Black Mirror

Netflix

Season 4 Episode 1

USS Callister

The first episode of Black Mirror goes straight for one of the biggest stories of the year with a story dealing with both toxic masculinity and abuse by a powerful man. It also takes a decidedly direct swipe at fandom, especially fanboy culture and appropriation.

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Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons) is the creator of the popular video game Infinity. Along with his partner Walton (Jimmi Simpson), the game is incredibly popular and gearing up for its holiday update. Even though the game has brought Daly money and success, he is still socially inept and incapable of asserting himself with both his partner and subordinates. One leaves his gym bag in an aisle, causing Daly to fall. Another doesn’t offer to get him coffee when he’s getting it for others. Everyone else pretty much ignores him and thinks that Walton is solely in charge. Something that was done incredibly well was giving the audience a sympathetic portrayal in Daly. You felt for him at first and even thought that his adolescent means of venting his frustration was merely fantasy until his real behavior manifested.

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When Daly gets home though, everything changes. When he logs into his modified game of Infinity that he controls completely, he is Captain of a Star Trek like ship called the USS Callister, based on his favorite show Space Fleet. In this world, he is a powerful, charismatic hero. What makes this mod unique is that the members of his crew are all his co-workers and they are not just copies of them, Daly has found a way to virtually clone them using DNA.

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When a new employee Nanette (Cristin Milioti) is hired and praises Daly for his code, he feels a connection to her. In any other situation, Daly could try to engage her socially, but when he overhears Nanette being warned about Daly from Shania (Michaela Coel), he decides to add Nanette to the crew. She wakes up on the ship and what’s really messed up about the situation is that Nanette wakes up knowing exactly who she is. Daly enters the game and proceeds to torture Nanette into submission. As she openly submits to him, she secretly plots with the rest of the crew to find a way to escape.

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What I really enjoyed about this episode is that it takes tropes that, as a sci-fi and Star Trek fan, I enjoyed as a kid and shows the dark side of them. It illustrates what can happen when the wrong fan is given total control over what he is a fan of (Daly doesn’t give his “crew” genitals because it “isn’t the Space Fleet way”). It also showcases toxic masculinity in how every female member of the crew is required to kiss him at the end of a mission a la Captain Kirk. There’s even a dig at gamer culture included towards the end of the episode that’s worth seeing.

This was a great episode that is definitely worth watching.

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