Warning: contains spoilers from the start for Black Mirror season five episode Smithereens.
Following on from this spoiler-filled Striking Vipers chat with Black Mirror creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, the pair told Den Of Geek about episode two, Smithereens, in which Andrew Scott plays a rideshare driver on a mission.
Below, Brooker and Jones discuss their own rideshare mishaps, putting your life in the hands of an Uber driver, inspirations for the episode, and the thinking behind its ending. But first, read about the new meditation app Charlie Brooker’s bringing to market here.
The revelation that it wasn’t a drunk driver responsible for the accident, it was him on his phone. Was that the idea that came first?
Charlie Brooker: It was pretty much last. The germ for the episode to start with was actually Hayley, the woman he meets at the grief counselling session at the start, who’s trying to get access to her daughter’s social media account, that was actually the impetus for the whole episode. That and wanting to do an episode that was set very much in the present day.
We went round the houses on that one, slightly, but that was where we ended up. I’d read a news article about this happening to a couple of people, they’d answered their phone and something terrible happens. I was reading that accidents in playgrounds and places like that are actually on the rise. For years, accidents involving children in everyday scenarios have been falling and they’d started slightly going up again because parents are sitting there on their phone and then look up and the kid’s fallen over and broken its wrist.
Annabel Jones: I love the opening of the film as well, where the trust we place in our phone that you get in an Uber, with a total stranger, and you are just at their mercy. What happened at the same time, we’d been on some Uber journey and we’d come in and we’d put the wrong postcode in and we’d ended up in totally the wrong place.
CB You look down and you’re having a conversation and you look up and you’re in the…
AJ… totally fucking wrong part of the city and you go ‘I’m an hour away from where we’re meant to be’ so that handing over of responsibility of trust is quite an interesting one. That’s not the theme of the piece.
CB I had exactly that experience as well, well not exactly the experience of Smithereens, but there was also a conversation about that, because I’d got in a car and I was looking at my phone and then suddenly I was aware that the car had stopped and the guy had got out and had opened the boot and was rustling around in there and I didn’t recognise where I was and I thought ‘what the hell is going on?’ and he came out and he had a bottle of water, and actually, because it was a hot day, he said ‘sorry, I just pulled over and wanted to get some water out and I knew I had some in the boot’ and I was like [mimes exhaling]. He’d taken a diversion on the way and I had thought, where am I and what the fuck?
AJ That is very odd isn’t it, the idea of sitting in a car with someone for an hour and no conversation.
CB That sounds blissful! You’ve seen they’ve rolled out an update for Uber, they’re testing it out, there’s a setting that tells the driver you don’t want to talk.
AJ Which I love, but at the same time …
CB On the one hand it’s barbaric, and on the other, thank fuck for that, because there’s nothing worse than if you’re tired and you get in and it’s someone who’s chatty. It’s not that they’re an arsehole, it’s just I then feel I have to talk even though I don’t want to.
In the episode, you stop just short of showing what happened with the sniper and with Hayley’s daughter. Did you plot out and film either of those?
CB No it was always deliberately an ambiguous ending, in that instead what we show is it rippling out and becoming a piece of confetti in people’s lives on their timelines that they sort of glance at it, and then put it away. That was always in there and that seemed like the best ending.
With Hayley, it was always that she gets into the account and then, what would be… it was part of the reason we ended up there because we’d been discussing that as a storyline, somebody trying to get into an account to find out, because they just wanted to know more about why someone had taken their own life, and it felt it would be glib to have some sort of explanation. Because actually what you would get from that is actually more question marks. We deliberately didn’t think about it beyond that point.
Read more about Black Mirror season 5 on Den Of Geek here.