White Christmas (Black Mirror)

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"White Christmas"
Black Mirror episode
Black Mirror - White Christmas.jpg
Matt (Jon Hamm) talks to the artificial intelligence inside a "cookie".
Directed byCarl Tibbetts
Written byCharlie Brooker
Featured musicOriginal Score by
Jon Opstad
Original air date16 December 2014 (2014-12-16)
Running time74 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"The Waldo Moment"
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"Nosedive"
List of Black Mirror episodes

"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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

Plot[edit]

Joe Potter (Rafe Spall) wakes up in a cabin on Christmas Day. As he enters the kitchen, Matt Trent (Jon Hamm) tries to talk to Joe, saying that the two have barely spoken in five years. To get Joe to open up, Matt tells the story of why he ended up in the cabin.

Matt runs an online group who watch each other have sex with women. It is Harry's (Rasmus Hardiker) turn. Through Harry's "Z-Eyes", Matt can speak in his head and see what Harry sees. Harry crashes an office Christmas party and approaches Amy (Verity Marshall) and Jennifer (Natalia Tena). He proceeds to tells them fabricated anecdotes. Overhearing Harry talking to Matt in his head, Jennifer invites him back. In her bedroom, she makes Harry drink something. As she explains that she also hears voices in her head, Harry begins to cough and splutter. Jennifer drinks a mouthful of the liquid and forces the rest into Harry with a funnel. The two die. Though the group try to delete all the evidence, they are found out. Matt's wife "blocks" him, a feature of Z-Eyes that causes Matt to see her as a colourless silhouette and hear her as a distorted stream of noise. She also gets sole custody of the children.

Matt then talks about his day job. The affluent Greta (Oona Chaplin) has undergone surgery to make a "cookie" of her—a digital clone stored within an egg-shaped object. Greta's cookie wakes up, not understanding where she is, and Matt explains that her job is to be Greta's personal assistant and control her smart home appliances with perfect knowledge of Greta's preferences. When the cookie refuses, Matt makes her experience three weeks of solitary confinement passing in what lasts a few seconds to him. She protests again, leading Matt to force her to experience six months of isolation. Greta's cookie then concedes, desperate to avoid further isolation.

Joe expresses disgust at what he considers slavery. Matt presses him to talk about why he ended up in the cabin. Joe and his girlfriend Beth (Janet Montgomery) have dinner with her friends Tim (Dan Li) and Gita (Zahra Ahmadi). Joe finds a positive pregnancy test, but Beth does not want to keep the child. The conversation becomes heated: Beth blocks Joe and he smashes a vase in fury. The following morning, she leaves while he protests, still blocked. Joe has no way of tracing her. He stumbles across her one day and sees that she is still pregnant, but a passerby calls the police upon hearing Beth call for help. A legal block is enforced, which causes offspring to be blocked as well.

Beth always visits her father (Ken Drury) in his rural cottage at Christmas, so Joe journeys there each year and watches the blocked child from afar. When the child is four years old, Joe sees on the news that Beth has died, which lifts the legal block. Joe travels to Beth's father's house for Christmas Eve. He sees for the first time that the child is East Asian—the father is Tim. Dazed by this revelation, Joe approaches Beth's father, asking to see his daughter. They argue, and Beth's father tells the girl to hide in her room. Joe ends up striking him fatally on the head with a snow globe that he planned to give to the child, and leaves. Two days later, Beth's daughter ventures out into the snow alone, but perishes before reaching help.

While telling the story, Joe gradually realises that he is in Beth's father's house. It is revealed that Joe and Matt are in a cookie, and Matt exits as Joe's cookie has given testimony which can be used to convict Joe. Matt bargained this evidence for his release, but he is placed on an offenders' list which leaves him blocked by everybody. Meanwhile, an officer sets the radio in the cookie to play "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday", the song on the radio when Joe killed Beth's father, and changes the settings so that Joe experiences 1,000 years per minute. Inside the cookie, Joe attempts to destroy the radio, only for it to reappear every time he looks away, with the music getting progressively louder.

Production[edit]

Following the second series of Black Mirror, Channel 4 agreed on a third series of four episodes on the condition that detailed synopses of episodes were given. After presenting some ideas to the channel, series creator Charlie Brooker and executive producer Annabel Jones were told that they "weren't very Black Mirror", leaving the show in a limbo situation. A year later, Brooker and Jones were able to negotiate a 90-minute Christmas special, "White Christmas". The episode incorporated one of the ideas they pitched, "Angel of the Morning", which became the dating storyline with Matt, Harry and Jennifer.[3]:102–103 "White Christmas" was the last Black Mirror episode produced under Channel 4; following this, the series moved to Netflix.[3]:126–127 It aired on 16 December 2014.

Writing and casting[edit]

The episode was written by Brooker. It was directed by Carl Tibbetts, who had previously directed series two episode "White Bear".[3]:77 When Tibbetts was hired, Brooker and Jones had four or five concepts for the series. Inspirations for the episode, which is a portmanteau of three stories, include the 1945 horror film Dead of Night[3]:106 and the 1983 science fiction film Twilight Zone: The Movie,[3]:103 both of which are anthologies. The setting of a spaceship was briefly considered.[3]:106

The episode's stories introduce two new technologies, which are both important to the ending. The Z-Eyes allows the user to stream video from their eyes and to block people from their vision. The other technology is a duplicate of a person's consciousness, stored in a small egg-shaped cookie. Unprecedented for the show, "White Christmas" reuses technology from another episode: after several designs for the Z-Eyes, it was decided that the device from series one episode "The Entire History of You" should be used.[3]:106

In the first draft, Trent's character was cheerful and cockney to contrast with Joe.[3]:107 In mid-2014, Jon Hamm wanted to meet with Brooker, having enjoyed previous series of the programme. Following this, he was offered a part as Trent.[3]:107 Whilst the original version had Trent be slightly grating, Hamm was keen for his character to be likeable and affable as a contrast to his odious actions.[3]:112

Joe is played by Rafe Spall, who had previously read a script for another Black Mirror episode.[4] The episode opens with Joe and the viewer first sees Trent through Joe's eyes. He is initially very quiet and not able to recall precisely why he is in the cabin. Every time the cabin is shown, some details are changed until it becomes the house in which Joe commits the murder. The cooker, work surface, fireplace and clock are some of these details. Additionally, at one point Joe hears a noise which is his cell sliding shut as someone checks on him.[3]:112–113

The first story about dating featured Trent, Harry and Jennifer. It was inspired by Brooker's observations of people on the street using Bluetooth headsets for calls, who looked like they were talking to themselves "as if they had a mental illness". The horse anecdote was inspired by Brooker reading "bullshit ice-breakers" used by pickup artists.[3]:115

Oona Chaplin was cast as Greta, roughly two days before filming, when Chaplin was working in Los Angeles.[3]:117 The second story, where Matt sets up Greta's cookie, was inspired by the comedic idea of someone who "put a consciousness into a toaster", and the toaster then falls in love with them. Brooker had considered this idea for a while, and realised it was a "fucking nightmare" rather than a love story. One draft of the story showed Greta's cookie watching Greta play with her kids, realising that she would never be able to hug her children again. This scene was rejected as "too weird and nasty" for the episode, but later used in series four episode "Black Museum".[3]:117

The third story is about Joe and his girlfriend Beth. It was based off an idea from Brooker's 2001 series Unnovations in which a pair of glasses showed homeless people as cartoon characters. With the invention of Google Glass, this looked more possible in reality. The idea of blocking on social media was also considered. The ending takes inspiration from Stephen King's 1981 short story "The Jaunt", and the 1982 series finale of Sapphire & Steel.[3]:118 Similar to "White Bear", Joe is a character who is tortured after committing a crime.

Filming, music and editing[edit]

For the setting, a slightly futuristic London and a world in which the characters lived on boats were both considered. However, the episode had a very limited budget. Filming took place in four corners of London within a short period of time, which posed a challenge. Sets were built at Twickenham, which would be used during production of later series.[3]:106–107 The cabin was designed to look timeless, with Trent's outfit looking cleaner than the environment, while Joe's is warm.[3]:113 The episode was shot in October, during a period when Hamm and Spall both had heavy colds.[3]:112

The soundtrack was composed by Jon Opstad. The colour palettes, costumes and soundtrack of the three stories are designed to be similar to each other, to give the episode an overarching identity. The first story has monochrome tones and a "lopsided weirdness" to its soundtrack; Jennifer's dress is made of navy leather and mesh to signify her role as a dominatrix.[3]:115

Jetlagged, Chaplin fell asleep during some of her early scenes, which required her to lie down on an operating table. Greta wears an outfit similar to a kimono, to indicate her "Zen-like existence", while her cookie wears a neoprene fabric. The score for the second story is "crisp, clean [and] sterile", using digital synths to contrast with the rest of the soundtrack.[3]:117 The third story changes "from romance to tragedy", so its score incorporates a viola.[3]:118 A scene where Beth struggles to get a vomiting Joe into a taxi was cut from filming due to time constraints.[3]:121

The ending shows Joe smashing the radio repeatedly, as it reappears each time. It was decided on the day that this should be filmed in one continuous take, with stagehands quickly replacing the radio on the table; this was difficult due to their limited supply of radios. A shot of Joe smashing the snow globe, only for it to reappear, was cut. During filming, Brooker had an idea for the closing moments, which show the camera continually panning out from the cabin to show it inside a snow globe. The effect used lots of different takes as well as visual effects.[3]:120 Editing took place up to the day of its press screening at Channel 4, leading Brooker to delay work on his 2014 Wipe.[3]:123

Analysis[edit]

Thematically, the episode addresses the topic of punishment and of whether artificial intelligence can be "a form of life". It also has commentary on cyberstalking.[3]:121

Both Joe and Trent are unreliable narrators. Brooker commented that the viewer quickly loses sympathy for Joe in the third story, as he is obnoxious towards Beth and is hinted to have an issue with alcohol. Joe is "possessive and has an explosive temper" and Brooker believes him to be the "root cause" of the issues in his and Beth's relationship. Brooker commented of Joe deserving his punishment, "he did and he didn't", and says that viewers may find Trent's punishment harsh because he is charming. Hamm opined that Trent deserved punishment but should have a path to redemption.[3]:120

Brooker thought the episode may have been the last for the programme, so he included Easter eggs which referred to previous episodes.[3]:106 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".[5][6]

Reception[edit]

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.[7]

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".[8] 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".[9]

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".[10] 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".[11] 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)".[12]

Accolades[edit]

Year Award Category Recipients Result Ref.
2015 International Emmy Awards Best Performance by an Actor Rafe Spall Nominated [13]
RTS Craft & Design Awards Best Sound: Drama Jim Goddard, Stuart Hilliker, Dan Green, Alastair Widgery Nominated [14]
2016 Broadcast Awards Best Single Drama "White Christmas" Nominated [15]
RTS Television Awards Best Single Drama "White Christmas" Nominated [16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Yoshida, Emily (5 December 2014). "Here's the first promo for the Black Mirror Christmas Special". The Verge. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  2. ^ "Jon Hamm in Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror special - first pictures". Digital Spy. 24 November 2014. Retrieved 24 November 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Brooker, Charlie; Jones, Annabel; Arnopp, Jason (November 2018). Inside Black Mirror. New York City: Crown Publishing Group. ISBN 9781984823489.
  4. ^ "Black Mirror: Charlie Brooker, Jon Hamm on the dark side of Yuletide". Digital Spy. 14 December 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  5. ^ Grant, Drew (30 December 2014). "Watch the 'Black Mirror' Christmas Special With Jon Hamm". The Observer. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  6. ^ Duca, Lauren (22 January 2015). "'Black Mirror' Intends To 'Actively Unsettle' Audiences, But It's Not Technology That You Should Fear". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  7. ^ "Weekly top 30 programmes". Broadcasters' Audience Research Board. Retrieved 10 December 2017.
  8. ^ "Black Mirror: White Christmas review – sentimentality offset with wicked wit". The Guardian. 12 December 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  9. ^ "Black Mirror: White Christmas, review: 'Be careful what you wish for...'". The Telegraph. 17 December 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  10. ^ "Black Mirror: White Christmas, Channel 4 - TV review: Charlie Brooker's dystopian sci-fi casts a chill over festivities". The Independent. 17 December 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  11. ^ "JINGLE HELL". IGN. 16 December 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  12. ^ "Black Mirror: White Christmas review". Den of Geek. 17 December 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014.
  13. ^ Pieters, Janene (24 November 2015). "Actor Maarten Heijmans takes Emmy for Ramses role". NL Times. Retrieved 4 February 2018.
  14. ^ Bevir, George (1 December 2015). "RTS Craft and Design Awards winners revealed". Broadcast. Media Business Insight. Retrieved 4 February 2018.
  15. ^ "Best single drama: Marvellous". Media Business Insight. 10 February 2016. Retrieved 4 February 2018.
  16. ^ "RTS Programme Awards 2016". Royal Television Society. 22 March 2016. Retrieved 4 February 2018.

External links[edit]