As we dive into season five, episode two of the recently released Black Mirror, we see it will revolve around a rideshare driver who kidnaps a worker from a social media company. I wish I could say I correctly predicted what the plot was, but yet again Black Mirror directed me to an anxiety-filled trek with another complete curveball of an episode.
So… Do You Work Here?
The episode opens with a man attempting to meditate. As the camera pans out, we see he is in his car and that this must make him the rideshare driver. His poor attempt at meditation is disrupted by a dinging noise that seems to come from his phone. Turns out the notification was from “Hitcher”, the London based ride-sharing app that we learn about later in the episode, and that our leading character has accepted a ride. As the woman gets in our man’s car, he almost immediately asks if she works for the company that she was picked up in front of. She disappointedly does not and states that she is just visiting. The screen jumps to our main character to show how disappointed he is as the woman then goes on to explain how incredible the facilities are at Smithereen (I was genuinely hoping the title would be more related to something getting blown to smithereens, but oh well). So, we know now he is clearly seeking an employee of the company and that it’s not just happenstance that he ends up with one in his car.
Now our main guy is sitting in some sort of coffee shop or small restaurant. He seems to be tweaking off the fact that everyone is glued to their phone. That or it was the light bulbs because there was a bizarre shot of him continuing to stare up at them as if the electricity, in general, was irking him. This was where I started getting the vibe that he wanted someone from Smithereens to make some sort of point on how technology was harmful. We quickly cut away from the shop he was in to find him in an emotional support or grief counseling class. He intently listened to the older woman who was talking about her suicidal daughter, and she actually comes up to him after the meeting ends. She asks if he wants to grab a drink, and then were transported to the bedroom where they have just finished doing it. The woman then gets up as an alarm on her phone goes off and proceeds to try and log into her deceased daughter’s social media account. She says she is just hoping she can find an answer as to why she killed herself because it still made no sense. She has three attempts, all of which fail. The account is now locked for the next 24 hours and we quickly jump back to our main character’s story.
Our Drivers Lucky Day
Round two of waiting for a Smithereen employee begins with more meditation. This time a young man gets into the car. As our main character, who by the way has still not been named yet, does his whole spiel again about working at Smithereens he gets lucky. The young man states he does, in fact, work for Smithereens and we get a grin from our driver. As the man sits in the back lost on his phone, our driver says there is some traffic ahead and that the app suggests taking an alternate route. The young man doesn’t even notice how far off course he is until the car comes to a stop by another empty one under a bridge. As he starts looking around, we hear the sound of the gun and the driver tells him to zip-tie his wrists. The driver then gets out and walks over to the other side of the car and pints the gun in the younger man’s face.
This is when our still unnamed hitcher driver is told that the young man is just an intern for Smithereen. He looks absolutely stunned… and then goes off on a barely understandable rant (thank goodness for subtitles). He proceeds to say that Smithereen is just run by a bunch of children who smoke cigs and are glued to their phones. As he is going on his rant, the young man attempts pulling out his cell phone to make a call or notify someone of the situation. He fails miserably and drops the phone down onto the floor of the backseat. Just after this, the main character finishes his rant a few feet away from the car. The younger man decides this is his chance and takes off, only to be tripped up and fall roughly 20 feet from the car. Now the driver gets angry and tries to force the young man into the trunk of the new car. The young man immediately gets claustrophobic back there and our driver decides to let him lie down in the back seat instead.
This is where the main characters first big mistake occurs. By letting the young man lay down in the backseat, he risks him simply sitting up and drawing unwanted attention their way… which is exactly what happens. As the two are passing by a gas station, the hostage gets sick and sits up. There are two cops filling up their squad car at the gas station when one of them notices the young man in the back seat with a pillowcase over his head. They, of course, set off after the car, and about a minute later our main character notices that the cops followed him from the station. He turns down a road and pulls over. As the female officer is getting out of the car, our man takes off again and the pursuit begins. As both cars are tearing down a very thin road, two boys on bikes pop out of nowhere and our main character swerves off into a field. The cops get out and charge at the car before our main character shows his gun, threatening to kill the hostage if they come any closer.
The cops back off quickly and our rideshare driver takes the pillowcase off the young man’s head. Our main character starts to panic here as nothing has gone according to plan yet. As he starts talking through his plan aloud, he tells the intern that he wants to speak to someone higher up at Smithereens. He wants to talk to Billy Bauer, who seems to be the developer or the head guy at Smithereens. The young man keeps reminding him that he’s only an intern, but this doesn’t stop the main character from developing a plan.
The goal now is to have the Intern (who we now know as Jaden) call his boss, who will forward them off to her boss, who will ultimately put them in contact with Billy. Jaden says that’s a good plan, but as his kidnapper asks for his phone, he remembers it is sitting back in the original car. I thought he was going to snap right here, but he kept his cool (for the most part at least) and decides they will just call the reception desk at Smithereens HQ and have them patch Jaden through to his boss. Their plan works, and as our two main characters are on hold, we see Jaden’s boss reaching out to some higher-ups to see what they should do.
As this is going on in the car, a swat team of sorts pulls up to the cops who are still a few hundred feet away. We then cut to Penelope Wu, the COO of Smithereen, and her team who are walking through the situation. Her computer expert seems to have backtracked through the phone (which I didn’t even know was possible) and figured out that the kidnapper’s name is Chris. They then reach out to the police to share the information they know with them. I thought it was pretty crazy that this tech/social media conglomerate was able to get more info in a quicker fashion than the police. It really gets you wondering… stuff like this probably happens all the time nowadays, and some people may not share the important info they find with the police.
Once Penelope is done sharing with the police, they decide to patch her through to Chris in hopes that he will settle for her over Billy. Penelope is trying to convince Chris Billy cannot be reached and that he will have to tell her what he wants, but that just won’t fly for our crazy rideshare driver. We do get a comical little scene here to alleviate some tension when the computer software listening in to the call autocorrects some choice words Chris has to “ducking”, which is something we have all struggled with at some point. This seemed to have really bit Penelope and Smithereen in the ass, until we find out the computer whiz “switched the line”, and now they can hear everything Chris and Jaden are discussing in the car.
Unraveling the Truth
We now see some cops busting into the house that the car is registered too. We quickly find out that the house, and car, belong to Chris’s mother who recently passed away. Back to the field where we see a small group of a swat-like team has moved into position to take a shot at Chris. Unfortunately, they cannot get a clean shot because of where Jaden is sitting. But I knew this would come back in to play at some point. The police start getting some more dirt back on Chris, only it isn’t really dirt. He had been an IT teacher with a squeaky-clean record before he went off the grid a few months back, but he was involved in a crash with a drunk driver in which Chris was the only survivor. Smithereens then finds out that the other passenger in Chris’s car was his fiancé, and now the plot thickens. This is also where they discover that Chris bought a Hitcher account on the deep web and has only accepted rides right around the corner from the Smithereen office.
After hearing all of this, the negotiator thinks he finally realizes why Chris is doing what he’s doing and attempts to defuse the situation. Turns out Chris really did his homework here though, because he absolutely destroys the negotiator. He basically tells him he knows he is pretending to be his friend and using certain words to try to calm him down. Chris then tells him he has to the count of 50 to be gone from the scene or he will blow Jaden’s brains out of his skull.
As all of this is unraveling, Penelope finally explains why they haven’t contacted Billy Bauer. Billy is apparently on a 10-day technology detox and doesn’t want to be bothered. Her people then ask if she knows where he is to which she replies, “I shouldn’t, but of course I do.” We now finally cut to Billy who is just meditating in a glass house out in the desert. I found this very interesting and was wondering if the writers of Black Mirror did this intentionally to show some relation between Billy and Chris. Some sort of small link that would get our brains thinking about things that may or may not happen.
You Are Now Invoking God Mode
Chris logs in to his social account here for some strange reason and of course, Smithereen was waiting for him to do just this. He begins scrolling through his feed where notices how many people are posting about the kidnapping and praying for Jaden. Chris then starts having flashbacks of his fiancé before we jump back over to Billy. He wants to talk to Chris and try to help the situation, he says he has a feeling that he can help. This leads to Penelope saying, “We can’t trust feelings here”, in which Billy responds, “maybe that’s the problem.” We jump back over to Chris who is now apologizing to Jaden. He goes on to tell Jaden that the gun isn’t even real and that he never had any intention of hurting him. We, of course, know this is not a good sign for Chris since both parties are listening in to him via the switched line thingamajig. As this happens, we see the two kids who were on the bikes at the beginning of the episode overhear the police say the gun isn’t real and go straight for their phones. As the cops begin inching closer without Chris knowing, he opens back up his social media account and sees the tweet saying the gun isn’t real. Chris then looks up and notices how close the police have gotten, so he puts the gun out of the window before firing a shot into the sky to let them know it actually is real. This leads to one of the snipers off in the distance to also fire a shot that fails to hit its target and hits Chris in the arm rather than the head.
Chris now knows they must be listening in on him, so he tells them they have five minutes to get Billy on the phone or he will execute Jaden. Billy is also on the line at this point and informs the others that he wants to talk. One of the FBI guys who is assisting Smithereen advises him that it is not a good idea, but Billy doesn’t care. They won’t patch him through, so he pulls out his laptop and gets Chris’s number off the internet after “invoking god-mode.” Now I have no idea what this meant. Was it some sort of cell tracking device similar to what we see in Batman: The Dark Knight? Or maybe something more along the lines of just ignoring privacy protocols to find Chris’s phone number? Who knows, but it works and we now have Billy and Chris talking to one another.
The Inevitable Demise
Chris chokes at the beginning of this call, even though he says he has rehearsed what he has to say countless times before today. When he finally does begin talking, he says was addicted to Smithereen’s app and his phone before his wife died. He starts talking about the night his fiancé died. It was late and they were driving back home on an old “A-road”. He got bored, apparently every ten seconds or so back then, and his phone lit up from a notification. He opened it up to check it and that’s when a drunk driver hit his car. Since the driver of the other car was drunk, nobody even questioned whose fault it was. His wife didn’t die for two months after the accident, and Chris admits it was actually his fault. He killed his wife over a dog photo. Billy tries to follow some talking points given to him by his team and Chris freaks out again. Billy admits he has no idea what to say or what Chris wants him to say. Chris admits it was 100% his fault that his wife died, and that his whole point is to get Billy to understand he knows the app is made to be addictive.
This gets Billy on a rant, and he says this wasn’t even remotely what he desired for his app. He tells Chris that the people he works with have “dopamine targets” and that at this point he is simply a front man for the company. As Mr. Bauer tells Chris that he decided he was resigning two days into his sabbatical, Chris cuts him off. He doesn’t care what Billy is going through, he just wanted to clear his chest.
With his goal now complete, Chris says he is going to kill himself. Billy tries to talk him out of it though, and he says he will do anything to help him. Chris then asks if Billy knows the guy who owns Persona, aka the app that the mother was trying to log into earlier in this episode. Billy does know Persona’s head man, and we cut to the mom receiving a call from a team member at Persona. They give her the password to her daughter’s account, and as she’s typing it in, she realizes it was the number of the boat in one of their pictures. We cut back to Chris who is apologizing again to Jaden and tells him he can leave. But wait, Jaden caught some sort of Stockholm feels for Chris because he doesn’t want him to kill himself. His uncle committed suicide, and it tore his family apart. Chris seems to be contemplating his decision and lowers the gun to his lap. Jaden, who is just chock full of not so great ideas, reaches for the gun and the two begin to struggle for possession of it. The cops take their second shot and miss again. And as the two men continue fighting for the gun, we see the swat officer take one last shot before the screen cuts to black.
Now, in my opinion, Chris clearly dies here. But what about Jaden? The two were still basically lined up the exact way from earlier in the episode where they wouldn’t take the shot in fear of killing them both. I’d like to think he didn’t die, and as we observe all of the people checking their phones in the credits, I would assume he survived that final shot. This was another fascinating scene though because it showed all of these different people, who at one point had been paying attention to the kidnapping, just move on. One of the people was eating, one was standing in a line waiting for something, and another was actually driving his car. I thought this was a great tie into today’s culture. We often see so many people will post about events like this when they aren’t actually affected by them, and then they just get on with their lives. We even see Billy take one second to seem worried before he just sits back down to start his tech detox again. Maybe that was the whole point of the episode, or maybe it just went right over my head. Either way, Black Mirror left us all with this mind-bending question: What negative consequences will arise from the addiction to technology that our generation clearly is struggling with?