Martin Carr reviews Black Mirror’s USS Callister…
Some have called this the flagship episode of season four and it has many of the hallmarks you might expect. In Jesse Plemons and Jimmi Simpson we have Breaking Bad and House of Cards alumni doing the dramatic heavy lifting. Production wise Brooker’s world never looked so expansive, tangible and technically deviant as it does for ‘USS Callister’. However what separates this from its counterparts in episodes two through six comes down to the savage relevance of those topics under discussion.
Never one for backing away from a topically loaded gun Brooker tackles dubious on-line behaviours, our subsequent disconnect from reality as well as issues surrounding DNA cloning. This is heavy hitting material wrapped up in nostalgia laced Star Trek flashbacks. Certain character elements remind me of John Cusack in Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich, such is the radical change which Plemons undergoes during Callister’s run time. Likewise Jimmi Simpson does a good job of pulling the rug out from under you once everyone is completely aware of the situation.
By turns arrogantly upfront and obnoxious to subserviently snivelling in seconds Simpson jockeys for acting plaudits alongside Plemons throughout. Brooker’s take on technical advancement its liabilities and the varying degrees to which people might abuse, manipulate and employ it for nefarious means is both inspired and tellingly pertinent. Gaming culture, multiplayer communities and every other tangent expanding out from that is addressed in a future shaped by one man.
Lifted straight from the Sixties acting play book of one William Shatner Plemons has the look, smug self-assurance and absolutely incorrect approach to women down pat. Those segments of Space Fleet which are created for us are pure homage done with love, suitably shaky and perfectly tongue in cheek. As this feature length episode continues however all that good feeling evaporates like air from a room. As the expected darkness descends this high tech lo-fi balancing act reveals some truly deviant colours. Not so much stripping away the layers of reality more than severing muscle from bone ‘USS Callister’ brings home the bacon in a distinctly original way, proving itself more than the sum of those numerous parts.
However the flagship monocle is one which only sits well with ‘Callister’ in terms of run time. People will obviously find their favourites amongst the call sheet and this will certainly be amongst them, but Brooker and Jones have purposely created pitches that stand alone. Each has a certain flavour, different moral code and in some cases no morality at all. As to whether ‘USS Callister’ is the place to start your Black Mirror journey only you can make that choice.