Black Mirror Spoilers


Prologue: This is a piece all about what happens in the Black Mirror episode White Christmas. It was originally supposed to go in the TeeVee forum but then it got too long and ended up here instead. If you don't want this episode spoiled, don't read this. For the record, a lot of the other Black Mirror episodes are good.

So the thing starts out promising enough. The always reclusive and camera shy Jon Hamm is in a cabin with a clock that has birds where numbers should be, with a guy who's not supposed to get screen time, and it turns out that they're lovers... no, strangers! And they've been in this cabin for years... five years, I think Jon Hamm said? It doesn't look like much of a prison, looks like it's snowing outside? maybe it's some sort of Winter Armageddon and they can't leave the house? Anyway, I'm interested, and it looks like Jon Hamm is going to tell his story of how he got here.

So, it turns out that Jon Hamm is, professionally, a PUA Coach, with a unique strategy. His pupil has an ocular implant and Jon Hamm sits in a Skype call with his pupil's POV and gives him real time advice on how to make sex with a pretty lady. From here, it continues like a well-researched (if somewhat boilerplate) PUA Lay Report. The pupil crashes an office Christmas party, and launches into his stock opening lines. He's questioned what he's doing here, and Jon Hamm does some quick interfacing with the CSI database that does facial recognition and then spits out "prove we know each other" facts. He hits on the sort-of-goth girl by ignoring her and talking to her friend, which totally works and so it is agreed they need to find someplace more private where they can talk.

At this point, it turns out that Jon Hamm also has a side business of allowing other PUAs direct access to this coaching session. Maybe they're in it for the chance to see first-person-perspective boobs, or maybe they just wanna flex their rep as the best sex coaches on the internet, it's not really clear, but they're taking part and they're interested. Now, we the audience are treated to this information, but it is kept from Jon Hamm's cabin buddy. Whatever the case though, the pupil doesn't know about these other guys, and isn't at all bothered when his coach keeps saying "Shut up guys" into his earpiece.

The sort-of-goth-girl is like "I don't want to work at this job anymore" and the pupil is like "Yeah, that's cool, you should live your dreams and take a hold [point to schlong] of your life", and the sort-of-goth girl is like "Oh my god you're totally right thank you for the advice let's go back to my place and fuck fuck fuck!"

So they get back to her place, and the pupil is nervous and the sort-of-goth girl gets a drink, and here we learn that the PUA neophyte forgot the #1 Most Important Thing To Learn About Women: All women are crazy monsters! She gives him the drink and it turns out that it's POISON! It's not even a nice poison, she must have gotten her hands on hemlock or something because the margarita that she has them drink causes him to cough, sputter, and bleed from the mouth. He tries to confess that he has a man in her ear, she says Crazy Person Things about the government, and they both die in front of a small internet audience.

Jon Hamm tries to wipe the data, but his wife find out about the incident (it is not explained how) and we are introduced into the next piece of technology: Blocking. You see, it turns out that everybody (not just gangly virgins) have these ocular implants, which are controlled by some friendly Facebook-type organization and so a user can choose, on a whim, to "block" any other user. That means that the person you are looking at is instead rendered as a static outline with a muffled voice. It's a two-way command as well, so the person who blocked you renders that way through your eyes and ears. Oh, what a completely fascinating piece of not-too-distant-future technology this would be! Yes, this certainly wouldn't have any... hey you! Stop thinking about all the ways this technology is stupid and terrible! God damn it, this is satire on the modern human's reliance of technology, we can't have you thinking about whether this particular piece of technology is fucking stupid or not. Let us continue...

Jon Hamm continues to have a one-way-conversation with this new friend of his, and then reveals that all this PUA shit was just a hobby, his job was completely different. We don't need to concern ourselves with this making sense, tell me what your job was then, Jon Hamm!

So, you know how Black Mirror is about human stories conveyed through believable technology? Like there was one where there was an app where it would try to simulate text messages from your dead boyfriend, or the one about the CG puppet that ran for Prime Minister? Compact human stories with a technological twist. Yeah, so part two of this story introduces you to this little white egg... you're familiar with little white eggs right? That's a very zeitgeisty design decision we all see evidence of. Anyway, a little white egg that contains a human soul. Settle down, settle down, it makes medical sense. See, what happens is, this little white egg has a computer in it, that's surgically implanted into your skull, and then once it's in there, the egg downloads a copy of your personality matrix before it's removed. You see, and now you have a (and this is perfectly reasonable) copy of a human being!

You're probably assuming that this kind of amazing and believable technological feat would be done in the pursuit of human immortality, and you'd be assuming that because you're a motherfucking stupid dumb idiot. Jesus christ, you depress me with your simple thinking. There's something far more interesting that could be done with a copy of a human being, stored inside of a small plastic egg on your Wi-Fi network. Ready for it?

Okay, so if there was a copy of you, that copy would know how you like your toast! Eh? Ehhhhhhh? Now please don't think that I, Lemon, am throwing out "she knows how you like your toast" as some sort of humorous reduction of a larger point. I am recounting the central example from the story. The main character in Part 2 mentions more than once that she likes her toast underdone, and shots of underdone toast are frequent throughout the episode. So now you see the reason people make copies of themselves. What you're basically creating is a little butler that will pick the music you like, set the temperature you like, schedule appointments as appropriate and (most importantly) make toast the way you prefer. Wouldn't it be motherfucking amazing if there was a piece of technology (or even hundreds of competing pieces of technology) out there right now that could perform any of these tasks?

But if there were, you wouldn't be faced with an interesting moral quandry. You see, this copy, being a digital replica of a human being is also imbued with free will, and so may not be completely happy with being an overly complicated Siri substitute (Wait, what's Siri? Sorry, I must have just invented a word by accident), and that's where Jon Hamm comes in. As an expert of the human mind (evidenced by his earlier success in PUA methods), Jon Hamm works for the Little Plastic Egg Company, and his job is to get this egg-person to comply their new role of Personal Assistant For Life. And how does he accomplish this? With good old fashioned torture! Here enters the next piece of technology, which is that the egg experiences its own relative time continuum, which can be adjusted. Pay attention now just in case this information is handy later: One can adjust the time that the egg-person experiences, so turn a dial and the egg-person fully lives six months in six seconds, locked inside of a pretend world (like say, a clean white room, or a snowy cabin with a clock that has birds where numbers should be, or something completely different, these are just random examples) occupied only by the stimulus afforded from the egg's internal programming. Of course, if an egg-person experiences time, that would mean an egg-person ages, and that would mean that the real person and the egg person would quickly find themselves out of sync and now you have a 32 year old with a bedtime of 6PM and the TV is always set to Fox News, but this doesn't come up in the show. Instead, Jon Hamm just adjusts the clock to give the egg-person six months of nothing to do but put on too much foundation and tease her hair to convey the passage of time.

In the world of this episode, this is a perfectly respectable thing to do, because this egg-person is not a person, they are simply a copy of a person, and so considerations of free will or human decency should not be taken into account. Egg-people may have free will, but egg-people are not people. Has "What is the measure of a man?" ever been asked with a more compelling story? Let me answer that for you: No.

Now then, Jon Hamm has told more than one revealing story about his personal life, it's time for Some Guy to share. Perhaps Some Guy has some sort of deep dark secret to share, and Jon Hamm, being the friendly sort, is very keen to get him to confess...I mean share, keen to get him to share.

Some Guy's story begins innocuous enough. He is in a relationship with Some Woman and they are happy together. Her father doesn't approve of him, which is a failure on the father's part because Some Guy is flawless. Kind hearted, understanding, patient, loving, committed... there's absolutely nothing about Some Guy that any woman could complain about. Why, if I were Some Woman, I would marry Some Guy and squirt out some babies post-haste.

But they're too young for that right now, and Some Guy and Some Woman do things that young people do in the city, like going to a karaoke bar and singing a song from a different Black Mirror episode, or sit around a circular table and drink wine while exchanging boring stories about how they met. Young people shit! It's the perfect life.

But nothing is ideal in this idyllic world, and Some Guy stumbles across a pregnancy test. It's positive! And it was sitting there in the trash with not a word to Some Guy about this life changing experience.

Some Guy confronts Some Woman, and she sets the record straight. No, it's not good news. No, I'm not keeping it. No, this isn't up for discussion. No, I'm not in any way interested in your input on the matter. Listen here, Some Guy, I've made my decision, and that decision is to be a bitch. What's that? Did you just call me a bitch because of my bitchy behavior? You're blocked, motherfucker!

So the premise from earlier shows up again. Some Woman shuts down a fight by pushing the block button. Some Guy yells for a bit (which she does not hear) before walking out of the room. "You've won this round", he must be thinking, "well done using this piece of technology which causes you to win arguments and wouldn't create larger problems".

The next day, Some Woman leaves. Completely. She leaves him, she leaves her job, she disappears. Nobody knows where she is. Because of the blocking, he can't call or text her. He can't see photos of her. That is, physical 4x6 photos, which he has, he can't see her. Any image of her is just static.

So he's stalking her one day, which is pretty much all Some Guy ever does since the breakup, and he sees a static woman. Presumably nobody else has ever blocked Some Guy, so he recognizes that it's her. And what's more: She's pregnant! The plot sufficiently thickened, Some Guy tries to plead with her to work something out, which is a restraining order violation, because this blocking thing has legal ramifications.

Now clearly this shouldn't be a surprise. You've already remarked to yourself on how ingenious and fool-proof this whole "blocking" idea is, so it's only appropriate that it brings with it the full force of The Law. Standard boiler plate stuff, really. Because he's been blocked, he's not allowed to come within 10 meters of her. Moreover, he's not able to see his own child, because the blocking transfers down to all your offspring. Imagine how much simpler every custody battle would be if one parent physically prevented the other parent from seeing the child, just by pressing a button. Well, Charlie Brooker has taken that well thought out concept and turns it on it's ear, because there are downsides to this idea! This man is suffering. And because he's not interesting enough to do anything else, the next five years of his life are occupied by nothing but pining for Some Woman and Some Child. A child he cannot see, but a child that he knows is his. Or is it!? Yes, of course it is.

So every Christmas (this is a Christmas story, mind you. Remember the aspiring PUA from part 1? He crashes an office Christmas party, so this ticks the boxes), Some Guy sulks outside the house of Some Woman's Dad, not close enough that they could see him (or close enough to break the perfectly legitimate restraining order), but just close enough that he can see a glimpse of the two of them go into house. Just a staticky visage of the woman that he knows is his beloved, and the staticky visage of a child that he definitely knows is his, because of course it is his. OR IS IT!? Yes, of course it is.

As the years of stalking drag on, the staticky silhouette gets older. Some Guy recognizes it as a girl, and feels prideful that he really for sure definitely has sired a daughter, so he leaves a gift for her, the kind of gift any daughter would want to receive anonymously. I hope the symbolism isn't lost on you when I tell you what the gift is, but you've probably already anticipated that it's A Fist Sized Hunk of Wood Carved Into The Shape Of A Rabbit.

Some time later, after a long day of pining for Some Woman, Some Guy is sitting on his couch when he learns some news that is both tragic and wonderful. The tragic news: Some Woman was killed in a train collision! The wonderful news: Some Woman was killed in a train collision!

You see (and here's the cherry on the blocking sundae), while a block can be started by anyone, for any reason, and is legally binding, and carries a proximity alarm, and is passed from parent to child, it is immediately revoked when a blocker dies. So he can see her photo again. And now he can see that formerly-blurry figure that certainly was his child. And he'll be doing that up close, because the restraining order is lifted in a policy that has no logistical problems I can think of at all.

So clearly you know what happens next, but you might be shocked by the twist. Some Guy ventures to the house of Some Woman's Dad (who doesn't like Some Guy, but that hardly matters) and there is his beautiful daughter in the front yard. She's not grieving, she's making a snowman with her back to Some Guy. It's winter, and she's bundled up with winter clothes, but he certainly can see that it's a small girl, and all the clues would lead us to believe that he's sired a daughter. So what he's doing in this scene is, he's walking up behind his daughter.

There's quite a drawn out scene as he approaches his daughter from behind and then she turns around and something so terribly surprising happens that I won't even bother to type it here, but it is a revelation. This revelation takes him about 10 minutes of screen time to recover from, and that recovery time is certainly not aided by Some Woman's Dad. Especially because he never liked Some Guy in the first place!

Some Woman's Dad isn't particularly nice to Some Guy, which is difficult for him because Some Guy is quite fragile after having experienced this very surprising thing indeed. Some Guy flies into a rage and commits an act of aggression. No, he doesn't murder Some Woman's Dad with a fist sized hunk of wood carved into the shape of a rabbit, although that would be quite meaningful. Instead, he murders Some Woman's Dad with a snow globe, which is nearly as profound.

Back in the present, Some guy thinks "Hey wait a minute, this snowy cabin that we're in sure looks a whole lot like the room where I murdered Some Woman's Dad", but Jon Hamm thinks this detail is irrelevant. He wants to know more, he wants to get Some Guy to confess I mean say more about what happened that night. He wants to know what happened to the girl. Some Guy gets distracted, but Jon Hamm presses on, almost in the manner of an interrogator. What happened to the girl?

Some Guy then reflects and tells the story about something that happened that he wasn't around for and would have no way of knowing. After killing Some Woman's Dad, the girl hung around for a while and then, in a move so very typical of children her age, she bundled herself in winter clothes, left the house (which, as a matter of fact, looks quite a bit like this snowy bird clock cabin, but that's not of concern right now), and... no! It's too horrible. Some Guy can't say it out loud. Jon Hamm presses him.

"Do you confess?" Hamm says, an interesting word choice, but let's think nothing of it. He presses further, he wants to know what happened to the girl. Yes, it's true! It's all true. She walked ten feet into the front yard and then immediately died of hypothermia! I confess!

Jon Hamm is pleased by this, and it turns out that in a twist only slightly less shocking than that earlier twist about Other Guy's daughter (or was she?), it turns out that Jon Hamm is actually doing something that's been obvious for the last half an hour or so!

The veil is lifted, and Hamm has been inside the police station the whole time. Where is Some Guy? Fuck him, who gives a shit? The important thing is that we've got Some Egg-Guy right here in the police station, and Jon Hamm just tricked a confession out of the motherfucker! So what, exactly is the measure of a man? Egg-people don't have any basic human rights, but if you get a confession out of them, that's totally admissible to use on their non-egg counterparts, who do have human rights, except the right to not have a plastic egg shoved in their skull for a week to create a Confession Machine.

Oh, but we're not done with Mr. Jon Hamm yet. You remember that earlier bit with the kind-of-goth chick and the murder/suicide? Jon Hamm failed to report that murder/suicide, and that's an offense, and that makes him an offender! And since what happened is kind of sexual in nature, that makes him a sex offender. Thanks a bunch for the confession Jon Hamm but you're a... what's that?

Oh right the time thing. Yeah, no you changed the... Right, time in the egg is... no no no, you don't need to explain. Yes thank you we already... no, we figured that out thanks. Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, sex offender, time for your punishment!

So, Mister Sex Offender, you're going to receive the usual punishment we give to people like you: You're blocked! From everyone! That's right, every living human being in the world is rendered as a staticky silhouette, kind of like that one Twilight Zone episode where this exact thing happens, except way worse because you can't see each other unless they were to die somehow. Also ignore that restraining order thing we mentioned earlier because that doesn't apply here. Yes, you're forced to live in a world where every living human being is stripped of all humanity, the perfect punishment for a person who we believe sexually victimizes other human beings.

The Ironic Punishment Train has one more depot to stop at though, and I don't mean Some Guy's house because who cares about him, but let's give a little something to Some Egg-Guy. Listen, it was bad enough that not-egg-you killed a man, but then something else happened to somebody else as a result, so now it's a thousand years in this bird clock cabin listening to the same Christmas song on repeat. How's that for an ending?

No, still not satisfied? Okay fine, all of this is happening inside a snow globe, which is inside another snow globe, which is inside another snow globe. This whole snow globe bit happens in one minute long zoom out shot that stops just short of it zooming up into space and finding Rod Serling's eyes somewhere up in heaven, nodding and smiling approvingly.

All in all, this story written by Guardian contributor Charlie Brooker was perfectly summed up by The Guardian:

Sentimentality is offset with wicked wit, and Brooker’s brio and imagination paper over any gaps in logic. His anxiety as he lumbers from one paradigm to another is creating funny, imaginative, and keenly felt television, even if he is just being paranoid.

Sounds like a productive anxiety, but some people are calmed by the holidays.

Fun Stats

Word count (excluding this bit): 3,659
Number of uses of "Jon Hamm": 27
Estimated Reading Time: 18 minutes
Time that would take Kumquatxop: 45 minutes