Can you handle the Twitter rage?
In the 2013 documentary How Video Games Changed the World, Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker declares Twitter to be one of the 25 most important video games ever and says video games have “provided a safe space for people run riot, to fantasize out loud without anyone actually getting killed.” This is an idea he explores in depth in “Hated in the Nation,” which takes the idea of Twitterstorms to a dark and deadly place.
“Hated in the Nation,” the longest episode of the third season, is a noir, X-Files-esque episode that takes place in near-future London. If there’s one thing we can applaud this show for this season, it’s the commitment it makes to genre. The 90-minute episode features all of the trappings we’ve come to expect from prestige-y police dramas while keeping it interesting. (At times the episode recalled Community‘s David Fincher-inspired episode.)
From the beginning we know that this episode’s case doesn’t have a particularly happy ending. The episode opens with jaded Karin Montgomery (Kelly McDonald) being ushered into a hearing room to discuss a case in front of a panel. Close-ups of her face reveal that she’s still torn up about whatever happened.
From there, we flash back to May 15 and receive a first glimpse at who Karin is. She bears all of the qualities of a cynical detective that we expect from a story like this (although usually a man bears them): She’s divorced, lives alone, and maintains a fairly unhealthy diet. As she enjoys her evening Pringles, she watches the news, which features a report about the internet turning against columnist Jo Powers for writing an article that everyone hates and a report that the Autonomous Drone Insects (ADIs) — robot bees who make up for the fact that bees are extinct — have been released.
Jo Powers is taking all of the internet’s rage in stride. She keeps walking when passersby tell her she should ashamed of herself. When someone sends her a cake that says “F—–g Bitch,” she simply cuts herself a slice and eats it, explaining to her horrified husband, “It’s a cake. That’s its job.” At night, she reads through the hatred filling up her mentions with a glass of wine in her hand and a smile on her face. You get the sense that this isn’t really anything new for her.
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That night, Karin is called to Jo’s home after she’s found on the floor of her office with her throat slit. When Karin shows up, she meets her new tech-savvy partner Blue (Faye Marsay). After examining the home, they head out and Karin offers to give Blue a ride since she doesn’t have a license (which was a nice character touch). During the drive, Blue explains that she used to work cyber forensics, but seeing the horrific things people keep on their phones made her want to get out in the real world and do something about it.
“You’ve seen what people tuck away on these,” she says, lifting up her cell phone and explaining how people used to keep their nastiest thoughts in their minds. “Now, they can’t help but entrust it to their little companions.” Yes, this dialogue is very on the nose, but that’s part of the genre. Is this any worse than the nonsense that Rust Cohle spouted on True Detective? Not really.
NEXT: A deadly game
Because of her background, Blue automatically thinks Jo’s death has something to do with her poorly received column and starts combing through her mentions. Karin isn’t so easy to believe it. “That internet stuff drifts off like weather. It’s half-hate, they don’t mean it,” says Karin. “The hate in a marriage, that’s in 3-D, that’s had work put into it, that’s sincere.” However, they’re both convinced it’s not the husband when they meet with him.
Their next stop is to the woman who sent Jo the cake. It turns out that the woman crowd-sourced the money for the cake and sent it. The woman, a teacher, doesn’t see anything wrong with what she did because it was funny and because Jo’s article was really offensive. The teacher does give them their first lead, #DeathTo, a hashtag that’s used on the internet “when someone is being an a—hole.” The teacher thinks it’s funny, but she’ll regret using it soon enough.
Their next lead comes from Jo’s autopsy. The coroner finds one of the ADIs lodged in Jo’s brain. The ADI is responsible for driving her mad and causing her to cut her own throat. However, this isn’t the only ADI-related death. Doctors found one inside a rapper who was also recently on the receiving end of the internet’s rage. Someone is hijacking control of these bees and using them to kill.
Blue starts putting the pieces together and figures out this is all part of a Twitter game called Game of Consequences: The person who receives the most #DeathTo tweets in a day will be killed. Unfortunately, most users aren’t aware that using this hashtag could have deadly results. This is clearly the show’s attempt at exploring Internet rage and shaming on the internet. It’s forcing us to examine how we act online and whether or not we allow our digital personalities get the best of us.
Unfortunately, Karin and Blue are unable to save another one of the killer’s victims. During the attack, which they witnessed, Blue figured out the serial killer was able to kill his victims so precisely because of facial recognition software. However, this would only be possible if the ADIs, created by an independent company, had access to the government’s information. Our two detectives discover that the government has an arrangement with the company that allows it to use the ADIs for surveillance. This is where the episode briefly turns into a critique of the surveillance state and is honestly something that could’ve been cut from this episode — which, if I need to remind you, is 90 minutes long. (My main complaint about this season of Black Mirror is that almost every episode, save the masterpiece “San Junipero,” could’ve used some trimming. But, then again, what else should we expect from a Netflix series?)
Once the episode gets back on track, Blue and Karin start chasing down leads, and Karin interviews a woman who was shamed so badly on the internet that she tried committing suicide. Thankfully, her flatmate Garrett found her and saved her and stroked her hair until the ambulance came. She says she always suspected Garrett had feelings for her. Karin has an epiphany: He’s the one behind the attacks. At the same time, Blue discovers that Garrett has actually written a manifesto where he explains that he’s doing this to show people the consequences of excessive public shaming. He wants people to know what it feels for their words to have meaning. Grounding Garrett’s motivations in something personal was a smart move because it helped ground the entire episode and prevent it from becoming too preachy.
NEXT: The game takes a twist
Because this is Black Mirror, you start to spend your time waiting for the other shoe to drop — and it does. After Karin and Blue fail to apprehend Garrett, they start going through his files and discover that he has a list of everyone that tweeted #DeathTo. And once he gains control of all of the ADIs, he sends them to kill everyone on that list for using the hashtag.
This twist truly encapsulated what made this episode particularly striking and scary. If you’re a fairly active user on Twitter, you’ve probably fed the Twitter Rage machine at some point. But, this episode raises a mirror to our behavior — as most Black Mirror episodes do — and forces us to really question our online behavior. One of the most striking visuals was seeing all of the robotic bees swarm on their targets.
The other powerful image comes in the aftermath of Garrett’s final plan. We see Karin and Blue standing in a warehouse filled with the victims of the attack and there’s light shining through a window onto the bodies in a way that screams, “Look what our Twitter rage hath wrought.” From here, we cut back to the future and Karin explains to the committee that Blue disappeared after that day in the warehouse because she blamed herself for the many deaths. A few months later, they found her stuff on the beach with a note, leading many to think she committed suicide.
Spoiler alert: She didn’t. Blue has been searching for Garrett and tracks him down in some remote town. After confirming his ID, she sends Karin a text to let her know she found him (which Karin deletes after reading) and then starts tailing him through the city, because if there’s one thing we know for sure it’s that Faye Marsay is a pro when it comes to chasing people. (Hopefully she doesn’t let Garrett lead her into a trap, too.) This might not be as optimistic of an ending as my beloved “San Junipero,” but it’s uplifting in the sense that the bad guys won’t get away.
Overall, I thought this was a very strong episode. Despite its unnecessary length, it did flow pretty nicely and at times genuinely felt like a feature film. Director James Hawes (Penny Dreadful) and the rest of his team had a fairly strong mastery over tone; there was uneasiness that carried through to the end of the episode that drew you in. Moreover, I like that the show didn’t let the commentary overpower the narrative, meaning that I was genuinely engaged with the story and wasn’t completely obsessing about what the episode was trying to say.
I also love how the episode played with the tropes of the genre. One of my favorite moments in the episode was when Karin’s answer to Blue’s inquisitive look after explaining how strong hatred in a marriage. “Yeah, I’m divorced,” she says in a way that says “Of course I am. Did you expect me, the lead character of this story, not be?” Furthermore, McDonald and Marsay just gave fantastic performances that complemented each other, forming an interesting partnership.