The Whelk at 3:42 PM on January 17, 2015

In many ways, this was harder to watch than torture porn (like the Saw series) because it was so believable and it's so easy to empathize with the victims. I think this will stick with me much longer. I know there's been research into downloading our brains into hard drives after our bodies die, and it's horrifying to me. I hope someone just shuts me off. Living forever, even in "enjoyable" circumstances, sounds terrible.

I would love to see an episode where the "real" person becomes utterly dependent on the "cookie" and then comes to know that the cookie feels psychological pain. Then they have the dilemma of whether to shut it off or not.

Does that suggest it's all the same universe?

I think so. When he's watching the news report about the train accident, the ticker at the bottom of the screen references a character from the previous episode (it's a very minor spoiler but I'm not going to divulge it just in case). However, I don't think that cookies are the same things as grains, and neither are the same as Zed Eyes. It seems to me like grains came first in the universe's timeline, then cookies, then Zed Eyes.
posted by desjardins at 7:03 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Had a bit of deja vu until I realized that Osha and Talisa Maegyr were in a same heterologous episode.

And yeah, implications of "blocking" sans actual physical blocking are scary. So do Zed Eyes also come with Zed Ears for the Peanut's teacher-voice effect?

I agree grain->cookies->zed eyes - the design of the interface stay generally the same (round clickpad) but they keep getting smaller the interface slicker.

But, did people outgrow reliving their memories all the time? If grains were an obsolete standalone technology it's functionality must still persist in future tech. Like the ability to play music in a car. First there was radio, then 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, MP3s, satellite... or is it like how young people think that email is for only for olds?
posted by porpoise at 6:41 PM on February 5, 2015

Oh how many ways did I love this episode. From the framing to the existential issues of in such a world how do we know what is real including ourselves. To some degree Hamm's punishment seems fitting. He doesn't seem remorseful as he manipulates confession out of someone thinking it will get him an "out of jail free" card. Here's a character who used to being able to control the world around him in all three stories. It's only at the end that he is deprived of this manipulative ability. (Although why whatever agency wouldn't want to employee him is beyond me. Seems like a wasted asset.)

The other characters victimization and Hamm's insensitivity to it is interesting. I would have liked to see a bit more of his post blocked trajectory.

That children would also be legally blocked from seeing a parent is what I found the most haunting.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:11 AM on January 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also I realized something. That Rafe Spall's cookie is being punished for hundreds of years for something that he essentially didn't do....or did he? There's an interesting angle here questioning if punishing his cookie is justified at all.
posted by miss-lapin at 4:14 PM on January 26, 2016

Does it matter if he did it or not?* It's not a human in there, it's just a simulation. Can you punish software?

(*I think it's played pretty straight that he did)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:49 AM on January 27, 2016

Well that's the point of the second story. Clearly you CAN torture software because it thinks it's a person. I think it is played straight, but I think these issues are interesting to contemplate and part of what makes the show fascinating. If that's not true for you, ok, but it was just something I found fun to ponder.
posted by miss-lapin at 6:45 AM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

i found myself wondering which would be worse at the end of the episode. being shut out of everyone's lives, knowing they're there, but you have freedom to move, or living in a house alone. Either scenario would drive me crazy, I'm sure.

When Potter was watching TV, before he came across the news of that train accident, he had it on a channel showing the Hot Shot talent show from 15 Million Merits. But I can't tell if it's part of the universe or if it's an on the nose inclusion, like he's watching that episode of Black Mirror.
posted by numaner at 10:42 AM on April 11, 2017

Here’s my theory on that after seeing how both Wraith Babes and Hot Shot are shown as media products in a bunch of other episodes (I didn’t think of this til Crocodile in S4):

What if the ‘humans’ in 15MM are cookies, or are otherwise virtual rather than human - consciousnesses maintained in order to produce entertainment for actual humans? The actual consumer humans know the characters’ humdrum existences drive their desire to be special and therefore make them more interesting to watch...
posted by kalapierson at 9:42 PM on February 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

aaah yes, I had that thought too! like there are so many of these episodes where you can just imagine everyone being cookies, all carrying out some crazy social experiment.
posted by numaner at 9:56 PM on February 8, 2018

I've been watching these out of order. Maybe if I'd seen it before “Black Museum” I'd be more impressed, but this one has a lot of the same elements, and I was already trained to read the first couple of stories as necessary exposition for the climax.

A handful of episodes have now built on the idea that someone's consciousness can be represented in a finite amount of computer code. I agree that, if that were true, it would be a Pandora's box of existential nightmares. But the implications of that idea haven't been properly explored, at least in the episodes I've already seen.

If a finite amount of code can represent a human being in all their complexity, the uncomfortable corollary is that we aren't much different from an automaton. I tend to move in the other direction — that our brains, while entirely biological, are of such beautiful complexity that I don't think computers will ever properly replicate one in my lifetime. Metaphysically, I don't think we have souls, but the concept of a soul is an illustration of the magic that we see when we observe the sufficiently advanced technology of our own minds.

Matt says that the stuff he did in the second anecdote can't be torture because the cookie's consciousness isn't real; it's just code. I think that's his honest belief. In his mind, he “tortured” cookie-Greta as a means to an end. But the police that employ Matt to extract a confession likely don't share his views. Whoever decides that cookie-Joe should listen to Christmas music for 1,000 years is deriving some amount of satisfaction from that torture.

If you didn't think that cookie-Joe was functionally equivalent to the consciousness of actual-Joe, there'd be no point to that act; it'd just be a waste of computing power. And if the justice system thought that cookie-Joe was “just code,” I doubt that cookie-Joe’s confession would be admissible in court.

I know that they needed to end Matt's arc and clue the audience in that he's a bad guy who deserves a punishment. But for the crimes we've seen — failure to report a murder and illegal surveillance — he has been given a punishment that's more harsh than anything I can imagine short of execution. If he's blocked from everyone, then he's locked out of all commerce, and his only recourse is to become a hermit and squat on some wasteland somewhere. He'd have to steal food. Even in a dystopian future, there's no way that the justice system would ever think that it's a good idea to create a permanent underclass like this. I know that one of the themes of this show is society's ugly desire for retribution, but the disproportionality of this punishment is so hard to ignore that it ruined Matt's whole plot for me.

The implications of blocking are explored in Joe's story, but not thoroughly enough to my satisfaction. I get how the finality of it deprives him of catharsis, and it sets up the ironic reveal. But the fact that it's unilateral means that it can be abused incredibly easily. Beth seems to block Joe for being a dick, and she'd be justified, but only later do we realize that it's a cynical way of never having to tell him that the baby isn't his. There'd have to be process around this, as with a restraining order; otherwise it'd just be a tool of abuse. Imagine a bunch of schoolkids blocking the weird kid at recess just to be mean.

Episodes like “The Entire History of You” are scary because they show us plausible consequences of a well-meaning idea. The idea that a couple would come home after having hired a babysitter and then use the baby itself as a nanny-cam is both creepy and a perfectly logical in-universe decision. But the blocking thing doesn't resonate the same way. It feels like an idea whose second-order effects weren't properly thought through.
posted by savetheclocktower at 12:24 PM on June 22

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