Black Mirror Season 4, Episode 1: USS Callister. Toby Haynes (dir)

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So Black Mirror is back! Expect six episodes of people being screwed by technology in the most horrific way possible!

Despite the semi-sarcastic tone I am a fan of the series, true the overall pessimism is bordering on parody but I still do like seeing how technology messes up lives and judging by the first episode of the new season Black Mirror’s MO has not changed. In fact USS Callister is a good summary of what I like about Black Mirror and what irritates me. I must war you though, that there will be spoilers.

The episode begins with a parody of  Star Trek, There is a captain of a ship and his crew have to fight an villain. It is worth noticing that there is a classic feel to the show: The female crew members were revealing dresses and act in a submissive manner.

We then cut to reality and find out that the ‘captain’ is a nebbish computer programmer called Robert Daly who is hated by his colleagues, that is until a new worker called Nanette joins the company and expresses her love for Daly’s work.

Us viewers eventually find out that Daly takes the DNA of his co-workers and digitally re-creates them as part of a virtual reality program based on his favourite TV show, Star Fleet. The situation gets more complicated as we find out that he is using this program to channel both his vengeful and sexual harassment fantasies on his colleagues. As this is a virtual world, his real life colleagues have no idea what is going on.

Things change once digital Nanette joins the crew and finds out about Daly’s intentions and does her best to stop him from exerting this psycho-sexual-territorial fantasy.  She manages, which is more entertaining and gripping than any of Daly’s self-centred adventures, and Robert Daly is stuck in his virtual world and in reality is in a coma, thus he will be left to die in his chair.

USS Callister is a great statement about gender equality. When Daly succeeds in his missions he gets to kiss all the female crew members. They all kow-tow to him and if there is any hint of rebelliousness he turns them into monsters or punishes them in cruel ways. When Nanette finally breaks free, the whole crew become modernised, the women wear non gender specific clothing and have normal hairdos and act as equals. I thought that was clever. I even liked the way Nanette decides to react to the next adversary: just ignore and move on.

The episode also tackles stereotypical nerd tropes that are prevalent in Hollywood. As we know in films, the nerd who is bullied in real life will get the girl and wreak havoc but that does not happen here. Daly loses, big time and it is through the own world he created. These aspects of USS Callister and liked, they were executed in a clever way.

My gripe is that I knew how the episode would end. I guessed that Daly would be trapped. I also guessed that Daly’s fantasy world is a reaction to his normal life, we viewers see this after the first space mission. I was surprised at the Tommy subplot so kudos  there but I did sort of predict the outcome as that is the Black Mirror formula.

USS Callister is not disappointing and is a decent opener but I am hoping that the remaining episodes will be better.

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