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February 26, 2018 | by  | in Arts TV |
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Black Mirror Season 4 Episode 1: USS Callister

4.5/5 stars

Ranking among Black Mirror’s best, “USS Callister” provides viewers with a homage to classic Star Trek and the subversion of a once plausible hero. Spoilers ahead.

Overacting and painfully overt grins dominate the opening of “Callister”, establishing an unsettling tone which remains strong throughout the episode. Featuring a crew of colourful space officers, led by Jesse Plemons as Captain Robert Daly, viewers are treated to a 1960s, Star Trek-alike space adventure show called Space Fleet.

Back in the real-world, Space Fleet turns out to be a reality that Daly, the socially awkward and clumsy CTO and co-creator of an innovative gaming technology company, has created, unbeknownst to anyone else. It is revealed he’s using the DNA of co-workers to create versions of them inside his specialised, closed-off game, set in the universe of his favourite show – Space Fleet.

Upon this reveal, the estimation of Daly as a quiet, unassuming nerd rapidly changes to seeing him as a sadistic control-freak who wants to be able to manipulate every strand of his game’s reality.  The reveal or “twist” in “Callister” happens far earlier than would usually be expected in a Black Mirror timeline, setting the tone for the episode and the stage for the true protagonist, Nanette (Cristin Milioti), the new staff member who has been brought into Daly’s construction. Within his game, Nanette and other members of staff serve as Daly’s crew; anxiously awaiting his arrival, ready to play the part of an undyingly loyal and adoring group of followers. In actuality, they are merely there to allow Daly to live out his childish fantasies, in which he fails to embody the teachings of an idealistic tv show but succeeds in rationalising the abuse of his crew.

This episode of Black Mirror transcends previous iterations of the show by subverting a character who once could have been painted as a protagonist. The idea of a lonely genius gaining inner courage to overcome all those who have bullied him through clever use of his technology, eventually winning the girl and saving the day could have just as easily been played out in the 80s or 90s.. The reality in “Callister” is far from that. After being subjected to a miserable work environment all day, Daly retreats home to his chocolate milk, pizza and action figures, signifying a child-like mentality. Winning the respect and admiration of his peers is achievable only in his simulation.

What is Space Fleet? … It’s a belief system, founded on the very best of human nature.” Daly recites moving speeches from the show to his crew while never truly understanding nor caring for the actual meaning behind the dialogue. For Daly, fulfilling his lust to be a beloved and respected leader, though never earning it, is enough. A villain whose motives we can understand and empathise with, to a certain extent, is far scarier than an unrealistic, one-dimensional monster; much like the one the Space Fleet crew attempt to combat in the game’s constructed reality. The episode then uses the game’s backdrop to launch into classic Star Trek fare – a crew defiantly overcoming the odds through intelligence, teamwork and cunning use of technology, albeit with a modern twist.

“USS Callister” is space adventure at its finest. Black Mirror, as usual, delivers, leaving viewers with a welcomed sense of optimism, and its first fully realised villain.

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