Men Against Fire

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"Men Against Fire"
Black Mirror episode
Black Mirror - Men Against Fire.jpg
Haunted by strange dreams, Stripe (Malachi Kirby) cannot sleep.
Episode no. Series 3
Episode 5
Directed by Jakob Verbruggen
Written by Charlie Brooker
Featured music Original Score by
Ben Salisbury
Geoff Barrow
Original air date 21 October 2016 (2016-10-21)
Running time 60 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"San Junipero"
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"Hated in the Nation"
List of Black Mirror episodes

"Men Against Fire" is the fifth episode of the third series of British science fiction anthology series Black Mirror. Written by series creator and showrunner Charlie Brooker and directed by Jakob Verbruggen, it premiered on Netflix on 21 October 2016, together with the rest of series three.[1]

The episode, set in a future with dystopian and post-apocalyptic elements, tells the story of Stripe (Malachi Kirby), a soldier in a military organization hunting and exterminating mutants known as "roaches". When his squad, which also includes his friend and partner "Hunter" (Madeline Brewer) and their squad leader Medina (Sarah Snook), encounters roaches, Stripe kills two of them; despite earning praise for his performance, he starts feeling different. Ariane Labed and Michael Kelly co-star as a woman saved by Stripe and a military psychologist, respectively.

Plot[edit]

"Stripe" Koinange (Malachi Kirby) and "Hunter" Raiman (Madeline Brewer) are squadmates in a military organization that hunts down and exterminates mutant humans, dubbed "roaches", in a post-apocalyptic future. Each soldier has a neural implant called MASS that enhances the processing of their senses (including sight, sound, and smell), provides instant data via augmented reality, and creates comforting sex dreams at night.

Stripe and Hunter's squad follows a lead to a farmhouse. The team searches the grounds while squad leader Medina (Sarah Snook) interrogates the farm's owner, a devout Christian (Francis Magee), whom she suspects is harbouring roaches in accord with his beliefs. Medina's suspicions are confirmed, as Stripe discovers a complete secret "nest" of roaches – revealed to be pale, snarling, humanoid monsters with sharp teeth; when one of them points a mysterious LED device at Stripe, he and Hunter open fire on them. Afterwards, Stripe picks up the LED device and accidentally flashes himself in the eyes. Medina arrests the owner and orders the farmhouse torched. The device Stripe flashed in his eyes appears to have disrupted his MASS interface, which sporadically glitches during his training regimens the following day. Stripe undergoes a physical examination and sees a psychologist, Arquette (Michael Kelly); neither visit reveals any medical problems.

The next day, Medina, Stripe and Hunter arrive at an abandoned housing complex to look for further roaches. Stripe experiences another glitch: his sense of smell, seemingly dampened, suddenly returns. In the very next moment, a roach sniper kills Medina. Stripe and Hunter scour the sniper's nest and Stripe encounters what he perceives to be a regular human woman. He urges the woman to flee but Hunter shoots her dead. In a subsequent firefight, it is clear that Stripe is seeing humans where Hunter sees roaches. Stripe attempts to stop Hunter from continuing the massacre and knocks her out, but gets injured and then escapes with a frightened woman (Ariane Labed) and her boy.

The fleeing woman, Catarina, explains that Stripe's MASS implant has altered his senses to disguise the fact that "roaches" are actually regular humans. In fact, roaches are the victims of a genocide against those believed to be genetically inferior, following a global war ten years before. Catarina remarks that soldiers have MASS but everyday civilians do not; they simply hate the roaches due to propaganda and prejudice. Hunter suddenly reappears, killing Catarina and her son and knocking Stripe unconscious.

Stripe awakes inside a military prison cell, where Arquette explains that the LED device had sent viral coding to Stripe's MASS, causing it to glitch so that he could see roaches as human beings. Arquette then reveals the true secret purpose of the MASS implants: to augment the visual appearance of the persecuted humans to make them look zombie-like and frightening, to alter their voices to sound like monstrous nonsensical growls, to diminish the smells of blood and gore, and to selectively erase certain memories. MASS is used by the military to dehumanize the appearance of the enemy, allowing soldiers to kill them more efficiently and without remorse. Stripe, it turns out, has been working for a global eugenics program to "protect the bloodline" of humanity, something Stripe passively agreed to. Though his memory of agreeing to this has been erased by MASS, Arquette confirms it with video footage, and he also plays the raw footage of Stripe's farmhouse mission, except the roaches' appearances have not been augmented to look like monsters and so it is indeed revealed that he has been killing terrified ordinary humans. Stripe pleads with him to stop the footage and Arquette threatens to imprison Stripe, endlessly looping the raw footage, if Stripe does not consent to wipe his memory of the last few days and get his MASS system reset.

Stripe is later shown being discharged with full military honors, implying he consented to a second erasure of his memory. He approaches what his eyes show to be an immaculate house and a waiting dream girl, but in actuality he stands alone outside a graffiti-tagged, dilapidated shack.

Production[edit]

The episode was written by Charlie Brooker, who was inspired by a documentary about the Iraq War which featured a civilian speaking for several minutes uninterrupted, and Dave Grossman's book, On Killing, which is about the psychology of killing and based on Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall's work.[2][3] The title of the episode comes from Marshall's book Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command (1947), wherein Marshall claims that during World War II, over 70% of soldiers did not fire their rifles, even under immediate threat, and most of those who fired aimed above the enemy's head.[4] A similar statement is made during one of Arquette's dialogues in the episode.[5]

Critical reception[edit]

Suchandrika Chakrabarti of Daily Mirror rated the episode 5 out of 5, noting how the episode "forces you to think about the philosophical consequences of high-tech warfare".[6] Adam Chitwood of Collider criticised the episode, saying it "tips its hand way too early and is heavy-handed with its social commentary".[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]