The second episode in Black Mirror‘s fifth season is called “Smithereens.” Although Season 5 in general is a departure from what we might expect from Black Mirror, the Smithereens episode was both entertaining and compelling.
This post has major spoilers for Smithereens.
While watching Smithereens, I was never quite sure where the episode was heading, and most of the guesses that I came up with ended up being wrong. (My husband, however, guessed the twist about a third of the way through.) The story was certainly in keeping with the general theme of Black Mirror, which is the idea that technology, when taken too far, can have a very dark turn. What makes this episode feel a bit “jarring” from your typical Black Mirror episode is that it takes place in 2018 rather than in the far future. It’s a cautionary tale, but it’s a cautionary tale about today rather than about the future of technology.
And unlike many Black Mirror episodes, this one didn’t have an unexpected, incredibly dark twist that we’ve come to expect. The ending left me feeling unsettled but satisfied. It wasn’t like some episodes where I stare at a black screen and wonder just exactly what the show just did to my brain.
Andrew Scott was compelling as Chris, the Hitcher (aka Uber) driver who had a quest that he was willing to do absolutely anything to accomplish.
The goal of his quest was to speak with Billy Bauer the CEO of Smithereens. (I won’t reveal exactly what he wanted to talk about in this review.) Billy Bauer, played by Topher Grace, surprised me. I was expecting a Mark Zuckerberg type who wasn’t relatable or sympathetic. However, I found that I really liked Bauer and appreciated how his character surprised me. He was a genuine person with emotions, not the typical Tech CEO type that you see on TV.
Damson Idris, the intern named Jaden Thomas who taken hostage by Chris, played his part well. By the end he appeared to be developing Stockholm Syndrome almost. But I think he was really just beginning to truly empathize with Chris’s plight. In my head canon, I believe Jaden’s going to end up becoming a big tech CEO in his own right, changing the world. And I believe he’s going to take the lessons he learned through being kidnapped and watching Chris, and he’s going to apply those lessons to make some changes that improve the world of Black Mirror. Remember, this episode takes place in 2018. We could very well see an aged Jaden some day in a future Black Mirror, showing what he became.
The episode gave us an inside look at what life might be like for the top executives at a company like Facebook. Everything that we suspect was brought to life in the episode: from tracking locations to reviewing everything in a profile to listening in on phone conversations at will. It was all done for the greater good, but it showed that in this universe, privacy is truly just an illusion.
I also loved the idea that a company like Facebook (in this case Smithereen) can profile someone better than an expert with the FBI. That alone should give us something to sit back and think about for a while.
The reason that Chris wants to speak to Bauer is heart-wrenching. In the end, it’s the conversation that the two have that’s the most important interaction in the entire episode. It shows the power of a simple one-on-one exchange in a world dominated by terse social exchanges. It shows what will be increasingly missing as society goes deeper and deeper into online-only interactions.
In the end, only one small changed was affected while the rest of the world kept moving as if nothing had happened. And that small change was profound. But it only happened because of one-on-one conversations that took place despite the barriers technology set up to try to stop them.