“Black Mirror” has set the Internet abuzz with its near-future premises posing questions of morality in terrifying ways in each new episode. For the show’s 2014 “White Christmas” special, starring Jon Hamm, “Black Mirror” stuffed a whole stocking of weird into one episode.
While most “Black Mirror” episodes follow a single haunting story for the hour, the Christmas special interlocks three tales to propel toward its disturbing conclusion. One thing remains constant throughout, and that’s Jon Hamm’s character, who is not a good guy, to put it mildly. As usual, however, “Black Mirror” has a creative solution for the wrongdoers in its universe.
Hamm basically plays a Peeping Tom dating coach who witnesses one of his proteges getting murdered, but instead of reporting it, he tries to cover it up. It turns out he’s able to mentally manipulate people because his day job is psychologically breaking the copies of other people’s consciousness to convince them to be micro personal assistants.
Hamm’s Matt is eventually called upon to use these psychological skills to manipulate a man into confessing to murder. While Matt maintains that he’s only psychologically torturing a copy of someone’s consciousness, not the actual person, they feel human enough to make it seem like Matt is a sociopath at best.
In exchange for getting the confession, Matt is let off the hook from the whole witnessing-a-murder-and-not-doing-anything-about-it business. However, instead of going to jail he gets “blocked” from everyone.
Sounds weird, right? Since everyone’s eyes work basically like webcams in this universe, people can choose to block anyone they don’t want to talk to, which in turn makes that person a gray ambiguous blob. (Imagine having the block feature from your old-school AIM buddy list employable in real life.)
That’s really the question “Black Mirror” is asking with its Christmas special — if we could block the people we find hazardous to our lives, should we? At the end of the episode Matt is isolated from everyone around him, and they see him as a red ambiguous blob. It’s the personified version of a sex offender registry.
While Matt is irredeemable in the special, the man he convinces to confess was driven into a rage from being blocked. He hadn’t committed a crime. In fact, his girlfriend was the one who cheated on him and then cut him off from the child he thought was his. After years of trying to gain contact, the truth was finally revealed and the shock caused him to lash out.
If his girlfriend had been forced to deal with the issue head-on instead of having the option to block him, would things have gone that far? Is blocking out a problem more beneficial than having to face it head on? Timeouts are a popular therapeutic technique to help quarreling parties calm down, but when it becomes a permanent solution, “Black Mirror” seems to think it just creates a much bigger problem. If that’s the case, is that how we should be dealing with people deemed undesirable in society?
In the end, “Black Mirror” does what it does best by offering a futuristic alternative to dealing with societal issues, and then making you question just how humane they are. As horrible as Hamm’s character is in the special, he’s not the scariest thing. No, the scariest thing is being stuck alone with ourselves forever or being relegated to being an anonymous gray blob.