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'USS Callister' marks the first episode of the fourth season of Black Mirror. (Netflix/File)
Picture this: when people die, their spirits are eternalized and stored forever in a simulated reality where they are forever young and don’t feel pain at all. And what happens if society implements ratings on every individual where everyone can up-vote and down-vote human beings? Human beings, not merely Instagram pictures. You can get down-voted for even the most trivial things, serving bad coffee, for example. This is the kind of world Black Mirror is trying to depict to its viewers.
A British science-fiction anthology series, Black Mirror first aired in 2011 on Channel 4 prior to being acquired by Netflix for its third season. Being an anthology, it presents a collection of episodes in which the characters or plot are not related. A collection of short movies, one may say. The fourth season premiered on Dec. 29, with six episodes.
Black Mirror attempts to explain how a world filled with high, improved, yet intricate technology can trigger and lure the darkest of people’s thoughts that later translate into wicked actions toward others.
“USS Callister” marks the first episode of the fourth season, coming out strong and earning massive positive reviews from most websites. A promising premise sustained by smooth narrative makes “USS Callister” a fitting first episode.
Robert Daly, a CTO of a gaming company may appear as the definition of ‘average’ at its best, at the same time being aloof and standoffish. As the show progresses, people are made to question, why is a CTO being neglected and treated like an outsider by personnel in his company? A normal and good guy at day, Daly lives in and rules his own universe at night – playing in his self-built game based on a TV series he worshipped as a kid.
What strikes as loony, not only did Daly create his own game where he could act as captain of a spaceship – something he would never achieve in real life since he always finds himself overpowered and disrespected by the company’s CEO, Walton – he also injected some real-life characters (his office mates) who have done him wrong.
The surprises do not simply stop there: these game characters are actually bestowed with full consciousness. This means that even though Daly signs out from the game to resume his life, the characters continue living in the virtual world. They are entities functioning on their own. The creation of these characters involves the people’s DNA – hairs, saliva on lollipops and coffee cups – for the synthesizing process, resulting in the clones possessing separate consciousness from the real versions.
Daly was a ruthless captain, imposing embarrassing forms of punishment to those who won’t obey him – suffocation, making them human sofa, and transforming them into eerie creatures. The characters do not have genitals and the female ones are forced to give Daly close-mouthed kisses every time Daly win against enemies. Weird much?
“USS Callister” gives off a very vintage, Star Trek-esque vibe with the way the episode was shot. This episode is relatively easy to understand thanks to the seamless flow of events and sublime characterization.
Elements of pastiche are unavoidable in “USS Callister” as there was a scene of torture that pays homage to The Twilight Zone. As Black Mirror fans have noticed, the show itself is inspired by its prolific predecessor. Delivered by a solid cast, Robert Daly was played by Jesse Plemons (Fargo & Breaking Bad) and Jimmi Simpson (Westworld) portrayed the snobbish CEO Walton with ease, supported by smooth gestures and on point expressions. Another notable cast member includes Cristin Milioti (How I Met Your Mother) as Nanette Cole, the one person who was courageous to put an end to the Daly frenzy.
Plemons’ acting did what it has to do: evoking disgust and disbelief out of those who are watching. With how he functions as a balding and your-kind-of-vanilla-guy during the day, it was hard to imagine how vile and hostile of a leader he is in his self-made world.
“USS Callister” reminds viewers of what makes Black Mirror, Black Mirror: the message that technology can make or break people. Dependency on it is lethal, and the show acts as a witty satire of everyday dysfunctionality and ignorance caused by technology – one of them being videoing unfortunate things with smartphones when in reality, we could be helping the ones in need of immediate help.
Viewers can always watch any episode without the fear of being left out due to not watching the entire season, since each episode is a show on its own with diverse plot and characters.
Eclectic, thought-provoking, and profound are three words that best describe “USS Callister”. Prepare to be taken on a spaceship where hostility reigns, but courage and rebellion prevail. (dev/asw)
Natasha Wahyudihardjo is a 25-year-old language enthusiast working in the field of content and digital marketing. She has a penchant for anagrams, Scrabble and wine. In her leisure time, she writes answers to a number of topics on Quora.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.