December 7, 2023

Gabbing Geek

Your online community for all things geeky.

Black Mirror “USS Callister”

Series Four, Episode One.

The lead male role for this episode went to actor Jesse Plemons, who did a season of Fargo opposite Kirsten Dunst.  They are apparently engaged.

Oh, and she’s hanging around uncredited in one scene.

Plemons first appears onscreen in what looks an awful lot like classic Star Trek in terms of fashion, set design, color, and even aspect ratio.  He does some heroic captain-type stuff against a Khan-like figure, and then he gets a lot of enthusiastic cheers from the other members of the crew, including a cowardly lieutenant played by Westworld‘s Jimmi Simpson.  Oh, and he gets to kiss the two female members of the crew.  It’s a little weird, but it’s Black Mirror, where we should expect the weird.

But then it turns out Robert Daly is actually a bit of a loser in the real world.  The space thing was some sort of virtual reality.  He’s the head programmer for a game company that does immersive VR-type stuff.  And the crew of his ship look an awful lot like his co-workers.  Heck, that cowardly guy is also his partner/boss, the much smoother and more ruthless CEO of the company.  As Daly explains to a new coder named Nanette (How I Met Your Mother‘s mother, Cristin Milioti), he’s a big fan of a long forgotten show called Space Fleet about the adventures of the USS Callister, and he managed to get the company he works for named for the ship.  In real life, Daly is abused and ignored, and he isn’t too happy to learn Nanette isn’t interested in him as anything other than a coder legend.

And that’s where things get weird.  See, Daly’s version of the game is private and recreates his favorite show.  The other people in the game look the way they do because Daly stole DNA from his co-workers and somehow added them to the game.  They’re programs and people at the same time, with memories up to the moment they entered the game.  So, adding Nanette is easy, and then comes what he does next:  breaking her.  Outside, he’s a schlubby loser.  Inside his game, he’s Q mixed with Captain Kirk with all the worst instincts of both.  Nanette doesn’t want to play?  He can take her face away, preventing her from breathing and dying at the same time.  As time passes, we learn he doesn’t let anyone die, but he has the DNA to bring people back if necessary.  And he punishes people.  One alien monster they met used to be a crewmember.  When Daly’s not around, the crew still lives but they can’t do anything at all but sit around drinking until he comes back.  The kisses he expects are without tongues and the crewmembers don’t even have genitals to use.  At least one misses being able to do a number two…

Really, Daly represents the worst aspects of toxic male nerd rage.

So, this is Black Mirror, what can they do?  Well…it turns out, they can get back at their captor.  Part of it involves in-game Nanette blackmailing her real world self into stealing the DNA back from Daly.  That involves stealing his communicator while he’s distracted by in-game Nanette.  Once they have the ship back under control, they can fly to a patch for the entire game world and die.  Seems simple enough.

Does it work?  Better than hoped.  Though Simpson’s crewmember sacrifices his life, they do get the ship to the wormhole/patch and instead of dying, get zapped into the game’s cloud and even deal with an irate gamer (Plemons’ Breaking Bad costar Aaron Paul).

As for Daly, well, he got stuck in a shuttlecraft.  The separate module was in the ship, so the game shuts down with him inside.  He ain’t gettin’ out any time soon.

By the by, nice touch when the escaped ship gets into the game updating the look of everything with a lot of lens flares.