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CBS (ended 1964)
So, with Twilight Zone in any of its incarnations absent from our screen, horror-fantasy-sf anthologies with twist endings are few and far between. Since we can't find them in America, that means we have to look to the UK and Black Mirror. (Alternately to the viewers in the UK, you won't find new twist-anthologies across the Atlantic in the US. We suck. Sorry.) This anthology series specializes in twist endings as it explores how technology will affect humans for good or for ill. And since this is a horror series, it's usually for ill.

The series creator, Charlie Brooker (Dead Set, several iterations of Charlie Brooker's Wipe) has produced the show erratically. There were three episodes in 2011, three in 2013, and now a Christmas special which Channel 4 is advertising as part of Series 3. Each episode looks at some kind of futuristic technological development and the impact it has on people. This has ranged from recreating a person from their social media, to a government conspiracy to make an animated character the Prime Minister, to futuristic game shows that are the only way to escape a life of manual labor.

The Christmas special, "White Christmas," is no exception. It starts with two men, Matt Trent and Joe Potter, sitting in a barren outpost in the middle of winter. After five years together, Matt wants to cook Christmas dinner and chat. Potter isn't that interested so Matt opens up a bit and relates a couple of stories from his life. Potter then finally talks about how he got stuck in the outpost, and some twists ensue.



There are two future-technological items presented here. The first are Zed-Eyes. Through unexplained circumstances, everyone on Earth had them implanted. Presumably they volunteered, but it's not clear why because the only beneficial feature they are shown to provide is "blocking" (more below). And I'm not convinced that would be particularly beneficial, weighed against the potential abuse.

Anyhoo, the government apparently can't see through them unless the owner volunteers. However, the owner can let his friends see through them although it may be illegal. This brings us to the first vignette, which has Matt providing guidance to a friend Harry who wants to pick up a girl at a party. Matt is monitoring Harry via his Zed-Eyes, and the other members of their "club" look on, having shared their own hookup experiences in the past. There's a twist here.

The second technological achievement is the Cookie. For a high fee, a "pea" is implanted in a human brain, and then removed after a week. It is then put in the Cookie, creating an AI perfectly attuned to the originator. Once it's coerced into service, it runs the house functions. Matt works for a company that provides this service, and has the job of coercing AIs into doing their job.


The third segment returns to the Zed-Eyes and a new function (although we see it briefly in the first vignette). Users can "block" other people, reducing them to a vague gray silhouette that can't be heard. (It's not clear why eye implants block voices.) This even extends to photos of the people blocked. Potter's girlfriend blocks him permanently and has his child... who is also blocked. When the girlfriend dies in a train crash and the blocking ends, Potter seeks out his four-year-old daughter that he's been watching blurrily from afar and tries for a reunion only for it to go horribly wrong in a twist.


In the last segment, we find out what is really going on with Matt and Potter, and we get two more twist endings—one for each character. Although the second segment is relatively short and doesn't seem to have much to do with the rest of the stories, it has a fairly significant payoff in the conclusion.

John Hamm (Mad Men) is surprisingly good as the unreliable narrator of the story. He's sleazy and causally dismissive of the AIs that he essentially tortures into servitude. Rafe Spall (Pete Versus Life, the upcoming Sons of Liberty) is adequate as the seemingly good man who realizes that something is closing in on him. Spall plays up the shocked paranoia accordingly. Even when he finds out why what's happening to him is happening, you sympathize with the character. The rest of the cast really isn't on long enough to make an impression, which is always a problem with anthologies. Rasmus Hardiker, as the nerdish Harry that Matt coaches through a pickup date gone horribly wrong, is probably the standout.


"White Christmas" is presumably set in the same universe as the other Black Mirror stories. Most prominent is a voyeur named I_AM_Waldo, after the animated character mentioned earlier. However, other Easter eggs mention characters and events from the previous episodes.

The technology is magical rather than realistic, doing whatever the plot requires. The government can apply extraordinarily harsh measures to coerce confessions and prosecute criminals. AIs exist and private corporations are allowed to torture them into submission. And the government allows blocking and legally supports it, which seems like it could go horribly out of control in many more ways than the way we see here. However, they apparently can't see through the Zed-Eyes to gather evidence. Either this dichotomy of the intensely private versus the harsh prosecution of the rule-breakers is intentional but not explored. Or it's just writer/creator Brooker using the technology and the government setting to move the pieces into place to tell his stories. Take your pick.

As with most of the previous episodes, Black Mirror also seems to inhabit a world where they took Dick the Butcher's advice and first killed all the lawyers. You'd think a lawyer would have a field day with what happens to Matt, suing for damages. And that somebody would eagerly come forward to defend AIs.


So next, how does this compare to Twilight Zone? You've already been warned about spoilers, and I was tempted to put this into an entirely different section. Try to break them out from my review, as it were. "Twist"-style anthology shows are the most vulnerable to spoilage. But how do you review a spoiler-based show without giving away spoilers? So I've already got a warning up top, and here's another one.

If you don't want to be spoiled for Twilight Zone (all three incarnations), and Black Mirror, don't keep reading. I liked this episode, end of review. Live forever wondering what this has to do with Twilight Zone and why it's posted in a Twilight Zone community.


Still here? Great. Serling liked his twist endings, and Brooker is the closest thing we've got to a modern-day Serling right now. Give me Brooker over Shyamalan any day. Brooker likes the twists and tosses them in even when they're not necessary.

We find out that Matt is actually working for the police to get Potter to confess to his crime. However, Matt is just as scuzzy as we've been led to believe and gets his comeuppance. He's put on a register of "Peeping Toms" and blocked from everyone. Not only is he blocked, but he's "branded" with a scarlet aura so people know he's a Peeping Tom. Judging from the vendor weighing a snow globe in his hand and looking contemplatively at Matt, Matt may not have long to live which means that he basically got a death sentence.

This resembles the 80s Zone episode "To See the Invisible Man," based on the 1963 story by Robert Silverberg. And like in that episode, the punishment seems to far exceed the crime. Yes, Matt let a man die rather than incriminate himself. But it's not clear why he didn't make the call to the police when Harry was poisoned. He had the permission of the person he was monitoring. Apparently monitoring anyone using Eye-Link software is a crime. Even if they agree to it. This doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. It gives us a government that is obsessive about protecting citizens' privacy, but are also extremely harsh to its citizens and violate their privacy and/or torture AIs if they think that there's a need.

So if it's not clear why Matt hid his crime, the ending doesn't really resonate because his punishment is based on his crime. It only works because Matt is made out to be a total douche throughout the episode. The second vignette drives that home by having Matt torture an AI, using the convenient excuse that it's not "real." Unlike Mitchell Chaplin in "Invisible Man," we don't really care if Matt gets redeemed in a year, or however long he's on the Peeping Tom register. Assuming he survives, the Matt we see will probably be just as big an asshole as he is before undergoing social "blocking."

As for Potter, he's actually a killer. However, we never hear from the real him because the "Potter" we do see and hear is a copy of his mind put in a Cookie. Matt enters the virtual reality and pretends to be a co-worker, and gets him to confess that he killed his girlfriend's father (by accident), and then his girlfriend's daughter wandered off into the snow and froze to death. The idea of repetitive crime and/or punishment in a virtual reality is something we get in the 2000s Zone with the episode "The Pool Guy". Heck, we got it in a previous Black Mirror episode, "White Bear".

Anyhoo, it's a shocking twist after a decent build, and shocks even further when the police leave Potter in a permanent loop set to Christmas Day. Thus the ironic use of "I Wish It Could be Christmas Every Day" by Wizzard throughout. But it's a confusing one. For one thing, they're not torturing Potter, they're torturing his AI duplicate. Presumably the fact it isn't "real" is supposed to excuse the torture. But if the Potter copy isn't real, then why should we think justice is being handed out here? And if it is real, which Potter himself suggests earlier, we're watching an innocent AI get tortured forever.


So it's less about handing out justice, which was a big Serling thing for the most part. Most people in the original Zone get what they deserve. Even Henry Bemis in the original Zone's "Time Enough at Last" is obsessive about books and reading. Books and readings and being literate are good things, but not when taken to an extreme and used to escape reality as Beamis does.

So this episode is more about nihilism. Bad things happen to good people and there's nothing that they can do about it. Fate is going to bulldoze over you. Social blocking and the total lack of legal recourse drove Potter to accidental homicide. He doesn't deserve to be convicted of murder, and his AI doesn't deserve to spend a thousand years in a Christmas purgatory.

It also highlights the weird government enforcement of its privacy laws. They have to get a confession from Potter or they can't convict him. But... they're allowed to get the confession from an electronic copy of his brain. Wouldn't any defense lawyer make hash out of that? Other than the item-of-the-week techno development, the world of Black Mirror is pretty much our own. You'd think the legal battles to iron this all out would take decades. Is a confession from a copy acceptable in a court of law?

*shrug* But then again, not all Zone episodes stand up when you examine the settings. However, Zone wasn't big on the technology to drive the plot, either. While Black Mirror is.

Anyhoo, the episode itself is nicely paced. I enjoyed the second vignette the most, maybe because it was in-and-out in ten minutes or so, and best showcased Hamm's portrayal of Matt. He sits there and smugly eats toast while torturing an AI in a high-tech egg. Talk about your banality of evil.


But the final wrap-up is good, and Rafe Spall sells it. The first and third vignettes have their own twists. The former one is a little hard to swallow (in best Cryptkeeper voice: "Not that Harry has trouble swallowing it! Heh heh heh..."), and the latter is depressing. But in a good way, if that makes sense. Director Carl Tibbetts makes good use of the Christmas season to cover the third vignette in barren icy landscapes... which brings us to the final wrap-up when Potter realizes that his dead daughter's body is lying in the snow outside of the (virtual) outpost.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?

And hey, I apologize for not reviewing this on the 16th when it aired. But nobody else seemed to be in a hurry to review it or talk about it...


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Dec 27, 2014
My take on the Zed eyes is, that they were an upgrade of whatever it was that was implanted in the eyes in the The Entire History Of You episode. If you've seen that episode you know some of the advantages it has. I can imagine a world with that kind of tech getting extremely paranoid really quickly. and if it's set a couple of years after that episode and is set in the same world as the White bear episode the harshness of the punishments is not that surprising.
It's clear AI's don't have any legal rights and I think the punishment given to the potter AI is not any legally sanctioned one. More the equivalent of beating up a annoying drunk homeless guy in a holding cell.
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Dec 27, 2014
Sorry but you all (both article and comments) just over-analysed the balls out of this.... Jon Hamm turned up and ruled every scene Rafe Spall was epically good it was right on the money about modern technology/ social media and the ending was chilling. Why the hell did lawyers come into a review of it???? This isn't a wholly realised world these are techno age parables and references to other BM episodes are just in there for fans. I think this was series 3 I'd not be surprised if Brooker stops and just does Weekly Wipe for a while. Even if it continues I really hope it stays as an irregular series. Making 1 series per year is not always the best way to do things and I'd rather wait longer for another great episode than watch a rush job.
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Dec 27, 2014
It was the lack of lawyers that came into it. While not every episode has set out to make a wholly realized world, this one took more of a stab at it with the expanded length and intertwined storylines.
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Dec 25, 2014
It's hard to assess what is excessive and what isn't as we don't know the legal system in this world. But it doesn't seem to make much sense that Matt "walks free" but "with caveats." In other words, he can't interact with anybody, he can't work, he can't even shop for food. But if this story were developed more deeply, like they would do in a novel or series of novels, he might meet a clandestine organization that would remove his implant, or replace his eyes, a la Minority Report... Moreover, I can't understand the cops' sadistic pleasure in eternally punishing an AI, even if modeled after a murderer.

This is the kind of episode that impresses when we first watch it, but then it falls apart upon closer analysis. Even so, John Hamm rules!
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Dec 25, 2014
Well, presumably he could hand over money and pay for food and what not. If he tried to steal something, people would report him to the police.

But that's why it didn't make much sense here. in "To See the Invisible Man," the guy could steal and take whatever he wanted, and absolutely no one could or would do anything. They seemed willing to pay the price, or the government forced them to put up with it.

Also, the social invisibility system in the TZ episode works because conveniently, Mitchell is a nice guy at heart. When he goes into a women's locker room, the woman get disgusted with him and he leaves. But if he wasn't a nice guy and was fine with their disgusted looks... I can't imagine Matt's character doing that.
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Dec 25, 2014
Yeah, I suppose Matt could pay food and get the food. But he wouldn't be able to ask the vendor any questions, and would miss vital information. And how would he get money? He wouldn't be able to interact with clients or workmates. Unless he could communicate with others surrounding him through written notes. But who would hire someone on these conditions?

Yes, I remember, Mitchell was nice. But I didn't dislike Matt, or at least until he showed to be so callous about enslaving the AI.

Side issues:

- When Matt's client chose the brunette, I kept saying to myself, "Go for the blonde, go for the blonde!" Because really, she seemed perfectly all right and enjoyed talking to him.

- If AIs are so human-like, won't they go crazy eventually? Matt said that the trick was to go deep, but not until they broke. I imagine having nothing to do but control the appliances in a house 24/7 would drive anyone insane eventually. But of course that beats doing absolutely nothing.

- Certainly, the killer's AI would be useless after a thousand years of Christmas songs and absolutely noting else to fill its existence for 1000 years. But I suppose they could always make a new widget.
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Dec 25, 2014
Well,t here's nothing to really or not like about Matt until the second segment. He's kind of callous toward women. And there's his little "whoo" when he gets Potter to confess.

I don't think they cared about the killer's AI or what would happen. They weren't going to use him for anything: it was just vicarious punishment. It was created to get a confession: nothing more.

Although if they can punish the real killer by blocking him, you think that would be enough. Depending on how much the blockee is allowed to do ... as you note, how does someone survive being universally blocked?

And that's why the whole blocking thing is superficially interesting, but falls apart on examination. What if an entire classroom blocked a teacher? Or another student? What if someone blocked their boss? Or government officials? Presumably there are limits on blocking authority types, but even so, there are a lot of ways that things could go haywire.
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Dec 23, 2014
I notice that several reviews say that Harry is a client of Matt's. Originally Matt says that he provides "romantic services." But later, Harry says, "It's like a club, it's a club, where we meet girls and they talk us through. All night, they've been watching us and there's this one guy, he's the leader."

So it sounds to me like it's a club, and Matt is the leader. But Harry isn't his "client" in any financial/employer/employee relationship.

One reviewer comments that Matt's actions led to Harry getting killed. That... seems a bit of a stretch, though. Giving romantic advice can get you arrested as an accessory to murder if the date goes bad? Remind me never to advise a friend on dating again...
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Dec 23, 2014
Also, Harry says "they" talk us through. Wouldn't that make the other members of the club accessories and Peeping Toms as well? Where are they?
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Dec 22, 2014
I'll sure see if I catch up with this special pretty soon, then I'll read your story. I've enjoyed all Black Mirror installments, except the pig one. Not only it was disgusting, but also, unrealistic, as I think a Head of Government would never do that.
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Dec 22, 2014
If you have Direct TV,it'll be on Thursday at 9:30pm on AUDIENCE network.
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Dec 22, 2014
I'd say the Xmas special is better than "The National Anthem". :)

I've never liked "The National Anthem", mainly because it doesn't really seem to be a BM episode. (Bowel Movement? Brother Moment?) It's a modern-day political story with commentary, but it isn't futuristic or involves futuristic tech. It also doesn't really... say anything. Or at least not anything except what we already know. People like to watch people humiliate themselves on TV. The government will pressure anyone to do anything if it's in their best interests.

It's an okay episode, but pretty clearly something Brooker was working on the show as a work in progress at that point. First-episode teething issues, I suppose.
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