Black Mirrothon Part 18: ‘Metalhead’
Two to go…and still ahead of schedule…
Director: David Slade
Writer: Charlie Brooker
Cast: Maxine Peake, Jake Davis, Clint Dyer
Premise: A trio of scavengers in a dystopian landscape wind up on being hounded by relentless mechanical guards.
Review: David Slade, eh? Got some damn good television credits under his belt including American Gods, Breaking Bad, Powers, Hannibal…but on the big screen we’ve had some stumbles like 30 Days of Night and Twilight: Eclipse. Meanwhile we have Black Mirror, a TV show with the production values of cinema. With ‘Metalhead’ we get one of the better presented episodes. The black and white story shot entirely on location is great looking, completely soaked in the bleak despair of the desolate world.
On the topic of visuals we also have the ‘dogs’, robotic sentries who become the hunters of our leads. They’re very clearly modelled on the robots built by Boston Dynamics. There’s something almost hypnotic about the machine and the precise way it moves and eliminates targets, often in high contrast to the canine mannerisms it sometimes exhibits. It’s clear that there’s been a great deal of thought put into how these robots will evolve along the current trends in technology.
We never learn what what has happened to decimate this world. We know that it’s left the place depopulated and driven some to suicide. The hopelessness of the future is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. We see three survivors looting a disused warehouse, their motivation being implied to be locating medicine. During the search they activate the guard robot who blasts them with a scattershot of trackers before coldly killing two of them. We’re left with Bella (Peake) locked in a game of cat and mouse with her human capacity for problem solving and endurance competing against the emotionless and calculating machine. There’s never a moment when you know for sure who’s going to end up on top of this conflict, and the short running time keeps things at a brisk pace.
Quick side note – good idea including ‘Golden Brown’ on the soundtrack. That song really feels custom made for this show.
At the end of the episode, when Bella as accepted her fate, we see a number of the “dogs” galloping across the landscape to bring her doom. We then head back to the warehouse to discover that the suggestion that they were looking for medicine was a misdirect and they were looking for a teddy bear. This isn’t a great reveal, it doesn’t add much to the story knowing that it was all for nothing. It could have been left unspoken for all the difference it makes.
That Moment When You Feel Your Stomach Drop: The response of the scavengers to the robot is an excellent moment and really sells how dangerous they are from the get-go. That first kill is rough to watch.
Links to Other Episodes: It’s a stretch, but Bella and Shazia (‘Crocodile’) seem to favour the same peppermint candies. You might be able to argue that the teddy bears being white could be a reference to ‘White Bear’, but it could just as easily be a design choice to make the props stand out.
Ranking Black Mirror: It’s certainly a cool episode. Simple and effective. Doesn’t leave you with much to think about though. It really is the lasting impact the best stories have that make Black Mirror as good as it is.
- ‘U.S.S. Callister’
- ‘Fifteen Million Merits’
- ‘San Junipero’
- ‘White Christmas’
- ‘Shut Up and Dance’
- ‘Be Right Back’
- ‘White Bear’
- ‘Hang the DJ’
- ‘The National Anthem’
- ‘Hated in the Nation’
- ‘The Waldo Moment’
- ‘Men Against Fire’
- ‘The Entire History of You’