This review contains spoilers.
Stay extremely quiet during an episode of Black Mirror and it’s sometimes possible to hear the exact moment that writer Charlie Brooker, hunched over his laptop, fingers frenziedly attacking the keys, throws back his head and shouts HA!
The HA! moment of relish doesn’t come when his brain arrives at a particularly horrible turn of events—a woman smothering a baby, say. It comes after that, when he lands upon an irresistible dollop of agonising irony to drop on top. A woman, say, who gives speeches about building a better tomorrow, smothering a baby because it’s an eye-witness to a crime… but it turns out that she needn’t have bothered because the baby is blind. HA!
Add to that the build-a-brighter-future-baby-smotherer going straight from the murder scene to clap along with her son’s cheery school production of Bugsy Malone, complete with jaunty piano rendition of Bad Guys. HA!
HA! HA! HA! HA!
Crocodile is a beautifully nasty hour. It’s Black Mirror trying on the Nordic Noir genre and coming out with something even sicker than all the mutilated corpses Sarah Lund’s ever nudged with the edge of a thick-soled boot. One accidental killing fifteen years in the past leads to another, then quickly to three very deliberate ones. Andrea Riseborough’s Mia Nolan goes from starchitect with a dark secret to rampaging killer, bludgeoning her victims to squelchy deaths with bits of old wood and hammers.
Satisfyingly, Riseborough plays Mia wholly straight, as someone traumatised by her actions but, like a Coen Brothers character, stuck on a murderous path from which she can’t turn back. Like Fargo’s Jerry Lundegaard, she’s as swamped by circumstance as she is dwarfed by the wintry landscape that surrounds her. (The director of The Road, The Proposition and Lawless, John Hillcoat knows exactly what to do with the Icelandic backdrop against which the story unfurls to make it bleak, alien and sublime all at the same time.) By the end of it, Mia’s a spectre – huge haunted eyes, wispy frame, a bag of nerves. Her story has turned into a violent farce, but the psychological impact of it is played for real.
It just keeps getting worse and worse for Mia. Attempting to cover her tracks, she kills and kills again. New technology (a retro-looking device with a Nokia ‘Snake’ start-up graphic) that allows police to dredge the memories of bystanders and watch the recollected crime like a movie has made it imperative not to leave a single witness.
Fifteen years ago, after a hedonistic night of “caning it”, Mia and boyfriend Rob (Andrew Gower) killed a man in an accidental hit-and-run, and disposed of his body into a stunning Icelandic lake. Now sober and on the ‘making amends’ bit of AA’s Twelve Step Programme, Rob wants to confess so Mia, fearing prison, kills him and throws his corpse down a steam shaft on the site of her new build.
Then follows a badly timed visit from an insurance agent played by Kiran Sonia Sawar, who is seeking an eye-witness account of a road traffic accident (in the future, Deliveroo cyclists have been replaced by driverless pizza trucks). She uses the memory-dredge technology on Mia and, seeing the two killings in the footage, attempts to leave. Mia can’t afford to let her leave, or to let her husband, who can also identify Mia, to survive. Mia grits her teeth and disposes of them both, before hearing a baby cry and realising what she has to do next.
With a wilfully obscure title (any guesses?), Crocodile is stunning to look at, very sick and very funny. Even funnier is the ultimate punch-line that for all Mia’s hard work, she did in fact leave a witness: her victims’ pet guinea pig, Codger, whose memory leads the police right to her.
Cue Bugsy Malone music.
Read more about Black Mirror season four here.