Black Mirror is a dark show. Look, I get that. If I hadn’t figured that out by now, if I had a real issue with it, I doubt I would have been selected to write this review. I like “dark.” Part of the fun of a good Black Mirror episode is that creeping sense of dread that it supplies, that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, then laughing at your own discomfort. Black Mirror is typically not a feel good show, which is fine, but “Crocodile” takes its nihilism a step too far. Easily the bleakest entry in the series so far, “Crocodile” also reveals itself to be the most mean-spirited, grossly over the top, and unoriginal, featuring the least interesting piece of Tomorrowland tech that creator Charlie Brooker has dreamed up.
Maybe it’s because the show already spotlighted a memory device in season 1’s far superior “The Entire History of You.” This episode’s memory technology isn’t as sophisticated, allowing our natural biases and distortions of recalled events to impact visual recreations of our memories, a nice little twist on something that we’ve already seen, but one which the episode never really takes advantage. Nothing clever ever comes from a distortion of one’s memory. Mia (Andrea Riseborough) has her dark secrets revealed by the machine exactly in the way you’d expect. The only surprise that comes from this episode is how relentlessly it keeps pushing into more cruel, sadistic waters.
The episode begins with a strong euro noir setting and premise. Surrounded by the barren snowy hills of Iceland, Mia, with her friend Rob, accidently strike and kill a man on his bike with their vehicle, then proceed to throw his body into a nearby icy lake. Unforgiving crimes in an unforgiven setting is a staple of the euro noir genre, and it continues to be interesting to see the show tackle new tones.
Several years later, Mia has put the haunting secret behind her and has built a successful career and a loving family for herself, but Rob returns newly sober and wanting to confess to the crime that’s been haunting him. Afraid to lose everything that she’s built, Mia kills Rob, sending her snowballing down a vicious, cold-blooded path. Riseborough is steely and reserved, but let’s her emotions peek through at all of the right times, keeping Mia from being a complete heartless sadist.
Things get complicated for Mia when an insurance agent comes calling to inquire about an accident that Mia just happens to witness minutes after murdering Rob. The insurance agent, played with a bright, plucky determinism by Kiran Sonia Sawar, uses the aforementioned device to back up insurance claims. Donning the detective role in this noirish tale, the audience waits for the agent and Mia to intersect and for the agent to discover Mia’s secret and bring her to justice, but that’s what a normal show would do. After endearing herself to the audience, watching her get closer and closer to Mia and her crimes, after we’re introduced to her husband, child, and new pet, Mia brutally murders the insurance agent, but first uses the memory device to learn if she told anyone about her whereabouts. Turns out that the agent’s husband new exactly where she was headed, so Mia heads to the agents home to make sure that no witnesses survive.
Sorry if I sound like a prude, but I get no satisfaction from any of this, not even of the morbid kind. I get positioning someone as the hero only to dispatch them unexpectedly. Sure, fine, but the killing of the insurance agent just felt too bleak, even for this show, and then we had to sit through the murdering of the husband and a baby. Maybe I’ve softened with age, but that’s not something I really want to see in my entertainment and feels like shock for shock’s sake. We already have established that Mia has broken bad and will do whatever it takes to maintain the life that she’s created. Murdering the baby just felt like gross overkill. Then we hear that the baby was blind, a line that should have been accompanied by the sound of a sad trombone – at least that’s how the episode plays the moment. The final twist, of Mia being caught because of the memory of the guinea pig, is a stab at absurdist humor that is completely ineffective. The twist should inspire more groans than chuckles of admiration.
There are plenty of dark Black Mirror tales worthy of your time this season, “USS Callister,” “Metalhead,” and even “Arkangel” all traffic in horrific, cringe-inducing moments in clever and suspense-inducing fashion without veering into too much cynicism, but “Crocodile” isn’t one of them. Though beautifully shot and wonderfully performed, the episode is a rare miss for Brooker, an indulgent, barbaric installment that will leave you feeling in need of a shower after watching.