White Christmas (Black Mirror)

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"White Christmas"
Black Mirror episode
Black Mirror - White Christmas.jpg
Matt (Jon Hamm) talks to the artificial intelligence inside a "cookie".
Episode no. Episode 7
Directed by Carl Tibbetts
Written by Charlie Brooker
Original air date 16 December 2014 (2014-12-16)
Running time 74 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"The Waldo Moment"
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"Nosedive"
List of Black Mirror episodes

"White Christmas" is a 2014 Christmas special episode of the British science fiction anthology series Black Mirror. It was written by series creator and showrunner Charlie Brooker and directed by Carl Tibbetts, and first aired on Channel 4 on 16 December 2014,[1] the only television special of the series, it is also the last episode to be aired on Channel 4, as the series would move to Netflix for its third series.

The episode starts with two men, Matt (Jon Hamm) and Joe (Rafe Spall), stationed at a remote outpost in the middle of a snowy wilderness, as they tell each other their respective lives to pass the time, those events are depicted on-screen, forming three mini-stories ultimately relating to the characters' current situation.[2] Oona Chaplin co-stars as Greta, a character in one of Matt's stories.

The episode received very positive reviews.

Plot[edit]

Introduction[edit]

Matt Trent (Jon Hamm) and Joe Potter (Rafe Spall) are stationed at a small, remote outpost in the middle of a snowy wilderness. Joe wakes up on Christmas Day and finds Matt preparing Christmas dinner, with "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" playing on the radio. Matt tries to get Joe to talk about what brought him to the outpost, a topic Matt says they have never discussed in the five years they have been there together.

Joe is reluctant to say anything and instead asks what brought Matt there. Happy for the conversation, Matt begins relaying his own story.

Part I[edit]

The episode is set in a world where people can access the Internet through an irremovable augmented reality device implanted in their eyes, called the "Z-Eye", which allows the subject's visual picture to be viewed remotely via a computer and allows for two-way voice communication. Matt was once a dating coach who taught seduction techniques to single men who struggle to attract women, he directs one of his clients, the shy and socially awkward Harry (Rasmus Hardiker), to gatecrash an office Christmas party and communicates with him through the Z-Eye. The virtual discussion becomes a group call involving other single men, voicing their opinions and suggestions. Using information Matt gathers from social media, Harry convinces one of the party guests that they know each other, and he decides to try bonding with Jennifer (Natalia Tena), a quiet, "attractive outsider" who does not join in group conversations.

With Matt's help, Harry manages to start a conversation with Jennifer, who admits that she used to take pills, but not anymore, and that she is thinking of leaving the company after Christmas. She's nervous about which voice to listen to, the ones saying, "do it", or those telling her not to. Gaining confidence, Harry encourages her to be bold and go for it, to which suggestion she responds warmly.

When she leaves to go to the loo, Harry voices his doubts to the group about going through with the deceit, he argues with Matt out loud, and when Jennifer sees Harry seemingly arguing, apparently with himself, she asks him back to her home. Thinking they are about to have sex, Harry agrees to go with her; in the bedroom Jennifer offers him a drink, and as Harry struggles to swallow, she talks about how this drink will liberate them from the "voices" that watch them and try to get in their heads.

Matt and all the men watching gradually deduce that Jennifer is dangerous and has just poisoned Harry, and Matt tells Harry to leave immediately. Jennifer mistakenly believes that Harry and she suffer from the same problem and decides they will escape the voices together, through suicide, the weakened Harry desperately struggles to explain about the Z-Eye and the watcher's club, but Jennifer assumes he is speaking metaphorically and forces more of the poisoned drink down his throat with a funnel, after drinking it herself.

Seeing Harry weakening and unable to fend Jennifer off, Matt shuts off the feed and directs the other watchers to delete everything, he collects everything in his office that would connect him to Harry, throws it into a small trash bin, and douses it with lighter fluid. He then walks down a dark hallway, tripping over some loud children's toys, and wakes his wife. Matt's wife, discovering what he has been doing, becomes angry and fights with him, she then "blocks" him through the Z-Eye, obscuring their ability to see or hear each other clearly.

Matt's wife leaves him and takes custody of their daughter, and Matt reveals that he then came to the outpost to get away from his old life, explaining that he "didn't want to be surrounded by reminders", he reveals to Joe that date coaching was merely his hobby and goes on to explain what he did in his real job.

Part II[edit]

Greta (Oona Chaplin) is a wealthy and demanding woman. Waiting in bed for an operation, she rejects the slightly overdone toast offered for her breakfast. An anaesthetist arrives and applies a face-mask, telling Greta to count backwards from ten as she is sedated. Greta appears to suffer a frightening out-of-body experience.

A "Greta cookie"—a bean-sized chip—is surgically extracted from the side of Greta's head and is placed in a portable electronic device, the device is returned to Greta's home, where Matt greets the confused and terrified "Greta cookie" consciousness. He explains that she is not actually Greta, but rather a digital copy of Greta's consciousness, called a cookie, designed to control Greta's smart house and calendar, ensuring everything is perfect for the real Greta. Matt then creates a virtual body for Greta's digital copy and puts her in a simulated white room containing nothing but a control panel.

The copy refuses to accept that she is not a real person and rejects being forced to be a slave to Greta's desires. Matt's job is to break the willpower of digital copies through torture, so they will submit to a life of servitude to their real counterparts, he alters the Greta cookie's perception of time so what feels to her like three weeks pass in a matter of seconds, and she is traumatized by her solitude in the room with nothing to do. Despite this, the copy still refuses to work, so Matt repeats the process and increases the perceived time to six months, this drives her mad with emptiness, so when Matt reappears to her she immediately submits to her new role.

The next morning, the real Greta is awakened by her favourite music, and her copy, whose spirit is completely broken, prepares Greta's breakfast exactly as she knows Greta likes it and presents to her a list of her upcoming appointments.

In the present day, Joe is disgusted by Matt's making a career from torturing into submission computer programs that were self-aware and conscious, even if they were merely artificial. Matt observes that Joe is an empathetic, "good person" and asks again why he came to the outpost. Having loosened up with alcohol, Joe says that his girlfriend's father never liked him and then explains his situation.

Part III[edit]

Joe once had a serious relationship with Beth (Janet Montgomery), and while he believes they were good together and mostly happy, their main problem was Joe's tendency to act foolishly while drunk. One evening, while having dinner with their friends Tim and Gita, Joe notices Beth is withdrawn and seems to be in a bad mood. Later, while emptying the rubbish, Joe finds a positive pregnancy test and is overjoyed to be a prospective father. Beth reveals she does not want the baby and is getting an abortion. Joe, who is still drunk, is heartbroken, and remembering she drank throughout dinner he calls her selfish and guilty of trying to harm their unborn child.

Too upset to talk, Beth "blocks" him through her Z-Eye, she leaves Joe the next morning without removing the block, preventing Joe from apologizing or from seeing more than her silhouette in photos. He later tries stalking her at work and meets Tim and Gita, who explain that Beth has left her job.

A few months later, Joe spots Beth's silhouette (she is still blocking him with the Z-Eye) and sees she is heavily pregnant, having not gone through with the abortion, he confronts her and begs for a chance to talk, but, instead, he is arrested. Joe is given a restraining order and is legally blocked from going near Beth or the child.

He writes many letters of apology to Beth, but she never replies. Determined to see his child, Joe waits for Beth at her father's cottage, where she spends every Christmas. Hiding in the woods outside, he sees Beth with the baby but, because the legal block extends to a person's offspring, the child appears as a static-filled silhouette as well, for the next four years, Joe goes to Beth's father's cottage every Christmas to watch his child from the woods and leave anonymous presents on the doorstep, and despite the block he eventually discerns the child is a girl.

One day while watching the news, Joe learns that Beth has died in a train crash, this causes the legal block to expire, so Joe can finally see his daughter. Heading to the cottage with a snow globe as a present, Joe spots the girl in the garden and cautiously approaches. However, the child has East Asian features, and Joe realizes Beth had been cheating on him with Tim, which, he deduces, is why she initially wanted an abortion and later refused to let Joe be part of her daughter's life. Devastated, Joe follows the girl into the cottage and confronts Beth's father, who admits he destroyed the letters Joe wrote before Beth could read them.

Losing his temper, Joe hits Beth's father in the head with the snow globe, unintentionally killing him, he then flees the cottage and lives on the streets for a few months, until he is eventually apprehended by police.

Conclusion[edit]

Joe begins to realize that he can't remember coming to the outpost, or remember what he and Matt do there. Matt ignores this, asking what happened to Beth's daughter; Joe shares what the police told him, that the girl found her grandfather in the kitchen, went outside into the heavy snow to get help, and froze to death next to a tree in the garden. Joe sees her body through a window and breaks down, admitting he was responsible for the two deaths, he suddenly realizes the outpost's interior has been a replica of the cottage where the deaths occurred.

Matt rejoices, having successfully gotten a "confession" out of Joe, he briefly says, "Sorry, Joe", and disappears.

"Joe" is revealed to actually be a digital cookie similar to the Greta cookie. As the real Joe refused to confess to his role in the deaths (with the discovery of no fingerprints nor eyewitnesses), the police made a cookie from him and brought in Matt to draw a confession from it, it is revealed the outpost was a simulated five-year-long environment for "Joe" that, in reality, lasted only 70 minutes.

In the real world, Joe is charged with the deaths. Matt had been arrested for his illegal seduction coaching and failure to report Harry's death, but brokered a deal - if he could get Joe to confess, he'd be free. Officer Holder (Robin Weaver) reveals that Matt will be released, but he has been registered as a Sex Offender, meaning he will be blocked by everyone.

Matt leaves the police station and walks out into a Christmas market, seeing everyone as white silhouettes, while they see him as a red silhouette, he will be unable to interact with anyone for the rest of his life.

Meanwhile, Joe's cookie is left on. An officer increases its rate of time perception to 1,000 years per minute and sets "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday" (the song on the radio during the murder) on an endless loop. Holder allows this, intending to switch the cookie off after Christmas.

Joe's cookie destroys the radio, but it is replaced by another, playing the song louder, after destroying several radios, each being louder than before, Joe screams. He is trapped in the cottage with the dead body for millions of years.

Production[edit]

Casting[edit]

The episode features Jon Hamm, Oona Chaplin, and Rafe Spall in the main roles. Hamm later elaborated that he "had been a fan of Black Mirror and Charlie Brooker, because I have a strange predilection for offbeat British things, and this was no exception, it came about in this very odd way, with me asking my agent if I could meet Mr. Brooker. I didn't know he was even working on a third series or a Christmas special or anything, it was simply that I really liked his work and really wanted to meet the guy."[3] Hamm mentioned that he had "seen both previous series and absolutely loved it", and Brooker described Hamm's casting as "fortuitous";[4] in contrast to Hamm, Spall accepted a part in the episode without having seen the series, but having once read a script for a previous episode.[4] Chaplin, who had just moved from the UK to Los Angeles to capitalise on her success in Game of Thrones, similarly praised the script, stating that she "flew out there with a plan to stay for a year, and then a week later I was coming back to the UK to do this.”[5]

Continuity[edit]

The special makes references to previous Black Mirror episodes; in the beginning of the scene in which Matt's computer shows dating club clients in the conference call, one of the users has the nickname, "I_AM_WALDO", and another, "Pie Ape". The Z-Eyes are reminiscent of a similar device in "The Entire History of You". Clips of TV shows from "The Waldo Moment" and "Fifteen Million Merits" are visible when Joe flicks through the TV channels, the pregnancy test Joe finds is the same one used in "Be Right Back". The ticker during a news report mentions the prime minister from "The National Anthem", as well as Victoria Skillane from "White Bear", and Liam Monroe from "The Waldo Moment". Bethany sings "Anyone Who Knows What Love Is", the same song that Abi sings in "Fifteen Million Merits".[6][7]

Critical reception[edit]

The episode received critical acclaim. Ben Beaumont-Thomas of The Guardian praised the episode's comic satire and noted that "sentimentality is offset with wicked wit, and Brooker's brio and imagination paper over any gaps in logic".[8] The Telegraph reviewer Mark Monahan gave the episode 4/5 stars and noted that the drama was "thrilling stuff: escapist entertainment with a very real-world sting in its tail". He equated the episode with the stronger of the previous Black Mirror episodes, stating that "it exaggerated present-day technology and obsessions to subtle but infernal effect, a nightmare-before-Christmas reminder that to revere our digital gizmos is to become their pathetic slave".[9]

Ellen Ejonar of The Independent also praised the episode, summarising that the episode was "great on our technology culture, but also just great; well cast, expertly structured and genuinely unsettling". She also compared it favourably to other Christmas television episodes, concluding that: "at a time of year when schmaltz usually covers the TV schedules like a snowdrift, this sidelong look at the state of humanity is all the more welcome".[10] Danny Krupa of IGN gave the episode 8.5/10. In particular, he praised the acting, although he noted that Chaplin's role was the least developed, despite Hamm's star billing, Krupa noted: "it's really Spall who shines brightest over the course of 90 minutes, as we experience the full depth of his misery".[11] Finally, Den of Geek noted that the episode's finale was "a thrilling development that invites you to rewatch right from the beginning (something that will greatly benefit from the DVD release, when we can do it without all those ad breaks)".[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Yoshida, Emily (5 December 2014). "Here's the first promo for the Black Mirror Christmas Special". The Verge. Retrieved 5 December 2014. 
  2. ^ "Jon Hamm in Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror special - first pictures". Digital Spy. 24 November 2014. Retrieved 24 November 2014. 
  3. ^ "When is Jon Hamm's Christmas Black Mirror airing". Digital Spy. 26 November 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  4. ^ a b "Black Mirror: Charlie Brooker, Jon Hamm on the dark side of Yuletide". Digital Spy. 14 December 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014. 
  5. ^ "Charlie Brooker on Black Mirror: ‘It’s not a technological problem we have, it’s a human one’". The Telegraph. 26 November 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  6. ^ Grant, Drew (30 December 2014). "Watch the 'Black Mirror' Christmas Special With Jon Hamm". The Observer. Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  7. ^ Duca, Lauren (22 January 2015). "'Black Mirror' Intends To 'Actively Unsettle' Audiences, But It's Not Technology That You Should Fear". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 19 September 2015. 
  8. ^ "Black Mirror: White Christmas review – sentimentality offset with wicked wit". The Guardian. 12 December 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  9. ^ "Black Mirror: White Christmas, review: 'Be careful what you wish for...'". The Telegraph. 17 December 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  10. ^ "Black Mirror: White Christmas, Channel 4 - TV review: Charlie Brooker's dystopian sci-fi casts a chill over festivities". The Independent. 17 December 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  11. ^ "JINGLE HELL". IGN. 16 December 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 
  12. ^ "Black Mirror: White Christmas review". Den of Geek. 17 December 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2014. 

External links[edit]