The Morals of Black Mirror, Drinking Game Edition

Nosedive

Premise: In a world where people can rank each other on social media, and your status in life is determined by your rank, one woman desperately tries to get to the wedding that’s going to get her into top status while life keeps chiselling her ranking down and wait a minute part of this sounds familiar.

Tech: MeowMeowBeanz. It’s just frickin’ MeowMeowBeanz. From the Community episode “App Development and Condiments.” Where the app that lets you rate people gets tested at Greendale and they immediately fall into some sort of sci-fi-themed dystopia. Fives have lives, fours have chores, threes have fleas, twos have the blues, and ones don’t get a rhyme because they’re garbage. For real it took me three tries to remember how to spell “Garbage,” I should have some water, I hope nobody messes with AI this season…

The Moral: That season five of Community is better than people give it credit for, because while I don’t know how much John Oliver that episode had, it did “Nosedive’s” story in a third the time with better jokes. Yes, fine, Jessica Chastain is supposed to be brilliant in this one, but at no point do people take her more seriously because she has mustard on her face and I lost you, I just lost you all with that, that was too deep a dive into “App Development and Condiments.” Forget… forget I brought it up.

Fine, the actual moral is that a so-called “meritocracy” based on social media scores is a terrible idea, because the cream isn’t what will rise to the top. The Fives will simply be people who learn how to game the system, like Professor Hickey (aka Replacement Pierce, we’re back on Community), who constantly wears party hats and carries around cake because nobody will downvote a guy on his birthday. And it will lead to people living lives of fake, performative happiness to boost their scores, like Jessica Chastain’s former best friend (Alice Eve), who is basically an Instagram model come to life like a Harry Potter painting, or Community’s Shirley, who ruled the Fives through performative niceness and passive aggressive strikes against those who displease her. Which is a roundabout way of saying that Community nailed the moral, too.

How are we doing with that? An app called “Peeple” tried to get the “rank each other” train rolling, but was met with immediate backlash, and has gained no traction, so good for us. Also season five of Community is on Prime Video, yes you’ll miss Donald Glover, but it’s still fun.

Everyone says this episode is great but once you’ve seen in done in twenty minutes, an hour of it was a bit of a slog for me, there I said it, also that horrid airline employee (Chewing Gum’s Michaela Coel) should be stoned. And it was the first one I tried to watch ’cause of Netflix trying to start you with season three. Should have opened with the pig fucker.

Wait, this is also an episode of The Orville? Son of a–

Playtest

Having some water and pressing on. What have we got here.

Premise: An American backpacking across Europe to avoid his mother agrees to playtest an experimental new video game technology while also planning to do a little industrial espionage for extra cash to keep travelling. Creepy hijinks ensue.

The Tech: An augmented technology video game, which plugs into your head and projects the video game into your mind and oh no there’s another drink coming isn’t there

The Moral: Well first and foremost lemme just… gotta pour some booze here, ’cause “Do not let your perception of reality be hacked” is right at the top, but there’s a couple… couple side morals here.

FIRST: If you’re sneaking your phone somewhere you aren’t supposed to have it, maybe, I don’t know, slip it into airplane mode? Or at the very least, if someone’s been desperately trying to phone you for days or weeks or whatever, call them back so they don’t phone you at an inopportune time. Hey, we got there! Two episodes into the third season and an argument could actually be made for “It’s ’cause you be on your phone!”

SECOND: If you’re developing a video game system that plugs into a human brain, make sure it can’t be affected by cellular telephones. This episode takes place in the goddamn future, there is no place it could be used free of cell phones. Jesus. Think… think a damn thing through now and then, it ain’t hard, like me and this drinking game, best idea I ever had next episode no wait one more subsection damn it

How are we doing with that? Pokemon Go, Zombie Run, other examples I don’t feel like looking up, we do love AR games, and if we had the chance to play them without holding a phone? Oooo some people getting mushroomed.

The… the thing they implanted for the game, it was called a mushroom. Shoulda said that. Mushroomed could have another meaning

Oh, and hey… hey. D’you want to see a bit of this episode’s premise mixed with a shot of “The Complete History of You” and blended into a noir mystery? Check out Anon on Netflix. It’s a decent flick whose only major issue is when Amanda Seyfried hooks up with Clive Owen. He is an old, old man, Ms. Seyfried, you don’t have to do that…

Shut Up and Dance

Okay. More water. Chance to get steady. ‘Cause this one is basic.

Premise: A teen (Alex Lawther, The End of the Fucking World) is blackmailed into a series of increasingly shady acts by mysterious hackers who hacked his laptop with hacking. I said “hack” a lot for someone with no plans to call the writer a hack but all I’m saying is that this is a simple enough idea that it’s been a movie or maybe two and is the new popular email scam. I’m not saying they don’t do it well, and hey it’s got Bron from Game of Thrones, so that’s something.

The Tech: Look if you’re asking me to tell you that there isn’t malware out there that can see what sites you visit or access your webcam I can’t really do that.

The Moral: Stick to reputable torrent sites. And don’t trust blackmailers. They’re not the most trustworthy people.

How are we doing with that? I don’t think there’s a web of blackmailing trolls out there messing with people for internet transgressions. But the news has had a lot to cover lately.

San Junipero

Shhhhh, everybody, everybody quiet. We have a rare sighting here. A Black Mirror episode that’s hopeful.

Premise: Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis, Halt and Catch Fire, The Maritan) meets Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, A Wrinkle in Time) in the fun-loving beach town of San Junipero. Kelly’s just looking for good times, but Yorkie, inexperienced though she is, is looking for something more. Something that’s complicated by the secret truth of San Junipero.

The Tech: Are you sure you want me to tell you? ‘Cause it… it gives away a big part of the… okay but I’m-a spoiler it.

Spoilers here, yar

San Junipero is a virtual city, with multiple options as to era, for senior citizens and the physically deceased to lead happier lives or afterlives. And for one day per week it’s the one chance at happiness Yorkie has ever had.

[collapse]

The Moral: What if, yeah, what if we found a way to transfer human minds into computers– well shit, I spoiled it after all, damn it I am indiscreet when I’m… anyway, what if we figured out a way to do that, but, right, but we weren’t dicks about it? What if there were a way to make this a form of mercy? Second chances at lives we never got a chance to lead.

In short… what if technology was good?

How are we doing with that? It isn’t. But it could be.

Okay. Feeling good. Feeling good. As long as the next episode doesn’t require more drinking oh come on.

Men Against Fire

The Premise: When a soldier’s enhanced perception system goes haywire, he learns an unpleasant truth about the enemies he’s been hunting.

The Tech: MASS, a cerebral implant that enhances the soldier’s perceptions, comms, and allows augmented reality displays for tactical purposes… oh yes and can provide sex dreams at night to take the edge off.

The Moral: Don’t let your perception of reality be hacked, especially if you’re being asked to kill people. If someone can alter your perception to make it easier to kill the enemy, they can also make the enemy anyone they want. Be scared of that. Suddenly glad I have this drink…

How are we doing with that? The US drone program isn’t exactly about injecting more empathy into combat.

Hated in the Nation

Premise: Two police detectives (Trainspotting’s Kelly MacDonald and Games of Thrones’ Faye Marsay) discover that a series of murders of people facing online hate mobs have an unsettling tie to an attempt to replace dying bee populations.

The Tech: Bees.

The Moral: Their intended moral is “internet mobs are never a good thing, don’t be in one.” But the other more pressing moral is “Nothing is unhackable, and thus even the most benevolent drone army can be weaponized.”

How are we doing with that? The US is still trying to use network-accessible computer voting so not great. Not so great.

Let’s… let’s bring this home.

Next Page: Season four, now with more happy endings! Happyish. Slightly positive. You know what, take what you can get.

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