Black Mirror: The National Anthem
December 24, 2014 6:19 AM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

Prime Minister Michael Callow faces a shocking dilemma when Princess Susannah, a much-loved member of the Royal Family is kidnapped.
posted by oh yeah! (29 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
For some reason, I thought that the season 3 "White Christmas" episode was viewable somewhere for me, and that I might as well get caught up on this series on Netflix first. But I guess that S3 premiere is a DirectTV only thing in the US? And after watching the first episode I'm undecided as to whether or not to go on.

This was an effectively disturbing episode. But I felt like it was doing that thing I hate from shows/movies, where they do something creepy and voyeuristic and then point to the viewer and say 'see, you too, viewer, are complicit in the degradation for you too watched the thing!' I see now it's only 3 episodes per series, so, I may go on. But, without spoilers, can anyone tell me if this theme/trope is consistent throughout?
posted by oh yeah! at 6:35 AM on December 24, 2014


I would say this episode is 'most different' from the others, and not a great indication of what else you'll be seeing. Most I think would rank this episode toward the bottom of the 6/7 so far.
posted by sylvanshine at 6:44 AM on December 24, 2014


Good tag choice.

I love this show. It's a commentary on our use of technology, and our voyeuristic culture. It's definitely got an element of finger pointing at the viewer, it's supposed to make you uncomfortable and question some things. Not all the episodes are quite like this though.

The Entire History of You, for example - I found myself watching and thinking simultaneously "this bit of technology would be both awesomely useful and extremely problematic" and sure enough. Be Right Back - very similar, and more about the seductive power, or irresistibility of the particular technology.

But I loved all the episodes, even the ones that made me personally uncomfortable, not just "whoa that's disturbing".
posted by natteringnabob at 6:52 AM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Well, my office is closed until Monday, so I'll most likely watch the remaining 5 eps over the holiday. (Though, maybe someone who's already seen them all should ask the mods about getting all of S1 & S2 up together under the binge-watch feature? Rather than me posting the randomly throughout the holiday.)
posted by oh yeah! at 7:25 AM on December 24, 2014


But I felt like it was doing that thing I hate from shows/movies, where they do something creepy and voyeuristic and then point to the viewer and say 'see, you too, viewer, are complicit in the degradation for you too watched the thing!' I see now it's only 3 episodes per series, so, I may go on. But, without spoilers, can anyone tell me if this theme/trope is consistent throughout?

I don't think it ever quite breaks the fourth wall and wags a finger at the viewer, but it's definitely doing some work in the tropes next door. If you don't even like it when an in-story audience is portrayed as complicit/duped in that story, you might have a problem. It's kinda what the show is about and kinda the meaning of the title imho.
posted by fleacircus at 7:42 AM on December 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


I had two bones to pick with this episode.

The first is: the facile and insulting artist-as-shaman trope that allows the villain to pass off responsibility for a kidnapping and an incredibly cruel rape to the society on which he is regretfully compelled to hold the mirror. You don't get to set the trap and then blame its existence on whomever it catches. If you reject the idea that the artist is a force of nature and beyond good and evil, then you're left with not a critique of gawking citizens but a critique of a criminal psychopath, which, no shit.

The second is: the wet-blanket wife straight out of every other spendy drama, grimacing and shunning the poor antihero as he does the dirty work to protect all he holds dear. This unsympathetic stock character is sexist and unnecessary, especially when you consider her as a secondary victim of her husband's assault.

There were things I liked about it, but overall I had hoped this show would be a little smarter.
posted by milk white peacock at 7:45 AM on December 24, 2014 [16 favorites]


If you don't even like it when an in-story audience is portrayed as complicit/duped in that story, you might have a problem.

It's not the in-story audience that bothered me. It's just... I remember when the movie Compliance came out, and there was some interview with the writer/director where he made some comparison of moral equivalence between the act of watching the movie and the people who participated in the actual events. Joss Whedon does it sometimes too, it's one of the reasons I never bothered watching Dollhouse.

I don't know. It's not that I'm against a show ever holding the mirror up to the audience (oh, wait, "Black Mirror", duh), it's just that when there's a 'surprise, gotcha!' aspect to it, it gets more of a 'Well, fuck you too!' reaction from me than an introspective one.
posted by oh yeah! at 8:12 AM on December 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


the facile and insulting artist-as-shaman trope that allows the villain to pass off responsibility

I don't know, it doesn't seem like things went quite the way the artist intended. The audience was horrified and felt bad for the PM, and his popularity was ultimately strengthened. The artist was very successful at getting massive attention, but that didn't translate into any structural change - a theme that is echoed later in the series in at least two episodes I can think of.
posted by natteringnabob at 11:15 AM on December 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


My read on this show is that it's critical of technology, and forgiving of the people who end up having to live with it. I guess this would have to be a series rewatch for me to tease out all of the bits from the whole shebang that lead me to think that, but this episode I think expresses that in two sequences.

First, after the news announces that "the Prime Minister will perform an indecent act on your screens" we see excitement, and just as the announcement forbids making any recording the guy lying in bed at home turns on his DVR. Second, after the act commences, there's that great series of reaction shots of utter disgust and we see the Prime Minister's wife at home with the TV visible next to her, off, and then cut immediately to the princess staggering along the Millennium Bridge and collapsing. (Aside: The hospital staff then tell us that the broadcast has been going on for over an hour, and then we see someone find her. HEAVY.)

I don't think it's coincidence that the first good thing to happen in the episode only occurs when someone isn't watching. That's called editing. ;-)

The show goes a long way to establish that recording, viewing, watching all feel like useful or entertaining things to do, but if people had been out of their homes and pubs someone would have found the princess wandering around downtown London when she was released 30 minutes before the broadcast even started (as the CCTV footage showed! Hm!).

Also, "Black Mirror" refers to unpowered screens. Phones, monitors, and that glimpse of yourself you get before you hit the power button. My partner and I share a desk and so I'm actually surrounded by a (frankly, unsettling) number of these right now. I'm on my laptop, over which the sleeping desktop monitor looms. To my right is my partner's laptop, charging, and my tablet, which has put itself to sleep after I stopped scrubbing through the episode on Netflix with it. To my left a charging cell phone, and the empty round face of a charging smart watch. Entertainment. Forever.

Time to reread Infinite Jest.
posted by books for weapons at 1:56 PM on December 24, 2014 [19 favorites]


that glimpse of yourself you get before you hit the power button

Even when they're on, they show something that reflects the viewer, though viewers don't realize it. *spooky sounds*. I actually love the title, I think it would be hilarious to see it in listings.

2pm-3pm Cash in the Undercroft
3pm-4pm Inspector Codger is Old Again
4pm-5pm Stare Into the Sinister Death Rectangle
5pm-6pm Auto Lads
posted by fleacircus at 3:51 PM on December 24, 2014 [4 favorites]


I love this series, even when it misses (and it does about half the time) it's still a semi-thoughtful exploration in the best tradition of science fiction. That christmas special is really a bleak thing though.

This first episode is a long riff on a cruel joke, and it's easy to miss at first that it's making a strong commentary on our voyeuristic culture. And then that government censorship at the end. This whole episode is just so very British.
posted by Catblack at 5:31 PM on December 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't know, it doesn't seem like things went quite the way the artist intended. The audience was horrified and felt bad for the PM, and his popularity was ultimately strengthened. The artist was very successful at getting massive attention, but that didn't translate into any structural change - a theme that is echoed later in the series in at least two episodes I can think of.

The artist's intention wasn't to ruin the PM (the effect of the stunt on the PM's popularity, in either direction, would be a side effect and not the end goal), or to create structural change. His intention was to make a statement about voyeurism, about people preferring the exaggerated meta-reality of the screen over engagement with the "real world." He makes that statement by forcing the PM to be sexually assaulted on live TV, and then releasing the princess while everyone is too glued to the screen to notice. The message is: you could've prevented me from doing this awful thing, if only you weren't all such sadistic voyeurs and helpless media addicts.

It seems to me that people in this thread are mistaking the artist's message (which is a smug, silly, and ultimately fallacious one) for the show's message.

if people had been out of their homes and pubs someone would have found the princess wandering around downtown London when she was released 30 minutes before the broadcast even started

So if an infallible evil genius hadn't distracted them, the citizens would have been able to stop him from committing a crime? And that's supposed to be a critique of the citizens?
posted by milk white peacock at 10:04 PM on December 24, 2014 [7 favorites]


%n: "5pm-6pm Auto Lads"

Why, I have no idea what this title might refer to.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:41 AM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Maybe I was just grouchy, but aside from the general objections I have against the show (facile, heavy-handed), I had huge difficulty sustaining a suspension of disbelief about the main premise -- no government would ever, ever even consider doing anything like that in response to terrorist demand. Not even if it were the Queen herself. And no one would ever expect them to.

Now, granted, it's extremely interesting to consider what they would be willing to do and what distinguishes one from the other. Most governments would definitely at least consider paying a ransom. If it's about the PM or whomever doing something live on camera, maybe they'd read a statement (depending upon what it is) but they wouldn't do something that was humiliating or even mildly ridiculous. Which is weird -- the writers of this episode intended the premise to be at least partly credible because, after all, what's pig-fucking compared to murder? So that's very true with anything much less extreme, but still humiliating or ridiculous. But I think most governments wouldn't meet those kinds of demands.

That implies something about what's going on with this. Governments are more willing to do the sorts of things that they'd normally do, anyway, such as pay lots of money or release a prisoner. They're not going to do anything that makes them look foolish, even if a person's -- even an important person's -- life is at stake. That says a lot about how governments, politicians, and populaces think about government.

There were touches here and there that were darkly comic and so as long as I was able to understand the episode as being partly absurdist, a darkly comic satire, it worked for me. But most of the time it seemed to be taking itself very seriously, so I was sort of right on the knife's edge about it.

And then the journalist at the college scene just pissed me off. No journalist would do what she did. Every day we see lowly stringers for cable networks and lowly local news reporters at sensationalist crime scenes and none of them ever take such risks. We're supposed to think, the stereotype is that this is the way that reporters are, especially television reporters, they live in a fantasy world where they don't believe that they would be at risk in such a situation. But if that were really true, then we'd at least see especially stupid people like this reporter sneaking into hostage situations and whatever every once in a while. But it pretty much never happens.

So, anyway, I still worked hard at suspending my disbelief (after I ranted a the television for a few seconds) by telling myself that this reporter was just that crazy (I fanwanked a little character backstory to make it work) right up until she's seen by the soldiers and the producers back in the studio ... tell her to run. That was the stupidest thing ever. Them telling her to run was stupid, the writers thinking it was believable that the producers told her to run was even more stupid. Any producer in the world would have told her to immediately lie face-down on the floor and such.

I've only seen this episode and the following one, but they share the characteristics of having a kernel of a good idea, with high production values and quality acting, undermined by excess when subtlety would have worked much better.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:45 PM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


I think you underestimate the special type of crazy that Britain gets when it comes to the Royal Family. Honestly, if someone kidnapped Diana (or even Kate) and demanded the PM fuck a pig to release her I doubt any British politician would've risked being seen to be the cause of their death by saying no.

Still wouldn't happen because they would just play the prerecorded message they have of the Royal in question saying don't give in to any demands.
posted by fullerine at 6:07 AM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Fleacircus, you should check out Brooker's early work.
posted by fullerine at 6:10 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


This thread should include a link to the original Metafilter discussion of the show, which is where I first heard about it.
posted by painquale at 10:52 PM on December 29, 2014


The show goes a long way to establish that recording, viewing, watching all feel like useful or entertaining things to do, but if people had been out of their homes and pubs someone would have found the princess wandering around downtown London when she was released 30 minutes before the broadcast even started (as the CCTV footage showed! Hm!).

Indeed. And its absurd. It has this stupid argument "yeah, well you would watch the prime minister have sex with a pig, wouldn't you? You stupid idiot! You disgust me with your puerile obsession with celebrity!" But the obvious answer is, no, no I bloody wouldn't, and, I suspect, a good majority wouldn't either! This episode sets up a hypothetical scenario I simply don't believe. If you went round London during the most popular media events in history you'd still find people on the streets not watching it.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:39 AM on December 30, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yeah, and I would expect there to be at least one protest group making a noisy and public event of not watching. Also, given that the whole series is about the effects of technology, it strains belief to have no-one time-shift their viewing.
posted by harriet vane at 4:07 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just catching up with this show on Netflix and wasn't really impressed with the first episode. I thought it was a pretty clunky attempt at being outrageous.
posted by octothorpe at 6:27 PM on January 10, 2015


The second is: the wet-blanket wife straight out of every other spendy drama, grimacing and shunning the poor antihero as he does the dirty work to protect all he holds dear. This unsympathetic stock character is sexist and unnecessary, especially when you consider her as a secondary victim of her husband's assault.

I actually thought her reaction was more in response to being shut out by her husband than anything else. He interacts with her once for less than five minutes during the whole setup, and I interpreted her shutting him out afterwards as being part of that whole.

This was definitely a blunt instrument of an episode; I liked the scan over the faces of the people in the hospital, though - how even the ones "not watching" were still standing there, part of the group. There's a way in which this speaks to how somehow communities remain together even as people make radically different choices, I feel.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:38 PM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Inspired by recent news, I checked this episode out last night. That felt like a lot of audience scolding.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:18 AM on September 24, 2015


(Hit post too soon)

It did have moments that hit me - the shot of the pig as they walk into the studio was a splash of water in the face. After all the ranting and discussion, there's a pig right there.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:26 AM on September 24, 2015 [3 favorites]


I am tempted to add some more creative tags to this post retroactively, but I think I'll leave it be.

rmd1023, will you keep watching? I was glad I did, this is not the best of the series. Though I guess it will be the most notorious one now.
posted by oh yeah! at 7:39 AM on September 24, 2015


I don't know. I'm only occasionally up for things that are 'horror' in the 'desolate plain of moral bleakness' sense rather than the 'creepy things are creepy!' sense. But if I am, I know where to go!
posted by rmd1023 at 10:53 AM on September 24, 2015


Hello from 2016!

So, obviously there are a massive number of things about this episode that are just completely silly. But there's one part that rings true, in the Year of Our Trump 2016.

Everyone starts out firmly standing on principle. The politicos, the press, the PM.

Then the UK press find out that the foreign press is covering the story, and they all leave to cover it, principles out the window, because we can't let those other bastards scoop us, right? No matter how horrible it is, we need to talk about it, because otherwise people will change the channel! And then they get a finger in their production booth, and they air the news update without verifying anything, because they can't get scooped again, right?

The PM doesn't even want to hear the polls, makes a show of it to his aide, because fuck polls, he knows what the bloody right thing to do is. And then he asks what the polls say. And when the finger thing happens and the polls turn against him, that's when he decides to go fuck the pig. Not to save a girl but to save his career.

And then! He gets rewarded for his bravery, even though giving in to demands was an ultimately an act of moral cowardice for personal gain. And, for this cowardice, he is rewarded.

From the perspective of December 2016, the age of trendy style pieces on fucking neo-Nazis, that part rings pretty fucking true.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:30 AM on December 9, 2016 [7 favorites]


Hello from 2017!

I kind of ran out of things to watch so I figured I'd give this show a go. This first episode was a total wtf.

However, with the perspective of the past year, this episode is quite on point about our culture as a whole. Two years ago we wouldn't believe that the streets would be empty to watch a PM do a pig. But now... we're that much more consumed by the screen. It's not realistic, but it's plausible. Some of us try very hard to detach from the news. But it's still required of us to stay informed enough. And it's getting increasingly harder to find that balance between knowing which news to get absorbed in and which ones to tune out. This dilemma is almost a perfect test, because on one hand it's something repulsive and ultimately have no redeeming value if we choose to watch it, but on the other hand, in a certain perspective, you'd be watching a man trying to save someone's life.

I don't agree that his wife was a "wet blanket". She was kept out of the process the entire time, and when she tried to reach out he ignored her. She was actively trying to not be victimized by trying to communicate with her partner, that they both share in the emotions each are going through, but he chose to shut her out. So in the end, I'm not surprised at her reaction.
posted by numaner at 10:30 AM on April 3, 2017 [3 favorites]


I'm with numaner - I thought that the wife's reaction was pretty clearly in response to him shutting her out of the whole process. She was a secondary victim of the assault, but he was incapable of opening up to talk to her. The fact that this was still going on a year later makes me think he didn't really learn anything from the experience.

All in all, a fairly "happy ending" for a Black Mirror episode though. I was expecting the "one year later" bit to be bleaker. More commentary, I guess. Nothing matters, not for long anyway.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:00 AM on July 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


Hello from 2018!

Latecomer to the show. I had no problem with the concept of the whole country coming to a standstill for an, um, event such as this. However, I found credulity stretched very, very thing when it came to the person who kidnapped the princess and made the video. We are supposed to believe that some random artist pulled this off? Never mind that I am pretty much done with the trope of the supergenius criminal, who doesn't leave a single clue behind. Just enough with it.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:02 PM on March 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


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