Once you understand where “Crocodile” is heading, it’s already too late. The bleakness of its ever tightening spiral has already sucked you in, and you’re just left to reckon with it and its high body count. The knee-jerk reaction would be to say that this “Fargo in Iceland” vignette is dark for darkness’ sake — and that’s not necessarily an incorrect assessment — but buried beneath the bleak is a message about the unexpected ramifications of our increasingly connected society.
But it’s Black Mirror, so everyone pretty much assumed that anyway.
Helmed by pitch-black filmmaker John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road), “Crocodile” lives up to the director’s reputation and is anchored by an otherworldly Andrea Riseborough. Regardless of where you landed on the story and characters here, Riseborough’s performance is as close to undeniable as they come. Through her, Mia Nolan and her murder-palooza is all the more confounding because we can see the human being there. She’s tortured and vulnerable, but more than anything, she’s a person of conviction. Thankfully, I mean that in more ways than once. Seriously, Netflix should send a self-driving bar cart to the homes of whoever makes it through this episode.
The episode begins with the murder that serves not only as an inciting bit of conflict years later, but as a point of comparison for the crimes that follow it. Gone are the rose-tinted days when you could simply ditch the body of the person you mistakenly killed and live some semblance of a normal life afterward. Thanks to Realm insurance and their Recallers, everyone’s recollection is potential evidence to a crime. And that’s the first big red herring of the episode. “Crocodile” doesn’t end up saying much about memories and their relation to some idea of an objective truth. The technology here is the means to another end and a different message entirely.
The key is right there on the hotel TV’s menu screen, as Mia speaks with her ex-partner in love and murder. The welcome features her name surrounded by the expanding circles of water repeatedly struck by falling droplets. We literally see the waves coming off of her spreading in every direction, and she’s hit by other ripples as well. Because of the Recaller technology, no one’s experiences are their own. They happen while we’re surrounded by people, who then form their own memories. We can share parts of a recollection, like the smell of hops from the brewery down the street or a song on a car radio, but our minds can morph the same facts to different ends. It’s so rare that anything we do in modern life happens in isolation. Our actions may only affect ourselves or someone near us, but they can belong to anyone.
The way the first two murders work demonstrates the difference. Broadly speaking, Mia’s actions are the same. No outside parties witnessed either murder, and she made a clean disposal of the body. And she would have gotten away with it, if it weren’t for that meddling self-driving pizza truck. (That’s definitely happening soon, right?) The two murders are also connected in how they’re eventually dredged up: guilt. What’s different is how willfully the admissions happen and the extent of the fallout.
If this feels like I’m grasping a bit, that’s because I feel like I am. “Crocodile” is the binge-watching equivalent of a death march — inevitable and senseless. From the jump, we know that Shazia (Kiran Sonia Sawar, also very good) is coming for Mia; it’s just a matter of when. Following her detection is fascinating, but once we understand that Mia is going the distance with this cover-up, it’s hard to watch, presumably by design. What I’m still not sure of is whether “Crocodile” has much more to offer than a Vantablack shaggy-dog punchline. Granted, it’s a pretty good one. (Always, always kill the guinea pig.) But was it worth it? I’m just not sure yet.
I might go draw a bath to think it over…after locking up the toolbox first.