The grand finale of Black Mirror’s highly anticipated third season comes in the form of executive producer Charlie Brooker’s first attempt at a feature-length “Scandi-Noir” coppers episode, “Hated in the Nation.” It’s a different approach from the “usual” Black Mirror format—in fact, for those unsure whether or not to brave the series, it may be an effective way of easing into the sinister world of Brooker’s creation. (I recently read a comment from a fan stating he advised people unfamiliar with the show’s content and style to skip the very first episode “The National Anthem” and return to it at a later point; I see his logic.) At minimum, “Hated in the Nation” works brilliantly as a stand-alone episode, particularly for those who enjoy a strange mix of sci-fi and crime drama.
If Season Three features a central theme, besides the power of technology, it’s the cruel games people play from behind the safety of their screens: “Shut Up and Dance,” for instance, is set in a world in which anyone can become an unofficial authority figure, exercising their own warped sense of justice. “Hated in the Nation” follows in a similar vein, only this time on a national scale. People involved in “online shit-storms” not only become the victims of severe cyber-bullying and #DeathTo threats, but also end up dying under strange, horrific circumstances. In the episode, an investigation leads DCI Karin (Kelly Macdonald) and her partner, Blue (Faye Marsay), to Granular, the company that invented ADIs (Autonomous Drone Insects, used to replace the extinct bee population). It seems single ADIs managed to burrow through their victims’ ear canals (BrainDead, anyone?) and in their brains’ pain center. The pain this causes is so excruciating one of the victims even commits suicide to put a stop to the agony.
Garrett Scholes (Duncan Pow), the man who managed to hack the ADI system, believes the power of technology has made people “revel in cruelty,” and has made it his mission to make people “face the consequence of what they say and do.” He orchestrates an online game that allows people to vote their top five most-hated candidates by flooding social media platforms with the #DeathTo hashtag. Each day’s game runs until 5 p.m., at which point the candidate with the highest amount of #DeathTo labels is eliminated by way of a hacked ADI. The game then resets and the voting process begins again, with new candidates. Anyone can be a candidate: A journalist like the first victim, Jo Powers (Elizabeth Brennigan), who wrote an insensitive click-bait article, or a young activist like Clara (Holli Dempsey), who posted a photo of herself pretending to piss on a war memorial. Needless to say, a chancellor quickly works his way up into the top five as well.
Few participants actually believed that their death wishes for others would be granted, but many continue to play even after news of the dangers involved are made public. This only goes to show how easily people are riled up over viral content, and underlines how far they’ll go to express their rage—as long as their arses are still parked on the couch. Much like the audience in Marina Abramovic’s performance piece Rhythm 0, the voters of the #DeathTo game feel empowered by the lack of consequences, and this sense of detachment allows participants to completely dehumanize their candidates. As long as the pain they inflict is not tangible to the players, the effects on the receiver leave them cold, an idea that is also explored in “Men Against Fire; But while Abramovic allowed her audience to run away as soon as she stepped out of the role of object, Scholes ensures the players of his deadly game suffer the consequences.
Although Scholes is the brainchild of the killer-bee operation, he’s not the sole villain in the story. As is true of many Black Mirror episodes, the villain is human nature itself. When it comes to technological advances, our initial intentions usually stem from a genuine desire to better our world, but we tend to look only at the short-term scenarios for those technologies’’ uses, as opposed to the bigger picture. The ADIs are a prime example of technology being used to the advantage of powerful authority figures or a hacking wunderkind like Scholes.
Where “Shut Up and Dance” focuses on how easily we trust the online world with our private—and for some, depraved—lives, “Hated in the Nation” highlights the fine line between our virtual lives and reality. Cowardice has been confused for courage; most people would never spew such hate in public, but place the very same people behind a screen and suddenly they can verbalize every vile thought on their mind with little regard for the recipient. The nursery rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” takes on a new meaning in “Hated in the Nation.” And even though it may have been one of the season’s weaker episodes in terms of suspense, it wraps up Black Mirror’s third season on a familiar, oh so beautifully depressing note.
Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.