Friday, January 5, 2018

BLACK MIRROR: "Crocodile" and the Persistence of Memory

As an anthology show, Black Mirror is generally not expected to have a seasonal arc or theme. Not beyond its overall thematic arc, at any rate. But I couldn't help noticing that the Netflix era of the show takes up, even if subconsciously, a bit of a seasonal go-to aspect.

Season 3, in retrospect, seems to focus largely on use of technology as an executor of justice. "Playtest" may be our only exception, but the rest seem to carry this to a degree. "Nosedive" weaponizes Rating Systems; both "Shut Up and Dance" and "Hated in the Nation" return to the theme of Internet-guided vigilante justice; "Men Against Fire" sees the military literally using tech to make killing happen; and even "San Junipero" fits into this theme -- where the "justice" is offering an otherwise unlikely happy ending to two hard-done-by women.

With Season 4, there seems to be a heavy focus on our minds and our memories: primarily, their value and their influence on our identity. So far, we've seen copies of human beings in "USS Callister" whose realness based on their memory and identity could make or break the morality of one man's actions. In "Arkangel," the editing of a child's experiences and memories alters both her identity and her relationship with her mother. And we'll see more such thematic elements in "Hang the DJ" and "Black Museum," with "Metalhead" being the season's possible outlier.

The Half-Life of Guilt

Now of all times is a hell of a time to talk about growth after a transgression -- and what that actually consists of.

Mia's situation is not a morally simple one -- as with the protagonist of "White Bear," she wasn't exactly leading the rush or jumping for joy at being complicit. However, during the main setting of "Crocodile," we see two very different reactions: her friend, unsuccessful and wanting to repent; and Mia herself, now lauded and terrified of what bringing her former crime to the surface would do to said laurels.

And, you know, her new family. And a lot of things. Like I said, Mia's situation is not as cut-and-dried as "killer killed and doesn't want anyone to know they killed." But there is the fact that having the arrest and conviction on her record would likely have prevented her from achieving the status she did -- so she's benefited from the silence.

It's thorny.

What is far more cut-and-dried is her reaction to potentially being found out -- and what that says concerning her growth as a person in the years since.

Regret vs. Regret

There are very different ways to regret things... and that's where Mia's character can be better evaluated.

Take, on a far less dire level, a person who's been tasked with house-sitting but been told not to go into a certain room that's full of priceless personal belongings. A few days out, the person sneaks in because their curiosity was far too piqued -- and in doing so, the door knocked against something and it fell to the ground and broke.

The person regrets it -- but why?

Perhaps the person regrets that they didn't take their friend at their word, betrayed their trust, and have now broken something irreplaceable, which will make their friend sad and strain their friendship.

Or perhaps the person regrets that the friend will now find out what they did and that's going to be a hassle.

Both are regret for action, but very differently motivated.

Mia may have been reluctantly complicit, and hiding the body of the ill-fated biker was never her idea. But she deeply regrets it. However, while we could early on believe that she regrets it because it was a loss of life, her reaction when Rob mentions coming clean essentially shatters that.

That said, it would be unfair to say that there's no actual guilt. We see proof of it.

Intrusive Thoughts

Mia's meeting with Shazia shows us a seemingly conflicting set of motives: Mia doesn't want to kill. She has to. Or, at least, that's how she sees it. And she takes no joy in it. She takes only relief in remaining "safe."

That said, it would be unfair (even with the previous section in place) to say she feels no guilt for what she did. Someone killing easily and mechanically wouldn't have spilled out the montage of horror Mia did while fighting desperately not to betray one specific thing. Even with her repeated actions, even with her ability to continue to kill and her belief that another person's death is a fair trade for her stability, she's not cold-hearted.

But -- and here's the big thing -- that cocktail of guilt and fear spilling out all over the Recaller is not absolution. It's a thing that happened, and it's an involuntary reaction showing that she does comprehend that she did some really bad stuff. But comprehension on its own is not enough.

As an Aside

Good on you and your flawless memory, little guinea pig buddy. A+.

What Are the Lessons?

1. Guilt and regret are nothing without action.

2. Regret can be selfish and self-serving; it isn't a sign of learning experience.

3. Guinea pigs are awesome.


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