In this episode, Malachi Kirby plays a soldier engaged in a war of extermination against monstrous creatures called “roaches,” but after his first kill, he finds himself experiencing strange technical glitches. This is a slightly weaker episode than some others, I think. Am I acclimating to Black Mirror too much? Maybe, because, as with Shut Up & Dance, I saw the twist coming in this one, though I will say that the twist here is more effective than that one, even when you do see it coming. Kirby’s performance is minimal, but powerful; he’s given fine support from the always reliable Sarah Snook as a tough commanding officer and a downright mustache twirlingly hammy Madeline Brewer as the psycho Raiman, who enjoys her kills a bit too much. Director Jacob Verbruggen gives the episode a gritty feeling and the sequences of violence are intense and frightening. The real MVP here is veteran character actor Michael Kelly as a mysterious authority figure. He just downright gives a masterclass in underplaying and his character is all the more chilling, and all the more convincing, because of his quietness and stillness; he’s genuinely the best thing about the episode and his climactic scene with Kirby is really great. I did feel that the sexual subplot, in which the soldiers are rewarded, via their implants, with vivid sexual dreams when they’ve done well, to be kind of tacked on and superfluous. I’ve always found Black Mirror to use sexual content in a really smart way and it never feels gratuitious, until this episode where it seems a bit like it’s put in for padding. Still, the dark use of technology feels very real, like something that might really happen in our own reality, as the powers that be search for more and more ways to dehumanize the enemy and the emotional power of the episode is undeniable, for all its flaws. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – predictable story with some gratuitious elements still delivers a powerful emotional punch, thanks especially to the fine performances and gripping direction. 3 ½ stars.