One thing you can count on with Black Mirror is that even if you see a plot twist coming, there’s going to be more to it than you expected. Another thing you can count on is that even the weakest episode (“The Waldo Moment” in my opinion) has moments of brilliance and is better than most science fiction on television (just look at anything Syfy has produced over the past few years). Writer/Creator Charlie Brooker has crafted one of the most innovative and impressive science fiction shows to ever grace the airwaves. And with the first two seasons now available to stream on Netflix, America is catching up to what fans have already been saying for three years (or at least since last year). While we have to wait for a full third season, Brooker scripted an extra-length Christmas special that serves, as he’s put it in interviews, as a Black Mirror “Treehouse of Terror” episode with three tales of technological dread starring Jon Hamm, Rafe Spall, and Oona Chaplin. There’s also a surprise appearance from Game of Throne’s Natalia Tena, who you may not recognize without Wildling grime all over her. As usual with an episode of Black Mirror, technology from the day after tomorrow plays a central role in setting the stage for a tale of moral, emotional, and physical despair, usually ending in something horribly disturbing or heartbreakingly sad. This time we focus on two men, stranded in an isolated cabin in the dead of winter, Matt Trent (Hamm) and Joe Potter (Spall), who each have sad stories to share. As a framing structure it’s almost perfect. We’re already expecting a strange future setting and both characters establish that they’ve been isolated there due to some social transgression, and now, after five years, Matt finally gets Joe to talk about why he’s been exiled. But not before telling his own story. Hamm is ideally suited for this role, channeling aspects of his Mad Men persona to come off as just sleazy enough to believe he’d be involved in the creepy pick-up artist “service” that fuels the first story, but charismatic enough to empathize with him once things go south. And when they go south, they go south quickly and unnervingly. Natalia Tena plays Jennifer, a disturbed outsider at an office Christmas party who becomes the romantic target of Harry (Rasmus Hardiker). Hamm’s Mike is along for the ride, providing live advice like a cybernetic Cyrano (along with a group of other men all vicariously experiencing Harry’s sexual misadventure) thanks to a device called the Z-Eye, which allows internet connection and camera capabilities. Imagine Google Glasses implanted in everyone. Everyone. Almost from the start, it’s pretty obvious where this story is going to end up, however, once that moment comes we shift and what seemed to be a creepy tale of perversion ends up being one of self-inflicted loss as Mike loses his wife and child to Blocking, a feature of the Z-Eye that is similar to blocking people on other social network platforms, except here, the blocked are literally blocked from your sight, appearing as hazy white silhouettes — even in old pictures. Any news about or contact with the blocked (and their children) is also blocked until the Blockee chooses to UnBlock. It’s an ingenious form of shunning that translates dramatically into the everyday world of the characters. The conclusion of this first story spirals organically into the second story, as Mike explains to Joe what he did for a living before his exile, while also introducing the second piece of technology upon which this episode is built: a small pod-like device called a Cookie, which holds a digital copy of a person’s consciousness. Mike is a Cookie Tech, whose job is essentially to break copied consciousnesses into submission so they can serve as household-running AIs. This story is short and emotionally brutal. Oona Chaplin plays Greta and her digital copy who is essentially tortured into submission to serve as a slave for her physical self. The story really serves two purposes: the first is simply to introduce the technology that will become central to the episode’s overall story. Secondly, and most importantly, it provides a vivid example of the empathic split as the characters treat the digital copy as an object, despite emphasizing that this copy is a perfect simulation of Greta’s consciousness. Not being flesh and blood, however, removes it from consequence. It can be tortured with impunity and most people in the story have no second thoughts about it. Joe, however, is horrified, and his empathy is remarked upon by Mike almost as an amusing novelty. And this is where Hamm’s natural charisma really comes into play. By exposing his own transgression — although not in its entirety — it motivates Joe to come clean about the events that sent him into exile. And thus we move into our third story and it’s a heartbreaker. Joe is a drinker and a bit of a schlub who finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant and is overjoyed. She, however, has a different attitude and doesn’t want the baby. After they fight about it, she blocks him and leaves, which pushes him into a spiral of self-destruction. The block, combined with a restraining order (triggered by the Z-Eye), makes him completely unable to get in touch with her to try and make peace. When he learns that she had the baby and is raising it without him, he goes full stalker, watching their whited-out silhouettes secretly from a safe distance every Christmas as they visit her father. The story ends with an emotional gut-punch that was, again, kind of expected, but then spirals into madness and murder. Spall’s performance is amazing. You can almost literally see first his heart breaking and then his mind. You can’t help but feel for Joe as Brooker really drives home the overarching subject matter of the episode: the damaging emotional results of isolation and how our technologies are making us more interconnected and distant at the same time. The final twists we get as the frame story concludes roll out effortlessly as both Mike and Joe pay the price for their transgressions in a society without empathy. For fans, there are a number of Easter eggs for previous episodes scattered subtly throughout the episode, but they don’t affect this episode’s story at all. Hamm and Spall are a joy to watch interacting, as Mike teases Joe out of his shell, and both actors solidly center their respective stories, bringing a humanity and a sublime realism to roles that could easily have shifted into caricature. Brooker’s script helps to keep the characters in check and is easily one of the best Christmas specials you’re going to see this year. It’s definitely going into my yearly line-up, but will have to be followed up with something lighter, like AD/BC, otherwise I’ll just cry my eyes out every time I watch it. Black Mirror “White Christmas”5.0Overall ScoreShare this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... 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