Smithereens (Black Mirror)
|Black Mirror episode|
|Episode no.||Series 5|
|Directed by||James Hawes|
|Written by||Charlie Brooker|
|Original air date||5 June 2019|
|Running time||70 minutes|
"Smithereens" is the second episode of the fifth series of the anthology series Black Mirror. It was written by Charlie Brooker and directed by James Hawes. The episode first aired on Netflix, along with the rest of series 5, on 5 June 2019. It stars Andrew Scott, Damson Idris, and Topher Grace.
In the episode, a rideshare driver takes an employee of Smithereen, a large social media company, hostage. Unlike most other episodes, Brooker wanted "Smithereens" to not rely on near-future technology as a reminder that Black Mirror is not solely a science fiction show; rather, the episode is largely a parable on the overactive usage of social media sites and how they distract society from the real world.
In 2018, Chris (Andrew Scott) is a rideshare driver in London for the app Hitcher. He goes to group therapy sessions and after one session ends up having sex with Hayley (Amanda Drew), who is dealing with the mysterious suicide of her daughter 18 months earlier. Hayley reveals that she has been trying to figure out the password to her daughter's Persona social media account to find reasons for her suicide.
One day, Chris picks up Jaden (Damson Idris), an employee of the large social media company Smithereen. Believing Jaden is an important employee, Chris abducts him at gunpoint. A police officer sees Jaden in the back seat with a bag over his head, and she and her partner give pursuit. In the chase, Chris veers to avoid two teenage cyclists and ends up stalling the car in a field, beginning a tense hostage standoff which includes an additional contingent of police led by CS Grace (Monica Dolan).
Chris explains to Jaden that he wants to speak with Smithereen CEO Billy Bauer. Although Jaden has only been an intern at Smithereen for a week, they are able to reach chief operating officer Penelope Wu (Ruibo Qian) at Smithereens' American headquarters, who knows Billy is on a 10-day solitary retreat. While Penelope stalls, she shares with the FBI and British police important intel on Chris gleaned through his social media profile: Chris lost his fiancée in a car accident with a drunk driver three years earlier and stopped using Smithereen shortly after that.
Penelope sends employees to notify Billy (Topher Grace) in his retreat. Despite warnings from Penelope and the FBI against engaging with Chris, Billy uses his laptop to get Chris's phone number and calls him. Chris emotionally reveals that he blames himself for the accident that killed his fiancée, as he had been checking a Smithereen notification while driving. Chris and Billy agree that Smithereen has been designed to be as addictive as possible. Chris asks Billy for a last favour as he intends to kill himself: to get him in touch with Persona's CEO.
Chris releases his hostage, but Jaden, having witnessed his kidnapper's emotional confession, urges Chris to reconsider committing suicide. The two start to fight over the gun. Believing Jaden is in trouble, CS Grace orders the police snipers to fire. Meanwhile, Hayley receives a call from Persona. She enters her daughter's password just as the snipers fire into Chris's car. Around the world, Billy, Penelope, and others check their phones, then continue on with their lives.
| "Black Mirror: Season 5"|
The trailer for series 5 of Black Mirror.
| "Black Mirror: Smithereens"|
The trailer for "Smithereens".
Series 5 of Black Mirror was released on 5 June 2019 and produced by Netflix. Production began with Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, an interactive film which grew in scope to the point where it was decided to separate it from the series and release it as a standalone film; it premiered on 28 December 2018 and contained a small reference to "Smithereens" character Billy Bauer on a news ticker. Although previous series of the programme produced under Netflix contained six episodes, series 5 comprises three episodes, as series creator Charlie Brooker viewed this as preferable to making viewers wait longer for the next series.
The episode was written by Brooker, who wanted the series to contain an episode without any futuristic technology, similar to previous episodes "The National Anthem" and "Shut Up and Dance", to remind viewers that Black Mirror is not solely a science fiction show. Billy Bauer was written to not be a "cartoon villain" or resemble any particular social media CEOs, though Brooker did take inspiration from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey's taking a ten-day retreat. Brooker described the episode's ending, in which strangers are seen looking at their phones, as a message about how the characters' lives were "reduced to ephemeral confetti that just passes us by". The episode is connected with a number of the other Black Mirror episodes via the appearance of Easter eggs. Director James Hawes has previously directed one Black Mirror episode: series 3's "Hated in the Nation".
Most of the filming took place in England. Urban scenes were filmed in various downtown London locations. Some footage was shot in Harrietsham, Maidstone in Kent around June 2018. The American offices of Smithereens, including interior shots, were filmed at the Fairbourne Reservoir in Kent. Billy's retreat was filmed over a few days in August 2018 at the Glass Pavilion, a stargazing-retreat structure designed by OFIS Architects, in the desert near Gorafe, Granada in Spain.
One difficulty in filming was that Scott did not know how to drive a car. Production mounted a car atop a mobile platform and instructed Scott to mimic steering to go along with filming. To help actor Topher Grace act Billy's conversation with Chris over the phone, they had a second actor offscreen reading Chris's lines for Grace.
Ed Power of The Independent gave the episode three out of five stars, opining that the episode's premise is not substantial enough to warrant the episode's length. Power observed Scott "does his best" as Chris, the only developed character, in contrast to the undeveloped mother whose daughter committed suicide. He praised the ending as "moving" but critiqued the episode as "muted rather than subtle".
Frazier Tharpe, writing for Complex, named "Smithereens" the best series 5 episode despite expecting it to be the worst from its trailer. Tharpe wrote that the plot's progression is "[tense], well-paced, and perhaps most crucially, casually hilarious".
Benji Wilson of The Telegraph rated the episode four out of five stars. He criticized the characterisation of Chris as "both tech-savvy and intelligent, and yet also by turns tech-illiterate and stupid", but praised that the episode was "bailed out" by Scott's "astonishing control and range".
David Sims of The Atlantic wrote a negative review of the episode, taking issues with "how thin the plot is, how long it takes for the action to get going, and how simplistic the big mystery turns out to be". Sims identified the central theme as "demanding accountability from the all-consuming apps and all-powerful tech companies that fill our lives", but critiqued that series 1 episode "The National Anthem" addresses the same theme in a better way.
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