Black Mirror: Men Against Fire
October 27, 2016 4:43 AM - Season 3, Episode 5 - Subscribe

"Stripe" is in a branch of the military where all soldiers have a brain implant designed to turn them into superior soldiers, fighting off what they have all been told are feral mutated humans. But then Stripe's implant stops working.
posted by EmpressCallipygos (21 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The title of this episode is a reference to S.L.A. Marshall's "Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command". Michael Kelly's character talks about this during the sequence towards the end.
posted by longbaugh at 8:23 AM on October 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I actually guessed the truth about the "roaches" about 15 minutes before the reveal. At first I felt all smart that "hey wow I figured it out early" but then I realized that "no, maybe it's just the writing was making it obvious".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:41 AM on October 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

I guessed it also but it was still interesting to see where they would go from there. Was expecting more time on the run.

I assume the eye tech they use is similar to the tech in Nosedive.
posted by tracicle at 9:00 AM on October 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I like to think the tech is across almost all the Black Mirrors is from the same universe at different points in time.

Playtest's still-in-development neural implant/AR is what leads to the "cookie" brain pattern recorder and POV-livestream in White Christmas, and the visual recording/playback from The Entire History of You (which is just the archived POV-livestream). It's later used for the AR in the MASS system and the person-rating HUD in Nosedive.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:20 AM on October 27, 2016 [9 favorites]

I've found this season's themes of social media and VR/augmented-reality to be pretty germane and interesting.

Got a total Fahrenheit 451 vibe from this episode and saw the "twist" coming - still, seeing it play out was neat.

Salient point about how most people aren't willing to kill/murder in coldblood/in warfare and needs some of kind of "extreme othering" in order to kill efficiently.

One complaint about Black Mirror in general is that the show isn't about a twist, but how many twists there'll be and how it ultimately plays out (like in Playtest, they were going Inception onion-layer in and out of different levels of "reality").

But yeah, I really like the idea that all the episodes of Black Mirror share a common universe, if at different points in time.
posted by porpoise at 9:56 AM on October 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

"Anyone Who Knows What Love Is" appears in at least three episodes (this one, Fifteen Million Merits, and White Christmas). There were some other callbacks this season that I can't remember offhand. I think it's less like different points in the same literal timeline, and more like the Zelda games where a lot of the specific elements repeat but the mood and setting is always different.
posted by theodolite at 11:33 AM on October 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm curious about the percentages quoted for soldiers who were willing to shoot to kill in ww1 vs ww2 vs the Vietnam war. Perhaps it's obvious but I can't figure out whether these figures are based on truth or fiction.
posted by hazyjane at 11:33 AM on October 27, 2016

From talking to veterans, yeah it seems about right. Most healthy minds find it hard to kill. They fixed that!

Dehumanising the enemy, calling them (I know this is hate-speech) japs or huns or making ridiculous caricatures and parodies of them. This is taking that into the 21st century, where you don't see any humanity, just monsters to slay. And it's for your health! We want you to sleep well at night.

I'm pretty sure the doctor prescribed one wet dream for Stripe. That wasn't normal, and when he breaks out of it, he notices other soldiers in the barracks twitching their fingers in their slumber.

Liked the tough women, but I think... well. The hair and makeup. No-one does that in five minutes. And why would they? They're going to fight, not to dance. Even that blonde woman woke up at the alert and looked like she'd just come from the salon.
posted by adept256 at 11:55 AM on October 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

When people complain your show can feel like a lecture you should ...definitely not have your last act be one long lecture
posted by The Whelk at 1:41 PM on October 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

When people complain your show can feel like a lecture you should ...

Tell them they're not at a lecture. Hey, you can leave any time and your grades won't be affected. How many dull lectures have you been to? Probably many, I'm guessing. Sure, there was a lot of exposition to explain everything. It was needed. I wiped my tears and slapped my belly full of mental food to digest.

Was it even the last act? It was more like an epilogue.
posted by adept256 at 1:55 PM on October 27, 2016

I mentioned this in a memail a while back -

"The statistics that Grossman references in "On Killing" were gathered by SLA Marshall for his book "Men Against Fire" which had been written with the conclusion already in mind and used sloppy methodology to collect the data.

Colonel David Hackworth was one of the foremost critics of the gathered statistics which he writes about briefly in "About Face". Hackworth did have what appears to be a strong personal dislike of Marshall which developed after a brief honeymoon period when serving alongside Marshall in Vietnam. It's not entirely clear as to whether Hackworth's enmity at Marshall is what caused his criticism but that doesn't invalidate his claim either.

Prof. Roger J. Spiller also criticises Marshall's methodology in the article "SLA Marshall and the Ratio of Fire" which you can find here -

The link below has information about both Hackworth's and Spiller's criticism of Marshall

There is evidence enough over the years from numerous sources that not every man in a unit will use their weapon and this holds true for pretty much any period that involves firearms onwards*. Mostly those men will fetch ammo, reload weapons, collect and treat wounded etc (actions that are no less brave than those engaging the enemy) but the figure of ~75% is not, imo, grounded in reality. In an infantry section of 8-12 men if 3/4 were not performing their function it would be simple for an enemy unit to overrun them. Peer pressure and survival instinct alone would encourage the men to open fire and since it is extremely clear as to whether bullets are close and heading towards you and whether they are simply aimless I absolutely believe that directed, aimed fire was used.

Finally, the figures collated were (iirc) gathered solely from line US Army infantry units** and did not include Marines, Paratroops or other "elite" units. Nobody asked the British, Russians, Germans, Japanese etc what their ratio of fire was. Without any data about ther nationalities/training methods you are left with statistics that are not only questionable but also have no "control" group to compare with. British troops used the same method of training (i.e. a bullseye rather than the modern "man-shaped" target) as US troops of the era and yet we have no statistics showing whether British troops did or did not directly fire at the enemy in a similar ratio. This omission means we do not know the actual reason behind any statistic, regardless of it's validity.

*Standing in a phalanx or shield wall you don't have much choice about engaging the enemy - it's only with the introduction of firearms that you could realistically "pretend" to attack another person without it being immediately obvious to the men either side of you.

**US Army Infantry operated a "replacement" system during WWII and I suspect that the line infantry units had a high number of replacements who had not bonded with the old hands. I believe that they therefore did not have sufficient familiarity with the way in which the section moved and worked and as a result were less willing to risk themselves to enemy fire. Risking oneself for one's "Band of Brothers" only comes from experience and given that this unit bonding never took place in line US Army Infantry units further taints the evidence imo.

Some info about the replacement system below

Hope that answers some questions and gives you an idea where to look next. There are certainly other critics but Hackworth and Spiller are the main ones. The theory about replacements not bonding and therefore not working as part of a team are my own personal theories and are based almost entirely upon anecdote and experience."+
posted by longbaugh at 2:39 PM on October 27, 2016 [9 favorites]

I assume the eye tech they use is similar to the tech in Nosedive.

Actually, I think it's the tech from Playtest.
posted by Grangousier at 2:03 PM on October 28, 2016

Doug Stamper is just no good in any universe. My head Canon is this is what Doug got up to after he got out of the political world.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 1:22 PM on October 30, 2016 [9 favorites]

Stamps! I want him to do something that doesn't have him being nefarious for the dominant class, maybe as a strategist for an anti-war group.
posted by rhizome at 1:55 PM on October 30, 2016

I thought the "roach" twist was obvious from the outset. So most of the episode is really just killing time until we get to the scene between Stipe and Stamper (He will always be Stamper to me). There are some lovely moments along the way, but we really don't need THAT much about prescribed wet dreams before we get the first major reveal.

But I'm surprised that no one mentions the last moment, which is so haunting to me. Him standing there at attention alone in front of a crappy house with his imaginary girlfriend. He's no longer of use to them so they simply discard him and leave him in a "pleasant" dream rather than live out his life in a nightmare loop a la White Christmas.

To me that whole ending is amazingly heartbreaking, but also very poignant and made the entire episode worth watching.
posted by miss-lapin at 12:04 AM on November 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Regarding the "twist" it's also a matter of remembering what show you're watching. Not likely to have a big science fiction premise that can't be tied into media tech.
posted by RobotHero at 11:49 AM on November 13, 2016

This felt like an episode of Star Trek to me. I don't mean that as a compliment even though I'm a huge Trek fan. Black Mirror usually has a more deft, wry touch; this was too on-the-nose.
posted by mama casserole at 6:31 PM on November 19, 2016

Ugh, I kind of hated this episode. The core idea is solid, but they handle it so hamfistedly.

Apart from some pretty stilted line readings, the entire first half is one of my biggest pet peeves, where Stripe fails again and again to communicate. He doesn't mention the migraines and visual glitches until pressed (even when it interferes with combat), leaves behind the flashy-thingy in the farmhouse and again when he finds it in the apartment block, does a terrible job reacting to his squadmate apparently killing civvies and only knocks her out and gets shot for his trouble. I was literally shaking my fist in frustration at points.

And the entire climax feels unrealistically unfair. There's no evidence pre-implant Stripe was knowingly agreeing to murder civilians, and he therefore shouldn't bear any moral burden for his kills, since he literally had no idea what he was doing. It's like blaming the protagonist in a werewolf movie for killing his victims when he didn't even know he was cursed to begin with. Who knows, maybe there would be real emotional scars from such a realization, but that pain doesn't feel at all earned here. (Plus the epilogue at the dream house makes no sense.)

I did love the portrayal of MASS as a logical progression of military propaganda. And the reveal that the villagers supported the pogrom despite lacking the implant was especially disturbing. I had been grousing about how implausible it was that the government would be hunting down random men, women, and children in such a convoluted way rather than, say, jailing them, but the eventual allusions to the Holocaust shut those thoughts up quick.

PS: For another take on this concept (and maybe even a possible inspiration), see the short film "Uncanny Valley" (previously)
posted by Rhaomi at 4:41 PM on November 22, 2016

Oh hey guys we took a break from the election count on Nov. 8 to watch this, hoping it would be another heartlifting ep like San Junipero. We were already so despondent, surely this might make a fun distraction...?




posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:18 PM on November 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Spotify: Men Against Fire soundtrack
posted by rhizome at 11:23 AM on December 2, 2016

I'm not normally the kind of person who's brought out of his moving-pictures-watching reveries by much of anything, but the action sequences in the farmhouse were filmed so terribly that I was reminded I was sitting on the couch, watching. Aside from that there was very little here that couldn't have been done in 30 minutes. Probably my least-favorite episode of the season - in part because of what Rhaomi mentioned. I despise plots that revolve around someone (or someones) not communicating.

Honestly I spent most of it trying to remember from where I knew the blonde soldier. Turns out the answer is "Tricia, from Orange is the New Black."
posted by komara at 7:54 PM on December 7, 2016

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