Netflix's extraordinary exclusive series Black Mirror recently released its fourth season, and it's premiere episode, "USS Callister", is already being praised around the internet for its spectacular deconstruction of toxic fandom and male-entitlement power fantasies. It deserves every bit of that praise. Jesse Plemons is also deservedly earning plenty of praise for his incredible performance as both a nerdy creeper and for his spot-on Shatner send-up. But Black Mirror, as a series, is so good, in part, because it works on many, many different levels. So I wanted to spend a bit of time praising the episode for some of its other concepts that are getting less attention in the mainstream.

Jesse Plemons puts on a masterful performance as a nerdy office creeper and a spot-on Shatner send-up.

Before I do that, I want to start by saying that I love Black Mirror as a series. It's a modern-day Twilight Zone with a specific focus on the social impacts of technology, and dire warnings about their dangers. Yes, it's pessimistic, but it's bloody brilliant! I haven't sat down to watch every episode yet, and have only seen a handful of episodes from the first three seasons and the season four premiere. That being said, the show's second episode "Fifteen Million Merits" is one of my favorite pieces of television ever. "The Entire History of You", "Be Right Back", and "San Junipero" are also some of my favorites so far.

These episodes (along with "USS Callister") work so well for me because they do such a fantastic job of world-building -- at least, when they are not unrealistically pretending that memories and personality can be replicated from DNA, which is a major (almost story-breaking) stumbling block for Callister. These deep, nuanced worlds create many levels of commentary to unpack. "Fifteen Million Merits" focused on reality TV and pervasive advertising, but it also has some scathing warnings about a culture of body-shaming, obsession over digital merits (read: XBox Live and Steam Achievements), and how corporate avarice could turn a post-scarcity economy into an absolute dystopia.

A friend of mine highly recommended "San Junipero" to me on the grounds that it's a more optimistic episode than many of the others -- even having a happy ending. But my takeaway was not a "happy ending" at all. The fairy tale ending hides a sinister metaphysical question that the text of the episode mostly sidesteps: the mind-body problem. Is the avatar of a deceased person living in San Junipero really that same person? Or merely a copy? Are they one power failure away from being snuffed out of existence? Are people committing suicide based on misinformation from a multi-billion dollar corporation promising that they can live forever in a simulated reality?

Black Mirror's exceptionally well-thought-out worlds always leave sinister nuances to unpack.

"USS Callister", on the surface, appears to be entirely about toxic fandom (along with male entitlement). It is absolutely about that, and it does a fantastic job of presenting it. As a Star Trek fan, I also enjoyed the deconstructive elements about Trek tropes and the unrealistic reverence that fans hold for the series and its established canon. As someone who blogs about Star Trek, Star Wars, video games, and other fanboy topics, I am certainly a target of at least some of this episode's criticism.

As someone who works in the software industry, I recognized the episode also taking swipes at the cult of personality attached to tech moguls like Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Gabe Newell, and others, and the idea that they may be taking credit and profiting on other people's work, and becoming filthy stinking rich at the expense of the consumers who mindlessly use and venerate their products, all with willful disregard for how those products may be misused. As someone who can't wait to put myself on the waiting list for a Tesla self-driving car, I'm also well within the cross-hairs of that line of commentary...

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Edge of Tomorrow poster
Edge of Tomorrow mimics video game respawning.

Video game adaptations have generally been pretty awful. Edge of Tomorrow isn't based on a video game (it's actually based on a Japanese novel), but it manages to feel more like a video game than any game-based movie that I've ever seen, while still providing an interesting and fun narrative built upon a unique time-travel premise.

The movie takes place in a present-day earth that has been invaded by hostile aliens, slowly but steadily consuming the cities of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and the combined forces of earth's nations can't slow them down. William Cage (Tom Cruise) is ordered into active combat in a surprise assault against the aliens, despite being a propaganda officer rather than an actual soldier. During the assault, the human soldiers are ambushed and slaughtered, but Cage manages to kill an alien only to be boiled alive by the alien's acidic blood. However, Cage gains the alien's ability to go back in time to reset the day after he dies. So when Cage dies, he immediately wakes up back at the army base just prior to the invasion to start the day over again.

 

Cage gets stuck in a "Groundhog Day" cycle, constantly reliving the same failed invasion over and over again. He tries to change the outcome, but plays such an insignificant role in the grand scheme of things that his efforts are all in vain, and he must repeatedly experience the invasion until he has effectively memorized every event. In each repeat cycle, he gets a little bit better at staying alive, just like a video gamer playing a trial-and-error level in an old-school video game (think Castlevania, Contra, Ninja Gaiden, or the more recent Demon's Souls). He learns the location of every alien, every mortar shell, every landmine, every piece of flying debris, until he can essentially walk through the invasion with his eyes closed either avoiding or eliminating threats with virtually no effort.

As a gamer, it was very interesting for me to watch a film narrative that is completely based around one of gaming's central conceits: respawning after a character dies...

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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