White Christmas (Black Mirror)
|Black Mirror episode|
Matt (Jon Hamm) talks to the artificial intelligence inside a "cookie".
|Episode no.||Episode 7|
|Directed by||Carl Tibbetts|
|Written by||Charlie Brooker|
Original Score by|
|Original air date||16 December 2014|
|Running time||74 minutes|
"White Christmas" is a 2014 Christmas special episode of the British science fiction anthology series Black Mirror. It was written by series creator and showrunner Charlie Brooker and directed by Carl Tibbetts, and first aired on Channel 4 on 16 December 2014. The only television special of the series, it was also the last episode to be aired on Channel 4, as the series would move to Netflix for its third series.
The episode starts with two men, Matt (Jon Hamm) and Joe (Rafe Spall), stationed at a remote outpost in the middle of a snowy wilderness. As they tell each other their respective lives to pass the time, those events are depicted on-screen, forming three mini-stories ultimately relating to the characters' current situation. Oona Chaplin and Natalia Tena co-star as two characters in these stories.
The episode received very positive reviews, with praise for the performances of Hamm and Spall, the writing, and the twist ending.
Matt Trent (Jon Hamm) and Joe Potter (Rafe Spall) are stationed at a small, remote outpost in the middle of a snowy wilderness. On Christmas Day, Matt is preparing Christmas dinner, while "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" plays on the radio. He talks to Joe about what brought him to the outpost, a topic they never discussed in the five years they have been there. Joe is reluctant, so Matt opens up first to explain why he came.
In flashback, Matt is shown to be a dating coach to single men to help them seduce women. Matt uses the ubiquitous "Z-Eye" technology, an irremovable augmented reality device implanted in one's eyes granting access to the Internet, to see and hear what his clients witness and provide instructions to them. His latest client is shy and socially awkward Harry (Rasmus Hardiker), whom Matt has instructed to gatecrash an office Christmas party. Matt, along with several other single men sharing in Harry's video stream, identifies Jennifer (Natalia Tena) as a quiet, "attractive outsider". Matt guides Harry to starting a conversation with her. Jennifer mentions having sworn off "pills," and references voices offering her conflicting advice about whether to stay or go. Harry assumes that these voices are figurative, and that she means staying at her job; he boldly suggests she "do it," which she is appreciative of. When she steps to the restroom, Harry converses with Matt and the others, worried about his deceitfulness. Jennifer leaves the restroom and sees Harry seemingly talking to himself. She suggests they leave for her place, where Harry, Matt and the others assume that they will have sex.
Jennifer takes Harry to her room and pours them a drink, which Harry has difficulty swallowing. Jennifer explains that the drink will help liberate them from the voices in their heads. Matt realises that Jennifer thought that Harry really was talking to himself when he was really talking with Matt, and she now thinks Harry is also schizophrenic like her. Matt also realises that Jennifer is dangerous, likely attempting to poison them both, and orders Harry to leave. However, Jennifer restrains him and forces the drink down him via funnel. As Harry's attempts to fight back become weaker, Matt disables the feed, instructs the other men to erase what they have, and proceeds to delete his own records to avoid being implicated in Harry's death. Matt tries to sneak back into his bedroom but is discovered by his wife, who finds out what he has been up to. She enables the Z-Eye's "block" on him, causing his vision to only see her as a static-like silhouette while also distorting her voice. She leaves him and takes custody of the child, and Matt later resigns to join the outpost to avoid any memory of that life.
In the present, Joe is stunned by Matt's story, but Matt continues, noting that being a dating coach was only a side job to his real profession.
Matt describes his real profession in flashback. Technology has created a bean-size chip called a "cookie", which can be temporarily implanted in someone's brain to create a copy of the person's consciousness. These chips can then be removed and used in egg-shaped devices to run smart houses and act as a personal assistant to the original person, helping in a nearly perfect manner. Matt is one to help acclimate the artificial consciousness to their new position, specifically to break their willpower to become emotionless performers. Matt is shown doing this for the wealthy Greta (Oona Chaplin). The "Greta cookie" expresses great concern about her situation, still believing she is the real Greta when Matt first talks to her. He provides her with a virtual body, a stark-white room, and a computer desk to carry out her tasks. When she refuses to cooperate, he alters the "Greta cookie"'s perception of time, making her experience three weeks and then six months of boredom and isolation, in what—in reality—was just a few seconds. Consequently, the "Greta cookie" becomes catatonic and finally has its will broken.
In the present day, Joe expresses his disgust at Matt's career, which requires the use of torture on self-aware creations. Matt observes that Joe is an empathetic, "good man" and asks again why he came to the outpost. Having loosened up with alcohol, Joe says that his girlfriend's father never liked him and then explains his situation.
Joe once had a serious relationship with Beth (Janet Montgomery). One evening, they are having dinner with their friends Tim and Gita, but Beth is withdrawn and seems to be in a bad mood, to which Beth replies that she was just "not in the mood". After the dinner, Joe discovers a positive pregnancy test in their trash, and thinking he will be a dad, congratulates Beth. Beth states she doesn't want the child and plans to have an abortion and she has made up her mind. Joe realizes that Beth had been drinking all night while pregnant, and that she is being selfish and guilty of harming their unborn child. Beth is incensed by this, and places a Z-Eye "block" on Joe, and she leaves the next day, unable to hear his apology.
From Tim and Gita, he learns Beth has left her job. Tim also mentions to Joe that no one knows where she is. Joe spends months trying to deal with the breakup while hearing nothing from her. One day, Joe happens to see Beth in town and learns that she is very pregnant, and did not go through with the abortion. He writes apology letters to Beth and sends them to her father's cottage in the hope that they would reach her, but he never gets a response. Knowing that Beth spends her Christmases with her father, Joe watches her father's cabin from a distance over the next few Christmases. As the Z-Eye block extends to one's offspring, he cannot see Beth's child, only its silhouette, but eventually can make out it is a girl. One year, he leaves a present at the cabin for the child.
One day at home, Joe discovers Beth had died in a train accident, which has caused the Z-Eye block to be removed. Though saddened by Beth's death, he is elated at the block's removal. He goes to her father's cabin and can see the child for the first time. Looking upon her face, he discovers that she has strong Asian features, despite neither he nor Beth having such heritage. He flashes back to the party with Tim and Gita, and realises that Tim, who is Asian, was having an affair with Beth, and this is Tim's child. Joe follows her inside the cabin and Beth's father appears, demanding to know why he is here. Joe repeatedly asks for his daughter, being told he has no child and that all of Joe's letters were thrown out for Beth's sake. Angered, Joe bashes Beth's father's head with the snowglobe he brought as a gift, killing him. Stunned, Joe quickly leaves the cabin.
Matt asks Joe what happened to Beth's daughter. Joe knows that she attempted to go get help for her grandfather but got no farther than a tree near the cabin before dying from the cold weather. He knows he is responsible for both deaths. As Joe states this, he realises that he and Matt are in the very same cabin, and sees Beth's daughter's corpse outside by the tree. He demands Matt tell him what is happening. Matt speaks to the empty air, stating he got the "confession", apologizes to Joe, and suddenly disappears.
In reality, the events of the episode have been taking place inside a "cookie" like Greta's, but copied from Joe's consciousness. Matt used his techniques to make "Joe" think five years had passed when only seventy minutes have passed in real time. Matt did this to extract a confession from Joe for the deaths of Beth's father and daughter for the police, in exchange for his own release from prison for his involvement in Harry's death. Officer Holder (Robin Weaver) keeps her promise, but by law has registered Matt as a sex offender due to his non-consensual voyeurism of his clients' sexual activities, causing him to be blocked by everyone's Z-Eye, making him unable to communicate with anyone else.
Holder tells the real Joe that they have obtained their confession and thanks him. As the officers leave for the Christmas night, they use the cookie equipment to set "Joe's" time perception to 1,000 years a minute, planning to turn it off the next day. In the virtual cabin, "Joe" is confronted with "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" on the radio, and no matter how many times he smashes the radio, it returns the moment he looks back, and playing increasingly louder. He curls up on the floor, screaming.
The episode features Jon Hamm, Oona Chaplin, and Rafe Spall in the main roles. Hamm later elaborated that he "had been a fan of Black Mirror and Charlie Brooker because I have a strange predilection for offbeat British things, and this was no exception. It came about in this very odd way, with me asking my agent if I could meet Mr. Brooker. I didn't know he was even working on a third series or a Christmas special or anything, it was simply that I really liked his work and really wanted to meet the guy." Hamm mentioned that he had "seen both previous series and absolutely loved it", and Brooker described Hamm's casting as "fortuitous". In contrast to Hamm, Spall accepted a part in the episode without having seen the series, but having once read a script for a previous episode. Chaplin, who had just moved from the UK to Los Angeles to capitalise on her success in Game of Thrones, similarly praised the script, stating that she "flew out there with a plan to stay for a year, and then a week later I was coming back to the UK to do this.”
The special makes references to previous Black Mirror episodes. In the beginning of the scene in which Matt's computer shows dating club clients in the conference call, one of the users has the nickname, "I_AM_WALDO", and another, "Pie Ape". The Z-Eyes are reminiscent of a similar device in "The Entire History of You". Clips of TV shows from "The Waldo Moment" and "Fifteen Million Merits" are visible when Joe flicks through the TV channels. The pregnancy test Joe finds is the same one used in "Be Right Back". The ticker during a news report mentions the prime minister from "The National Anthem", as well as Victoria Skillane from "White Bear", and Liam Monroe from "The Waldo Moment". Bethany sings "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is", the same song that Abi sings in "Fifteen Million Merits".
On 16 December 2014, the episode aired on Channel 4 at 9 p.m. The Broadcasters' Audience Research Board reports figures of 1.66 million viewers in the first 7 days, and 2.07 million viewers after 28 days.
The episode received critical acclaim. Ben Beaumont-Thomas of The Guardian praised the episode's comic satire and noted that "sentimentality is offset with wicked wit, and Brooker's brio and imagination paper over any gaps in logic". The Telegraph reviewer Mark Monahan gave the episode 4/5 stars and noted that the drama was "thrilling stuff: escapist entertainment with a very real-world sting in its tail". He equated the episode with the stronger of the previous Black Mirror episodes, stating that "it exaggerated present-day technology and obsessions to subtle but infernal effect, a nightmare-before-Christmas reminder that to revere our digital gizmos is to become their pathetic slave".
Ellen E Jones of The Independent also praised the episode, summarising that the episode was "great on our technology culture, but also just great; well cast, expertly structured and genuinely unsettling". She also compared it favourably to other Christmas television episodes, concluding that: "at a time of year when schmaltz usually covers the TV schedules like a snowdrift, this sidelong look at the state of humanity is all the more welcome". Daniel Krupa of IGN gave the episode 8.5/10. In particular, he praised the acting, although he noted that Chaplin's role was the least developed. Despite Hamm's star billing, Krupa noted: "it's really Spall who shines brightest over the course of 90 minutes, as we experience the full depth of his misery". Finally, Den of Geek noted that the episode's finale was "a thrilling development that invites you to rewatch right from the beginning (something that will greatly benefit from the DVD release, when we can do it without all those ad breaks)".
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