Black Mirror (S04E03) "Crocodile"

In this instalment of the anthology series, we’re asked questions about the efficacy of surveillance-enhancing technology, while made witness to a chain of increasingly hectic murders that show how far one woman will go to keep her secrets. Crocodile is a good episode, but the technology is too lite for it to truly represent the ideal Black Mirror instalment.

Synopsis:

To open we’re shown a young couple – Mia (Andrea Riseborough) and Rob (Andrew Gower) – on their way back  from a night partying, driving along the isolated roads of Iceland. They accidentally hit-and-kill a cyclist, and as the driver, Rob is terrified of what a manslaughter charge will do to his life; so he gets Mia to help him dump the body and bike in a lake. Jump 15 years and the two are no longer together – Mia has made a success of her life (she is Mia Nolan, famous architect) and has a husband and son; Rob, however, isn’t as successful, and is feeling repentant. While she is on a business trip, Rob meets Mia in her hotel and expresses interest to write an anonymous letter to the widow of the person they (well, he) hit. Mia sees how this could ruin her life, and in a panic she kills Rob. As she does this, a man on the street is hit by an automated car and she quickly closes her curtains, renting a pornographic movie to mask the noise while she disposes of Rob’s body.

Meanwhile, Shazia (Kiran Sonia Sawar) is an insurance investigator who uses ‘Recaller’ technology to tap into people’s (subjective) memories of events, to try and piece together evidence relevant to whatever case she is working on. Shazia follows leads regarding the automated car incident (the victim is a musician and wants re-compensation for the damage done to his hand) and eventually spots and profiles Mia looking out of the hotel window in one of somebody’s memories. Shazia informs her husband that she’ll be working late, and visits Mia (who is back home, and due to watch her son perform in the school production later that evening). She just needs to use the device on Mia, to gather information from Mia’s memories surrounding the event – the trouble is, moments before looking out of the window, Mia committed murder. Mia tries to focus on false memories, but buckles, and Shazia then sees imagery relating to the murder Mia committed (and even the event from 15 years ago). She can’t hide her fear, and is soon knocked out and kidnapped by Mia. Shazia is interrogated, and Mia even uses the ‘Recaller’ device to tap into her memories and see whether she has told anyone about the visit.

Unfortunately, she has, prompting Mia to bludgeon her to death  and then break into Shazia’s home, killing her husband while he’s in the bath; and then, realising that he’s seen her face, her baby son too. It’s a horrifying turn and shortly afterwards, Mia attends her son’s production, crying throughout. In a cruel and ironic twist, we find out that Shazia’s son was blind and police use their own ‘Recaller’ device on the family guinea-pig which was in the room with the baby. The episode ends with Mia watching her son’s production – still crying – while Police gather outside the school.

Review:

Crocodile is a beautifully shot episode, with the bleak Icelandic setting mirroring the bleak tale that is told – if only said tale was interesting, however. I enjoyed Mia’s story, I really did, but I hardly found the technology intriguing, and in my opinion is proves the be the weakest element of the episode.

The show puts a lot of (clever) effort into explaining the history of the ‘Recaller’ technology, its uses, its limitations; and while I appreciated all of that (it could be a very useful real life tool in some industries), I feel like the technology was made to fit the narrative more than the narrative was made to fit the technology. As a result, the device used to get Mia and Shavia into an identical situation could have been anything from body cameras, to time-allotted truth serums, to plain old street cameras. As a result, the technology doesn’t feel distinct or unique enough to really represent Black Mirror.

It, or at least the type of surveillance-enhancing technology it represents, does raise an important and poignant question, though – is heavy surveillance really a good thing? In the case of Mia, the thought that there could be number of witnesses leads her to commit additional crimes, including killing a baby. What I’m alluding to is the idea that the paranoia induced by such surveillance when someone breaks the law may result in drastic steps towards beating the system, resulting in more breaking of the law – as compared to someone just committing a crime and moving on with life. I guess it all comes down to weighing the quantity of deterred crime against the quantity of potential induced crime, but it is an interesting question.

There’s also the question of the moral implications of any type of technology that taps into people’s memory, rather than just gathering info directly related to the relevant matter – it’s an issue of privacy, and it’s hard to see how this type of technology would gather evidence without revealing the deeply personal information of the people being questioned i.e. if (in some alternate timeline) Mia had just been told something in confidence, or been the victim of abuse, or done something embarrassing, this information could be directly accessed by random investigators who are only interested in what happened a few seconds later, but nonetheless see everything else as well. Maybe I’m too into this kind of stuff, and the episode certainly didn’t have time to (and didn’t need to) explore these issues, but it makes for good discussion.

Finally, there’s the matter of the significance behind the title. While not as explicitly made clear as in USS Callister or Arkangel, the general consensus among the internet is that the title refers to ‘crocodile tears’ – remorseless tears, or tears that are insincere. This is particularly relevant as it definitely alludes to Mia’s reaction to her crimes. She cries a lot throughout the episode, but then kills the next person, and the next; making one wonder how much remorse she really feels. I’m not suggesting she enjoys it, but she’s certainly okay with it. Maybe she feels that these are all absolutely necessary to protect her secrets and preserve her life and happiness, or maybe the incident 15 years ago showed her that life can go on and allowed her to come to terms with committing crimes and moving forward – the episode never goes into it, leaving her sincerity up for debate, but one thing is for sure: she’ll do anything to ensure that her future remains bright.

7/10

Side Thoughts and Observations:

  • There’s a very large and rewarding easter egg throughout the episode. As I predicted in the preview, the song Anyone Who Knows What Love is (Will Understand) featured again in season 4, and rather than having some token role in Crocodile, it was integral to the plot. To help people remember when using the ‘Recaller’, Shazia tries to replicate the sounds and smells of the scene. She makes each person sniff a beer bottle (the hotel and car-incident were near a brewery), and she plays a song that was heard by all on or near the street that night – the song I just mentioned. We hear it multiple times throughout the episode, and the song has been a staple reference to season 1’s Fifteen Million Merits throughout the years.
  • The guinea-pig was actually a super thought-out addition. At the time of viewing I wondered whether a guinea-pig would yield accurate imagery (so much so that police would be able to identify Mia through its memories), but I’ve since done some research (one google search) and learned that unlike most rodents, guinea-pigs see colours, and also have far more developed senses (hearing and touch). I guess that’s why we do experiments on them… (that got dark).
  • Speaking of dark, filming all those day scenes (the bulk of the episode) in Iceland must have been pretty difficult, what with its 4 hours of daily sunlight 😉