Posted on November 3, 2016
Somehow, I managed to miss an episode of Black Mirror Season 2. Last night while I was writing my post on Hated In The Nation from Season 3, I went to IMDB so I could catalog the differences between the first two seasons and the current one and there was this fourth episode called White Christmas I’d never seen.
One explanation may be that I missed it because the previous episode of season 2, The Waldo Moment, aired in February of 2013 while White Christmas aired in December of 2014.
What is that? 22 months between episodes? Who does that? Charlie Brooker, I guess.
Anyway, spoilers for Black Mirror Season 2 episode White Christmas follow.
There probably isn’t a person on the planet known more for the art of persuasion than Jon Hamm. Maybe that’s why they had to wait nearly two years to finish the second season: they were waiting for him.
We start off in top Black Mirror form, landing in medias res with two roommates trapped in a cabin in the middle of some unknowable snowy waste. Hamm starts with the patter right off the bat and his roommate makes no attempt to hide his annoyance.
Gradually, Hamm’s character Matt thaws his roommate’s reticence (always with more patter) and gets him to talk and we eventually get both their back stories.
Matt, it turns out, was a part-time adviser to guys with no dating game at sometime in the past, but his day job was training AI replicas of human beings to become digital assistants.
The interesting thing here is that he uses the same techniques to get to his roommate as he does to get girls to open up to the boys under his tutelage and to get the AI’s to cooperate.
Most Black Mirror episodes revolve around some kind of pivotal technology (virtual reality, universal yelp, consciousness uploading) and this one is no different. The Zed implant is only obliquely described but its powers appear to be ubiquitous. You can lend your eyesight and hearing to other people, you can copy your personality into a digital assistant, but most importantly of all, you can block someone.
And this is the block of all blocks. This isn’t just not seeing someone’s phone calls and texts. This is not seeing them at all. Literally. A blocked person appears to you as a blurry outline filled with static. Their voice is just a jumble of muted noise.
This is a terrifying prospect when you think about it. Have a tiff with someone you love and take some time away to cool down and then make your apologies. That’s how life works today. But once you’re blocked, you’re invisible to them. You can never make your case, never get through to them to apologize, never make it right between you again.
But, in good Black Mirror fashion, they save the worst blow for last. When Jon Hamm’s character completes his mission, he discovers that he is to be put on something like the sex offender registry. When he leaves the police station, he sees that he is blocked to everyone. He is a ghost moving through a society that can’t see him or interact with him, destined to live out his days more alone than the man he pretended to be back in that cabin in the snowy waste.