Black Mirror’s Metalhead episode will keep viewers on the edge of their seats, absolutely terrified for the entire episode. It’s one of the bleakest episodes with an ending that’s even darker than you start out expecting it to be. Yes, sometimes that’s possible, even on Black Mirror. Here’s a full recap and review of Metalhead, including an analysis of exactly what happened. After you read this story, let us know in the comments below what you thought about the episode. This post is going to have major spoilers for Metalhead, so don’t read on unless you’ve seen the episode.
The episode begins with scenes from a stunningly beautiful landscape in Scotland — a beauty that can’t be denied, even though the episode is shot in black-and-white. We quickly figure out that this is a post-apocalyptic world. Now, this might raise a lot of questions. If we are to believe that Black Mirror episodes take place in the same universe, this would have to be FAR in the future (or perhaps on an isolated island somewhere.) But I tend to believe that only *most* of the episodes are in the same universe, and perhaps some are in parallel dimensions. That way, I can pretend that everyone isn’t facing this bleak future.
We learn that everything’s gone. Pigs are gone because “the dogs took care of that.” Cars are scarce and broken down. It’s a true post-apocalyptic landscape. We start out with three main characters, but Bella, the character played by Maxine Peake, is soon the only one left. There’s little exposition or narrative to this episode, and it isn’t needed. Bella conveys everything we need to know with just a look, a reaction, a movement. This Black Mirror episode is almost entirely just her. And we’re OK with that. It’s so compelling, we don’t need a lot of narrative, multiple characters, or color to be drawn in.
She starts out entering a warehouse with a friend, trying to find something that’s vastly important. It’s stored at the top of a series of boxes, but hiding behind it is a robot of some sort. We quickly learn that this is the “dog” we’ve heard so much about. One of its attack techniques is to release an explosion of metal shards, each small piece serving as a tracking device. That’s brutal.
Her friend is killed, and it’s not just by a simple shot. This dog likes to kill by blowing off people’s heads. Yes, this is a dark episode. And that’s good, because many post-apocalyptic tales gloss over the darkness and bleakness of that reality. In the storyline, Bella’s second friend is soon killed too. He powered up a van by hacking into it, but the dog quickly overtook him.
The dog is really hard to take down, and the entire episode is man against “beast.” It’s reminiscent of any post-apocalyptic, terrifying film where a robot is slowly hunting down humanity. And although the premise isn’t entirely new or original, the telling of it is fresh and intriguing. The dog is solar powered, and Bella knows a trick to temporarily discharge its battery so she can escape while it’s powered down. She escapes, breaks into someone’s home, and finds a gun and a car key.
But these dogs aren’t to be trifled with. They’re smart. They can track people’s blood, even without a tracking device. They can hack into any home or car without having to physically break in. They move fast. This dog can even attack a knife as an appendage and save its bullets for later.
This episode truly had the feel of a Stephen King movie. The dog robot may have been small, but it was powerful — a true force to be reckoned with. It was like a Cylon’s pet dog, or the Terminator in the body of a four-legged robot. Like Cylons and Terminators, it does not give up. Ever.
Although I looked and looked for some kind of sign that might reveal what company created the bot, so I might glean some of its back story, I couldn’t find any clues. (If you see something I missed, let me know in the comments below.) I’m really curious about how this bot might fit into the Black Mirror universe and who might have made it. Is it AI gone wrong?
In the end, the bot wins. This is Black Mirror after all. Bella finds the keys to the car, but only after the bot has tracked her down. She throws paint on its face to ruin its sensors, but even that’s not enough. She even kills the darn thing, but it still releases a mini-bomb of tracker shrapnel. She would remove it, but one is stuck in her throat. She’s done for. As the episode ends, we see that these bots are everywhere. They’re approaching the house to kill her. The landscape is littered with them.
And then we find that the bot that she woke up was hiding behind a box of teddy bears. Yes, it appears that the boy she kept referencing on the radio might have been her nephew (since she said she promised her sister that she would do this.) He didn’t have much time left, but she wanted to do what she could to make his last few days bearable. She wanted to replace his teddy bear. And she died doing it.
If you’re trying to think of a movie that’s similar in plot to Metalhead because the storyline sounded familiar, then you’ve probably seen Screamers. This movie, from 1995, is about a group of self-replicating machines that hunt down and kill NEB soldiers. They make a high pitched noise when they attack, which is why they’re called screamers. They track targets by heartbeats, so Alliance soldiers wear tabs that broadcast a signal that cancels the heartbeat, rendering them invisible to the robots. Unfortunately, this implant eventually stops working and the screamers start to target everyone.
The plotlines were similar in many ways, but Metalhead approached the story and presented it better than Screamers. And yes, this was the shortest Black Mirror episode this season, clocking in at only around 40 minutes. But that 40 minutes was enough to tell a compelling story that I won’t soon forget.