Black Mirror does zombies!
For a show that loves playing with scary future scenarios, it is surprising it took this long. Unsurprisingly, though, there is a twist in the tale…
‘Men Against Fire’ follows Stripe, a soldier fighting in Denmark as part of a global mission to rid the world of “roaches” – zombie-like creatures with something nasty in their blood.
But when Stripe has a mysterious light flashed in his eyes, he discovers the terrible truth. The roaches are people, made to look monstrous by his Mass implant. Their only crime is that their DNA apparently holds a higher chance of genetic disease, lesser mental acuity and criminal tendencies.
On a dramatic level, this is an ingenious switching of the usual zombie genre tropes. Yet it also carries a deeper warning about where xenophobia and fear of those who are different might lead us – something that is incredibly timely, considering everything that is going on in the world at the moment.
Even the term “roaches” is a canny bit of misdirection. On the face of it, it sounds like a fitting bit of slang for zombies (creatures who, like cockroaches, can survive the apocalypse). After the reveal, though, it takes on unsavoury connotations of dehumanisation. For instance, it’s quite possibly a nod to when tabloid hate troll Katie Hopkins infamously referred to migrants crossing the Mediterranean as “cockroaches.”
Mass is another in the long line of terrifying technological inventions on this show – an implant that entirely changes your perception of the world around you. One that can make people pleading for their lives appear as ravenous monsters.
As Arquette the psychiatrist says, “humans are genuinely empathetic as a species. We don’t want to kill each other, which is a good thing… until your future depends on wiping out the enemy.” In this episode, technology really does turn people into zombies.
Apart from Brooker’s writing, props must also be given to Malachi Kirby as Stripe, Black Mirror‘s second Doctor Who guest star in a row (he played the Time Lord Gastron in ‘Hell Bent’), and director Jakob Verbruggen for some clever, glitchy visuals which keep us guessing about what could be really going on until the final reveal.
There are some niggles to be had with the episode, though. In particular, the climax basically coming down to Arquette (Michael Kelly) explaining the plot is a little clunky. It helps that we are so enthralled by the revelations but maybe it would have been better to find a more sophisticated way of getting across the same information.
Yet ‘Men Against Fire’ remains of a very high standard and, as with all the best episodes of this show, we could keep on analysing it until the end of the world (which Black Mirror seems to believe will come sooner than you think). Instead, let’s just say that this is another strong instalment that should linger long in the memory.
Available from Friday 21 October 2016 on Netflix.
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