The selves we present on our social media accounts — Instagram, Twitter, whatever — aren’t really, well, us. They’re the pretty versions of us, the happy versions, the ones whose lives are all magic, all the time. No one wants to see our sadness or our pain or a selfie we took at 4 a.m. when we were up sick with a stomach bug — so we don’t show them. We save that side of ourselves for real interactions, for our friends and family and partners. There, we can be judged, sure, but we’re not looking for hearts or likes. We’re just looking for connection. But what if the opportunity for that, too, was taken away? What if every single in-person encounter was up for consideration, a real-life Yelp-style rating that affects your reputation?
That’s the reality Black Mirror‘s “Nosedive,” an episode written by Parks and Recreation alums (and all-around comedy greats) Rashida Jones and Mike Schur, imagines. After each interaction, the participating parties rate the other person on a scale of 1 to 5. Those with scores 4 and higher are considered to be in a good spot, while those under 4 are looked down upon. Our episode’s heroine, Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard), starts off as a 4.2 — a solid number, just not high enough to get her a deal on the luxury apartment she wants. So she sets off on a mission to raise it to a 4.5 in record time.
It’s not just the apartment she lusts after, though. When the realtor shows her the space, there are also holographic simulations of what Lacie’s life would look like is she lived there. In the kitchen, she wears a pink silk nightgown, her hair done up. She looks content, and then it gets better: A shirtless, gorgeous man enters and wraps his arms around her. This is the polar opposite of what her current living situation is — she bunks with her brother, who’s about to ditch her to move in with a friend — and would be an antidote to the insecurity and loneliness she so clearly feels. Now all she has to do is get some more stars, and she’ll be ready to start over.
At first, she tries to do this by going to a coach and getting some advice. He tells her it should take about 18 months to reach 4.5. She doesn’t have that sort of time — she needs that apartment now. So her only option to get rich fast is to cozy up to some “high 4s,” who will then boost her rating considerably more than, say, a 3.1 would. This is harder than it seems: She tries to give her uptight — and highly rated — elevator buddy a free croissant, but said elevator buddy sees right through the sucking up and punishes her with a lousy 3-star rating. “Be genuine!” her coach tells her afterward. Being genuine in a world where everyone is constantly evaluating you is a challenge in itself, he neglects to mention.
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This is something Lacie struggles with. From the very beginning of the episode, we see that she always has on a mask; even when she’s alone in her bathroom, she’s practicing her laugh in front of the mirror. Being her true self is so foreign to her at this point that the idea of projecting that true self to others is unnatural, barely even an option. Then she gets an idea: She’ll post a photo of Mr. Rags, a doll from her childhood. Everyone likes nostalgia posts, right?
NEXT: A rating boost is on the horizon