As people get hacked, they must follow increasingly disturbing blackmail text message instructions
In this episode, Black Mirror tackles the consequences of getting hacked, although it wouldn’t be Black Mirror if those consequences weren’t the most extreme ones imaginable.
“Shut Up and Dance” opens with a short scene: A woman parks a car in a garage, nervously sends a text, and walks away. But she’ll be back before the end.
Next, we meet Kenny (Alex Lawther), who has a virus on his computer. He downloads a program from the Internet to get rid of it, but doesn’t seem to consider the consequences of trusting some random program. Minutes after masturbating to Internet porn, he gets an alarming email saying “WE SAW WHAT YOU DID” with a video attached. He gets a second email demanding his phone number or else the video will be leaked. He complies and receives a series of rapid texts ordering him to keep his location services on and telling him, “WHEN TIME COMES YOU WILL BE ACTIVATED.”
The next day, the hacker(s) order him to go to a location at a certain time. Another victim, a man on a motorcycle, delivers a box to him and documents it with a photo. When Kenny questions him, he says that once he does what they tell him, he’s off the hook. How can this man know for sure if he’s still a pawn in the game?
Now Kenny must deliver the box to a hotel room. He opens it to find a seemingly innocuous cake that reads “I Love You.” The man in the room, Hector (Game of Thrones‘ Jerome Flynn), doesn’t know who sent it, but then gets a series of texts and runs into the bathroom. His communication with the hackers has begun. Kenny asks the hackers if he can go. There’s a close-up of the three dots of the typing indicator as he waits anxiously for the response. “TAKE HIS PHOTO,” reads the new text.
Hector and Kenny must head to a new location with the cake. They go to an assigned car, the same one we saw the woman leave at the beginning of the episode. Hector reveals what the hackers have on him: He’s a married man who was at the hotel to meet a prostitute he found online. This fake escort website is how the hackers found him, and they have the nude pictures he sent. When they arrive, they are instructed to rob a bank with a gun that is hidden in the cake.
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Kenny successfully robs the bank, and the two are instructed to split up: Hector must destroy the car and Kenny must bring the money into the woods. There, he meets another victim. “What they got you for?” he asks Kenny. “I just looked at some photos,” he replies. “Yeah, I just looked at pictures, too. How young were they, in the pictures?” says his companion, revealing that he’s being blackmailed for child pornography. For an answer, Kenny just shakes his head.
NEXT: Kenny receives his next task
The man in the woods sends a camera drone into the air so the hackers can watch while he and Kenny fight to the death. The winner takes the money. Kenny still has the gun, and he aims it at the other man before turning it on himself. He pulls the trigger, only to find it isn’t loaded. They sent him to rob a bank with a gun that isn’t loaded. In a wise move, we are spared from seeing the fight.
During the chilling conclusion, we see each of the victims receive a picture of a Trollface via text. Everything was leaked online anyway, even though each victim followed their instructions. The hackers just wanted to see how far they could push them.
We see the woman, Georgina, who turns out to be the CEO of Wayhaven, the hotel chain that Hector and Kenny were in. The skeleton in her virtual closet turns out to be racist emails. As for the man on the motorcycle, we never find out what he did. Meanwhile, Kenny emerges from the woods alone. We find out by way of a call from his distraught mom that the porn he was looking at was child porn. This throws a seemingly innocuous earlier scene in which he hands a child her forgotten toy into a new light. Three police cars pull up. He walks slowly away from them, in a daze.
We don’t ultimately find out the hackers’ motives, so we’re meant to assume there are none, other than cruelty. They didn’t take the money that Kenny stole from the bank. These hackers trap people with various fake programs and websites (the anti-virus program, the escort website) and then wait for them to do something bad. In Hector’s case, he incriminated himself when he first used the hooker website. In Kenny’s case, they had to wait for him to do something bad on camera. And they didn’t have to wait long. The message here is that many of us have used our computers or phones to do something incriminating, and any of us could be exposed and blackmailed. If you haven’t already put tape over your webcam, you’re probably going to want to do it right now.
Odds and Ends:
Hector (to Kenny): Your mom’s gonna love that on Facebook, Twitter, and Insta-fucking-whatever.
Time for some Black Mirror Easter eggs: on the news site Georgina is reading, we see headlines about other characters from previous episodes. The headlines “PM Callow ‘to divorce,’” “Victoria Skillane trial latest,” and “Talent show 15 Million Merits launches next week” reference the episodes “The National Anthem,” “White Bear,” and “Fifteen Million Merits” respectively. The reference to “Fifteen Million Merits” is strange, because that episode seemed to take place in the future.
Have fun involuntarily shivering every time you see a Trollface on the Internet, everyone!