Procuring a one-off Christmas special episode is a tradition in the realm of British television. The Black Mirror Christmas special flips the expected special formula on its ahead, even breaking its own rules. We receive 3 (that’s three!) mini-stories within the space of a 90-minute episode, and all stories have references or directly tie back to the previous 6 episodes in the Mirror pantheon.
It’s a risk taken by creator Charlie Brooker that pays off in giant ways, with the assistance of magnetic cast members Jon Hamm, Rafe Spall, Oona Chaplin, Natalia Tena, and Janet Montgomery to name a few (but the most notable). The final Black Mirror Christmas Special product ends up being, to me, the 3rd best episode in the entire series (behind the 2nd and 3rd episodes of season 1). Since there are many SPOILER-centric waters to swim around in, and many stories to sufficiently cover (with as much complexity as all of season 2), let’s delay no longer and get into specifics, where I grade the entire series at the end!
The Black Mirror Christmas special begins with the introduction of Joe (played by Spall) and Matt (played by Hamm); close-quarter co-workers in a remote cabin out in a snowy, wooded, secluded area. Joe wakes to find Matt making dinner on Christmas day, hearing “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” playing on the radio, but baffled why Matt opted to work at the outpost: a question they seemingly never asked each other in the 5 years they’ve been stationed there together. Satisfied they’re communicating for once, Matt explains how he used to run an illegal seduction coaching operation, and this operation heavily features the Z-Eye. Yep, the same Z-Eye from season 1’s 3rd episode, “The Entire History of You,” which I also recapped and wholly adore.
Via online broadcast stream, Matt can see through a client’s eye, who’s typically a socially awkward man that needs desperate assistance in the dating world, and offer advice via bluetooth. This specific client is named Harry, portrayed by Rasmus Hardiker. Harry bonds with a woman named Jennifer (played by Tena), who seems to be the black sheep of the party that keeps to herself yet finds Harry to be charming. Jennifer eventually invites Harry back to her place, to which Harry excitedly agrees. Their interactions traverse awkward territories, when Jennifer sees Harry talking to himself, not knowing he’s actually talking to Matt about the sexual encounter that’s about to commence.
Jennifer concocts a strong beverage for Harry, makes him drink it, then reveals herself as a schizophrenic that also hears occasional voices in her head. Harry starts gagging on the drink, and Matt realizes things have taken a dark turn. Jennifer drinks her own mixed drink, and we quickly discover these drinks were poison, as we witness both Jennifer and Harry perish. Matt attempts to burn all evidence of this side business, but his wife finds out and “blocks” him through her Z-Eye. This means Matt only comes through to her as a white static silhouette of a person, and the only sounds that come through when he talks are muffled non-sense, which is utterly brilliant writing and exactly how we’d use such technology if it really existed. Back in present day, Matt informs Joe that he was sent to the outpost as punishment for his part in Harry’s death.
The 2nd mini-story in the Black Mirror Christmas special consists of Matt telling Joe his real occupation, as the perverse seduction assistance service was merely a “hobby.” We’re introduced to Greta (played by Chaplin), who’s a very successful, wealthy, and busy individual. She’s shown waiting in a doctor’s office for a mystery procedure, and in the next scene, she wakes up from sedation in a “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids!” situation, where she’s stuck inside an all-white miniature egg-shaped room. This is where Matt comes in, and explains to Mini Greta her purpose: she’s now what’s known as a Cookie, a tiny technology that holds a copy of someone’s (here, it’s Greta’s) consciousness. The process differs from season 2 episode 1 where a deceased person is brought back to life using their social media communications as a template. That version of A.I. represents only fragments of a consciousness, and isn’t complete like it is in the Black Mirror Christmas Special reality.
Mini Greta isn’t thrilled with this news, as she retained all of original Greta’s original thoughts and feelings, and original Greta would not want to be stuck in a miniature egg-shaped room for the rest of her existence. However, Matt helps her get acclimated, even through torture. In another very creative writing move, the Cookie allows the user the ability to slow or speed up the perception of time for whoever occupies said Cookie. In this story, Matt slows down time in the Cookie to where Mini Greta feels like 3 weeks have passed, when in reality, it’s only been a number of seconds. This torture is effective though, and Mini Greta reserves herself to a life of handling original Greta’s every minor request she might have (like how original Greta prefers her toast). In the wintry outpost, Joe is disgusted that Matt would torture a consciousness, however artificial it is, but now Joe has warmed up to telling Matt his equally depressing story.
It wouldn’t be an episode of a Charlie Brooker-ran show without an insane rug-pull of a twist, which definitely occurs in the last part of the Black Mirror Christmas Special. In the not-so-distant past, Joe participated in a once-healthy, long-time relationship with his girlfriend, Beth (played by Montgomery). As the relationship elongates, Joe notices Beth getting more isolated from him just before he finds a positive home pregnancy test in the trash. Joe questions Beth about it, and she responds negatively by the news, saying she intends to get an abortion. Initially, Joe respects her decision, but is still displeased at how distant she’s being. Joe remembers Beth drank wine all the way through a dinner with friends, and accuses her of being selfish and trying to kill their baby. Beth blocks Joe through her Z-Eye in a rage, and leaves Joe the next morning without unblocking him, before Joe could apologize.
Later on in this timeline, Joe spots Beth’s silhouette from afar and sees she is still very pregnant. Joe attempts to confront her, but she has him arrested and places a restraining order on him, which legally “blocks” Joe from being able to see Beth or her offspring. Joe writes many apology letters to her, but receives nothing but silence. Knowing Beth visits her father’s remote cottage every Christmas, Joe stops by and watches Beth and their child (although still blocked) from afar. For the next 4 years, Joe continues this stealthy stalking, even starting to leave anonymous gifts for the child, who he discovers is a girl.
Joe hears from the news that Beth died in a train crash, which lifts the Z-Eye block to his child. However, in a masterful twist, Joe discovers in his next cottage visit the little girl to be Asian, and thereby not his offspring whatsoever. Joe confronts Beth’s father and finds out he’s been hiding Joe’s apology letters from her. In a furious rage, Joe hits Beth’s dad over the head with a snow globe, accidentally yet effectively killing him. Joe runs away and lives on the streets for a while until he’s apprehended by the police. Back in the current timeline at the cabin, Joe informs Matt that he overheard a police officer say Beth’s daughter went looking for help after finding her grandfather dead, but she died in the snow due to hypothermia, making Joe technically responsible for two deaths.
Matt appears relieved to hear Joe’s “confession,” as a revelation strikes Joe: he’s in a replica of Beth’s father’s cottage, listening to the song playing when Joe killed him, and he doesn’t really know why or how he and Matt ever got to the outpost. Matt disappears from the kitchen, and Joe concludes he’s in a Cookie and merely a copy of the original Joe’s consciousness that the police used to obtain a confession. With that, the police formally charged Joe with the two deaths, and Matt is free to leave with a major caveat.
Matt was in trouble with the law for his participation in the illegal seduction coaching as well as Harry’s death, which legally classifies Matt as a “sex offender.” In this world, “sex offenders” are seen as red silhouettes through the Z-Eye instead of white ones. Meanwhile, in Joe’s Cookie, the police continue to play the Christmas song and change the rate of time perception to 1,000 years per minute. Joe starts losing his mind as the most depressing episode of Black Mirror comes to a close. So we don’t end on such a bleak note, I’ll also point out that if you keep a keen eye out, you’ll catch shots of the Prime Minister from season 1 and the Waldo cartoon character from season 2 on a TV Joe watches – again including Easter eggs from earlier episodes in the Black Mirror Christmas special.
I know it’s been a wordy article, or even an entire wordy week, especially in regards to Black Mirror, but this show is very special to me and deserved all the attention it’s getting. Hopefully by this time, you’re indulging on season 3 of Black Mirror on Netflix, which I’ll review once I’ve seen it myself. The best part about the show, besides the creative genius of its creator, is the fact that anyone can pick up the show from any one episode, with the rare excellent exception of the Black Mirror Christmas special. Overall, the fact that this series isn’t winning all the television awards in the world is a travesty.
Score (for the Series): A+ (duh!)