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A Look Back At The Darkest Episode of Black Mirror

Black Mirror: Darkest Episode

Black Mirror’s Examination of the Trial-by-Internet Phenomenon

Measuring the darkness of a Black Mirror episode is difficult, as darkness implies a certain amount of subjectivity and holds complicated criteria. What sparks anger or disgust in one person may not compare to the feelings evoked in another. It is the same reason dark humor and the extent dark humor will go is so polarizing. 

Looking back at Netflix’s anthology series Black Mirror created by Charlie Booker, there are plenty of episodes with dark subject matter, dark tones, and even dark aesthetics. However, there is one episode where all three of these characteristics stand out: “Shut Up and Dance.” 

The Subject Matter

“Shut Up and Dance,” S3 E3 of Black Mirror, follows Kenny, a seemingly average teenage boy who lives at home with his mother and works as a busboy at a local restaurant. Kenny’s world is turned upside down when he receives a message from an unknown hacker that reads, “WE SAW WHAT YOU DID,” along with a video of Kenny masturbating. The hacker blackmails Kenny into doing increasingly bizarre, incriminating, and dangerous tasks to prevent the video from being leaked.   

Although Kenny is depicted as an innocent teenager, he is desperate to hide a much darker truth. His portrayal is intentionally deceiving to the viewer. One feels empathy for Kenny and his panic to appease the blackmailer up until the final minutes of the episode. In these last moments, it is revealed why Kenny is so desperate to keep the video from surfacing, and the viewer is confronted with the demented truth about Kenny. The hacker, originally a wicked anonymous figure, is transformed into something of a vigilante, exposing the sins of others and humiliating them with crazed assignments along the way. The episode becomes an exploration of the “trial-by-internet” phenomenon. In an age where it is common to be excommunicated from the public space solely based on the internet’s perception or evidence, Black Mirror toys with the idea to an extreme degree. What lengths will man go to keep pernicious truths hidden? 

Black Mirror: Darkest Episode

The Tone

Since the truth about Kenny is not revealed until the climax, viewers spend most of the episode rooting for him. There is a sense of urgency while watching the episode, as the hacker is constantly giving Kenny a time limit to complete each task, and the tasks become more intricate, and Kenny becomes more desperate. During one particularly intense scene, Kenny and his accomplice Hector must decide who will rob a bank and who will be the getaway driver. They have five minutes to decide, and Kenny cannot accept the fact that he will have to be the robber. The viewer is filled with dread as Kenny makes life-altering choices based on anonymous blackmail. There is no break from the tension of the episode, even in the final moments, when Kenny is confronted with his actions once and for all through a distressing voicemail from his mother about his conduct. 

The Aesthetic  

Unlike most Black Mirror episodes, “Shut Up and Dance” takes place in the current reality. There is nothing strange or science-fiction-esque about Kenny’s environment. It is simply London with its gray weather, storefronts, and sporadic wilderness. This is an intentional factor that makes the episode even darker. The proposal that these chilling, technological evils take place in this universe makes for an even grimmer visual. Ultimately, all the technology in this episode exists today.

This landscape, along with the shaky camera and numerous shots behind bars, eliciting a feeling of entrapment or perhaps foreshadowing Kenny’s fate in prison, all converge to create a perfectly bleak aesthetic. There are also numerous shots from a distance and through a camera lens, both of which elicit the feeling of being watched. The audience is more voyeur than spectator. 

The Consensus

Black Mirror explores the dark side of technology in unique and harrowing methods, and “Shut Up and Dance,” in particular, exhibits the dark side of technology in the everyday. Some may argue that this episode doesn’t compete with others in the anthology series, but there is no contending against this episode’s bleak and despondent voice. “Shut Up and Dance” is an overt instance of trolling gone too far. For those who haven’t watched Black Mirror, “Shut Up and Dance” may be the perfect place to begin.  

Black Mirror Season 3 (2016). Official Netflix Trailer

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Allison Fail works in film production and loves to spend her free time watching and analyzing movies. She has her BA from Tulane University and currently resides in Chicago.