by Ali Libertella
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
“Black Mirror” is a Netflix original series, with episodes about an hour each. It is an anthology, or a series that presents a different story and a different set of characters in each episode. I chose the second episode of the third season to start watching. It is a satirical look at modern society, and many episode titles seem to be questioning our increasing reliance on technology.
This episode is named “Playtest,” and on the surface it focuses on virtual reality style video games, but its deeper message is a criticism of modern technology as a whole, including smartphones. The first twenty minutes or so of the episode seemed to drag on, and I wasn’t sure when the real plot was going to begin. However, by the end of the episode I realized that these small details had a big impact on the main character Cooper’s situation.
Cooper was an American traveler who escaped from his mother’s home to travel around the world after his father died of Alzheimer’s. After his credit card was depleted and he could not afford a plane ticket back home from England, he looked on an app “Odd Jobs” for something to do. He landed a job with a huge video game company looking for volunteers to test out their new technology. There were no details in the job offering, but since it payed well Cooper went to it. Predictably, this would not end well for him (he does in fact die after multiple “inception” moments). Once at the video game headquarters, his phone is taken away and shut off (which he turns back on in secret, leading to his death) to start the virtual reality game, an innocent whack-a-mole. A device is injected into the back of his neck that will interact with his brain, inducing audio and visual sensations. After whack a mole, the audience believes that he survives, is taken out of the virtual reality dimension, and moves onto the next game, which will be much more serious. The next game is designed to see how much fear his body can take before he would use his safe word to get out of the situation. It would use his personal memories to tailor a unique horror experience. It seemingly takes place in a mansion which one of the company’s famous games was based off of. After many scary encounters in a virtually-haunted mansion, Cooper starts to forget who he is, reminiscent of his father’s Alzheimer’s, the safe word didn’t work, and he obeyed the orders of the game’s controller without question (however, none of this is actually happening). This points to the criticism of modern technology. However by the end it is revealed that there was never a second game, this was all one experience, his phone (which was supposed to be shut off) had rung and interfered with the signals of the device injected in his neck, causing “all of his neurons” to fire and then stop at once. Because of this, Cooper dies and never makes it back home to America.
Writing a review for this episode was extremely confusing because the episode was just that. By the end however, there is clarity, and multiple “aha” moments. Overall, I loved this episode and am interested in watching more of Black Mirror.