Black Mirror is a tricky show to watch, isn’t it? It’s like it wants to fuck up your heart. Like it wants you to forget how to breathe. Like it wants you to leave brown stains on your couch. And going into this new season, I expected much the same.
What I got, though, was USS Callister, which is without a doubt now my favourite episode of the show. (Some spoilers ahead, everyone.)
This season had a lot to live up to for me. What was previously my favourite episode, San Junipero, was a beautiful, heart-wrenching masterpiece—not to get to soppy on all of you. That’s not to mention the generally tense atmosphere that the show creates. Black Mirror is always an emotional rollercoaster. I went into the new season sort of knowing what to expect—that it would be, you know, Black Mirror—and yet not because it’s, you know, Black Mirror.
And then came the first episode, USS Callister. So shall we talk about why I love it so much now?
The synopsis of the episode is:
Capt. Robert Daly presides over his crew with wisdom and courage. But a new recruit will soon discover that nothing on this spaceship is what it seems.
The synopsis is clearly trying not to give too much away. But I’m not Netflix. So fuck it. If you don’t want to get spoiled, go watch the episode. (Also, seriously, if you don’t watch this show go watch it now … and then come back hm?)
The premise, when expanded upon, is essentially that Daly is a programmer who programmed a revolutionary sci-fi video game called Infinity, a procedurally generated MMO.
Daly has created his own mod of the game based on his favourite show, Space Fleet. You may have guessed that this is a parody of Star Trek, of which William Bridges, a writer on the episode, is a huge fan. Using DNA taken from people in the Infinity offices, Daly creates replicas of them within his mod, forcing them to play along with his game—or else. In this episode, new employee Nanette Cole gets replicated within the game, and joins the torment of what everyone else inside considers to be a living hell, an unwaking nightmare.
“So, Lizzie, what’s so great about this episode?” is what I’m going to pretend that you’re hollering.
To get the obvious out of the way, I’m a huge fan of Star Trek, and this show does a wonderful job of including and parodying many elements of that show. Even Daly, when in the game, sounds a lot like Kirk. The episode even opens with a comical parody of a Star Trek scene—which is also wonderful as is sharply contrasts the darkness that is soon to follow. I don’t agree with criticisms that Star Trek has been parodied before, because Star Trek is timeless (feel free to point at me and shout “nerd!”) and of huge cultural significance. It’ll never be too late to parody Star Trek. Kay bro?
This episode is also a welcome change even for fans of Black Mirror. It’s a shift in genre and a shift in tone, containing overt (and yay, it’s actually funny) comedy while many episodes of Black Mirror choose not to. The runtime of seventy-six minutes is also used effectively in my opinion. It could have been risky, creating dead space, but I don’t think that’s how it turned out. I’ve seen some call the ending rushed, but what I think the ending is is quick. Tense. Like it should be, for the scenario set up by the plot.
This episode is also really cinematic. In fact it’s beautiful. The look of it is *kisses fingers like a chef* and that’s even ignoring the satirical, midriff exposing dresses that all the crew members are forced to wear.
But, this post is about why it’s my favourite, so let’s turn to the personal for a moment.
This episode covers a few of the topics that I find most interesting in writing. God complexes, grudges, Nice Guys playing the victim, etc. It’s fascinating to watch Daly switch instantly from a sympathetic character to fuck this guy. Because, really, fuck that guy. They say you never really know what’s going on in someone’s mind, and this episode is a stark reminder that you really, really don’t.
Oh, and Nanette, our viewpoint character who isn’t that asshole Daly, is awesome. I’m in love.
(Also Aaron Paul. I love Aaron Paul.)
And, with more spoilers:
Now, I’ve seen this episode criticised around the world of social media and elsewhere for nerd bashing. The awful villain daily is essentially a Trekkie, after all. “He should’ve been redeemed, not left to die!!1!”
But like seriously … what?
Every show has a form, right? And the form of Black Mirror is “Everything is shit and ends horribly for at least one character.” In USS Callister, that character is Daly. And … well. Anyone else in the same boat as him, I guess.
Aside from which, I don’t think you can yell “nerd bashing” at nerds. Charlie Brooker? Nerd. William Bridges? Clearly a fucking geeky ass nerd, going by this episode. If the writers are in nerd culture, perhaps, maybe, remove yourself from your defensive ass long enough to consider if there are perhaps any criticisms of nerd culture in here.
And, no comment from me, cough, but you know which character in this episode was really defensive?
Hey. I’m not calling anyone a sociopath. I’m just sayin, dude.
In summary to this messy as all hell post, I think that this episode was wonderful. Tense, terrifying, well written, beautiful, and somehow in line with all of my personal writing preferences. And this episode is going to give you several heart attacks during its run, but if you have seventy-six minutes to spare then you have to spend them on USS Callister.
But maybe I’m biased.
Thanks for reading! Like the post if you enjoyed it. Follow if you’re new. And comment down below with your favourite episode of Black Mirror. I’m curious.