Monday, December 21, 2020

Black Mirror Revisit: Hated In the Nation


I had very specific feelings of dissatisfaction after watching Hated In the Nation a few years back. While there are obviously some interlocking hints and easter eggs that suggest a larger universe at play, the beauty of Black Mirror, and similar standalone anthology series, is that each episode is self-contained. You might end the hour on a note of absolute despair, but at least that despair won't feel incomplete.

Clocking in at 90 minutes, Hated In the Nation is Black Mirror's longest episode, a movie-length mystery that makes a bold decision: being the only installment with an open ending.

Boy did that piss me off on first watch.

The Talent:
Hated In the Nation is another Charlie Brooker-penned episode, with the directorial duties in the hands of television veteran James Hawes (who also helmed season 5's Smithereens). In front of the camera, we get an incredibly likable cast of Kelly Macdonald, Benedict Wong, and Game of Thrones' Faye Marsay, equally devoted to solving a mystery as she was to murdering Arya Stark. 

The Setup:
There's a serial killer at large in modern England, but instead of knives and magazine collage police letters, his trademarks are robotic bees and social media games. 

Detective Karin Park is on the case, assisted by young and hungry constable Blue Coulsen. Blue's got that millennial edge of understanding modern technology, which is quite important when your murderer is using hashtags to determine his next target. 

And oh, what juicy targets he has! Ann Coulter-y journalists who hate the disabled, tunnel-visioned rappers who mock kids before thinking about the fallout, influencers using holocaust memorials for photo ops, and of course, politicians! A daily poll calculates which figure gets the most #deathto mentions, and before you can issue a carefully curated Instagram apology, a horde of robot bees has been dispatched to your flat. 

The Ending:
Here's where I initially had very intensely negative feelings on Hated In the Nation. Unlike every other segment of Black Mirror, this one ends on a cliffhanger. The detectives have identified their killer, albeit after he's flipped the switch to sic his minions on the 380,000+ citizens who ever cast a vote in his game. He's fled the country before they can actually arrest him, leaving Park to publicly clean up the pieces while Coulsen secretly follows his trail.

The Theme:
Hated In the Nation feels more invested in crafting a sleek mystery than exploring any deep thematic territory, but there's certainly much to mine in terms of responsibility when it comes to both our actions and reactions on social media. 

The Verdict:
I'm happy to say that this is the first case in my Black Mirror rewatches where I've been able to flip my rating to the positive side. Knowing to expect a lack of closure let me ease into the character work much more smoothly, and you know what? It's a treasure! Mcdonald and Marsay have fantastic mentor/mentee chemistry that develops so smoothly over the runtime that Park's slight smile at Coulsen's "got him" text is incredibly satisfying. 

The other key part of Hated In the Nation (social media fallout) feels a little more rote now, but it's handled well. Hawes and Brooker breach the "young people explaining computers to their elders" in a way that's natural to anyone who's had to give Zoom tutorials in quarantine, and it's not like we're ever going to stop debating how much we should invest in what someone says on the internet.

Technology Tip:
Hated In the Nation has three very hefty lessons that ultimately mean life or death:
1- Maybe don't take a good idea technology (environment-saving robot bees) and merge it with government surveillance
2- Don't be an idiot on social media
3- Don't judge people for being idiots on social media

Really, hard to argue with any of those points (side note: just how much higher is this episode going to ultimately rank?!)

The Black Mirror Grade
Cruelty Scale: 4/10; Until the final roundup, most of the victims are pretty despicable, but none deserve the truly cruel method of death that's described as being so awful that most victims ultimately kill themselves just to end the pain

Quality Scale: 8/10. It's good!

Enjoyment Scale: My initial watch probably would have lingered around the 5 territory, with a 7 while watching and a 3 for the open ending. On this viewing, I'm happy to up the overall pleasure scale to an 8. I'd totally take a Blue & Karin detective adventure spinoff!

Up Next (Month): James Hawes gets another round in the director's chair with my #18, Smithereens

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