Shut Up and Dance (Black Mirror)
|"Shut Up and Dance"|
|Black Mirror episode|
The mysterious hacker blackmailing Kenny tells him to wait until he is "activated".
|Episode no.||Series 3|
|Directed by||James Watkins|
|Written by||Charlie Brooker|
|Original air date||21 October 2016|
|Running time||52 minutes|
"Shut Up and Dance" is the third episode of the third series of British science fiction anthology series Black Mirror. It was written by series creator and showrunner Charlie Brooker and William Bridges, and premiered on Netflix on 21 October 2016, together with the rest of series three.
The episode tells the story of a teenage boy (Alex Lawther) who is blackmailed into committing bizarre and criminal acts by a mysterious hacker possessing a video of him masturbating. The boy is joined by a middle-aged man (Jerome Flynn), whom the same hacker is blackmailing over infidelity.
The episode received mixed reviews, with the twist ending polarising critical opinion, and some reviewers finding the episode too dark, though both Lawther and Flynn's performances were well received. The episode is thematically similar to "White Bear", a previous episode of the show.
Teenager Kenny (Alex Lawther) returns home from his restaurant job to find that his younger sister (Maya Gerber) has unintentionally infected his laptop with malware; Kenny downloads a purported anti-malware tool which actually allows an unseen hacker to use the laptop's camera to record him masturbating. The hacker emails Kenny, threatening to send the video to everyone in his contact list unless he follows a series of instructions.
The next day at work, Kenny receives a text directing him to a location 15 miles away, with only 45 minutes to get there; he feigns illness to his boss (Hannah Steele) and frantically cycles to the coordinates. He is met by a man on a scooter (Ivanno Jeremiah), also acting on instructions from the hacker, who gives Kenny a box with a cake inside. Kenny is instructed to deliver the cake to a hotel room, where he finds Hector (Jerome Flynn). Hector receives blackmail messages of his own; he was about to cheat on his wife with a prostitute, and follows the instructions out of fear he will lose custody of his children.
Kenny and Hector are instructed to drive to a location outside the city. However, when they stop for petrol, they meet a friend of Hector's wife (Natasha Little) who asks for a lift home. Hector drives recklessly to get her there before continuing to their destination. They are told to use a gun concealed in the cake to rob a bank. Hector insists on being the driver, leaving Kenny to perform the robbery. Though Kenny urinates out of nervousness during the robbery, he manages to get a bag full of cash and flee the scene with Hector.
Hector is instructed to destroy the car, while Kenny carries the money to a drop-off point in a nearby wood. There he meets another blackmail victim (Paul Bazely), who explains they are to fight to the death while the blackmailer observes through a camera-equipped drone; the money goes to the winner. Kenny tearfully protests that he merely looked at some pictures. The man asks if, like him, it was child pornography. Kenny silently brandishes the gun and attempts suicide, but finds the gun empty. The two begin fighting as the drone continues its transmission.
Meanwhile, Hector returns home to his family, but finds the hacker has already sent his wife (Leanne Best) the evidence of his infidelity. The other blackmail victims have also had their information released, despite having complied with instructions. They each receive a trollface image from the blackmailer.
Having won the fight, a badly injured Kenny staggers from the woodland with the money. He receives a call from his mother (Camilla Power) hysterically crying that his sister saw the video, and that she knows he was watching child pornography. He ends the call as the police arrive, feebly resisting as they apprehend him.
Whilst series one and two of Black Mirror were shown on Channel 4 in the UK, in September 2015 Netflix commissioned the series for 12 episodes (split into two series of six episodes), and in March 2016 it outbid Channel 4 for the rights to distributing the third series, with a bid of $40 million. Due to its move to Netflix, the show had a larger budget than in previous series. "Shut Up and Dance" is the third episode of the third series; all six episodes in this series were released on Netflix simultaneously on 21 October 2016. Two days prior to the release of series 3 on Netflix, Den of Geek! published an interview in which Brooker hinted that the episode is "a grimy, contemporary nightmare? [...] Set in absolutely present-day London. It’s not sci-fi at all." Brooker states in one interview that the absence of science fiction elements from the episode is a "very conscious thing", noting that prior episodes "The National Anthem" and "The Waldo Moment" also "touch base with the real world". In another interview, he says of that episode that "in the same way that one of the things that led to doing "San Junipero" was me thinking, Can I do a story set in the past? – that was where that idea kind of sprang from – we thought, Can we do a story just set today?" Brooker noted that the story went through many different iterations and some did not contain Kenny looking at child pornography when the blackmailers filmed him. He revealed that in one version of the story, there was no reason why the events were happening, and in another the roles were reversed, with Jerome Flynn's character having the extremely dark secret.
The episode was filmed over a three week period. Alex Lawther plays the main character Kenny; Lawther was a "huge fan" of the series prior to auditioning, and particularly liked the previous episode "White Bear". When first auditioning, Lawther had only seen the script for a couple of scenes and was unaware of the twist ending. Lawther first met co-star Jerome Flynn, who plays Hector, during the shooting. Whilst shooting, Lawther notes that "there was a news story in the real world about something very similar" to the episode, which he describes as "a very surreal thing." Director James Watkins was previously known for The Woman in Black and Eden Lake, which Lawther says made Watkins "really [learn] the craft of sustaining incredible suspense over long periods of time."
On the topic of reception to the episode, Brooker comments that "no one can agree on what is their favourite episode", claiming that "Oh my God, it's absolutely chilling" and "It's about nothing, it's boring" are both things people say about "Shut Up and Dance".
This episode is considered the best of series 3 in a ranking by The Independent; Christopher Hooton writes that "the pacing is breakneck and it's impossible to take your eyes off the screen." Hooton says "it's what initially seems a gripe with the episode that ends up flooring you" when the twist ending "leaves you feeling as though all your entrails just dropped out". Paul Tassi of Forbes believes the episode to be second best of the series, as it "does not carry an overt message like so many of these other episodes" but has "one of the best twists in the entire season", and "even if the rest of the episode is merely good, the ending elevates it to great."
Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter praised Alex Lawther's performance in the episode, calling it "one of the best things of 2016"; Goodman says the episode "unapologetically—and frantically—punches you right in the face, proving how nimble Brooker is at storytelling." Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph rated the episode 5 out of 5, describing it as "soul-scorching [and] relentlessly riveting". Collin says that director James Watkins "outdoes himself here, immediately establishing a mood of barely suppressed panic, then tightening every screw and ratchet at his disposal", and notes that the episode is "the most nihilistic episode of Black Mirror so far." Matt Fowler of IGN similarly praised the episode, saying that it may leave the viewer "utterly shaken", and that it was a "remarkably heart-pounding episode". In the Daily Mirror, Suchandrika Chakrabarti gave the episode 5 out of 5 stars, summarising that the episode is "very simple, but incredibly effective" and "the least-technical episode of Black Mirror on Netflix, but among the very scariest".
Pat Stacey of Irish Independent gave the episode four stars out of five and commented that it "feels most like the old Black Mirror". Stacey summarises that it is a "fantastically tense, blackly funny tale with a shock, rug-pulling ending that packs a terrific wallop." An article in TheWrap ranks the episode sixth best of the first 13, with the authors saying "it's brilliantly plotted" and "no episode of "Black Mirror" will leave you feeling worse about humanity than this one." Another review in which the episode is sixth of the 13 in the first three series is Corey Atad's, for Esquire; Atad opines that it is "the most purely disturbing episode" and that "as with many of the most disturbing stories, the fact that they touch such a nerve speaks their human insight." Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club gave the episode a B rating, complimenting Black Mirror's "willingness to force moral questions that make everyone feel awful", and saying that the episode was "never boring, but [...] not all that engaging, either".
Josh Dzieza of The Verge gave the episode a mixed review, criticising the twist ending as a "letdown". Dzieza comments that the episode is "a clammy hour of sustained anxiety" which "does a fine job driving home hacking's humiliating invasiveness", but says the twist reveals that "the episode is more interested in turning gadgets into weapons of maximum humiliation than in saying anything more interesting about how digital humiliation works". Dzieza writes of the aesthetics that "the episode takes place in a series of cramped spaces shot with a cool tint" and of the actors that Lawther has an aura of "adolescent desperation" while Flynn "switches between gruffness and utilitarian friendliness". Alex Mullane of Digital Spy gives "Shut Up and Dance" a mixed review, writing that it is a "progressively and particularly nasty hour of television". Mullane praises that Lawther is "superb in the main role" and Flynn is "suitably sleazy, without ever being a caricature". However, Mullane critiques that the episode "feels a bit thin" as it does not have "much to say" and is simply "a story in which bad people do bad things and then get punished for it", though Mullane concedes that "the closing sequence as the trollfaces come through to the various sinners is fantastic." Adam Chitwood of Collider stated that although it was not a "bad episode", it was a "frustratingly tense one [...] [and] a bit too long and has one of the darkest throughlines of the season".
In a largely negative review, Sophie Gilbert of The Atlantic described the episode as "something of a redux" of "White Bear" due to structural similarities. Criticising the episode as "too much of an endurance test, with no clear message or moment of redemption to take away from it", Gilbert infers that "the question for viewers at the end is, can we still sympathize with him? Should we?" Gilbert also notes a similarity to "Paedogeddon", a Brass Eye episode co-written by Brooker, as both are "a condemnation of those who refuse to empathize with people who have terrible impulses, or who've done terrible things." Charles Bramesco of Vulture ranks the episode tenth among the first 13 episodes, calling it a "spiritual sequel" to "White Bear" which is "all but identical". Bramesco lambasts the episode as "one sick, distasteful joke" filled with "sheer unpleasantness in want of a greater statement". Mat Elfring of GameSpot writes that "it follows the same formula as another episode" in an article which puts the episode as 10th best in the first 13 of the series.
Aubrey Page of Collider rates the episode 11th best of the first 13, commenting that "never before has Black Mirror delivered such a compelling, masterfully handled introduction only to toss it all away with a few final moments" and writing that the ending causes the episode to become "one of the series' least plausible yet." Morgan Jeffery of Digital Spy also ranks the episode 11 of 13, with the justification that there are "issues with how far we're expected to sympathise along the way, adding up to a general whiff of nastiness as the dust settles." The episode is at position 12 of 13 in Entertainment Weekly's ranking of the first three series by James Hibberd, with the comment that "this nihilistic hour is perhaps a victim of its own anguished mood."
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