Even though Black Mirror is an anthology and you could conceivably watch season 3 in any order, “Hated in the Nation” still feels like a season finale. Not just because of its supersized runtime (90 minutes), but also because it collects many of the ideas and motifs explored in the previous five episodes: raising each other up with retweets and tearing each other down with hashtags (instead of stars); online vigilantes goading us to display our worst selves and then striking; drones used for nefarious purposes. While it’s not as flashily dystopian as other Black Mirror installments, it resembles last year’s holiday special “White Christmas” in that its technology—and the human application of it—feels uncomfortably close to our present.
Spoilers for Black Mirror 3×06 “Hated in the Nation.”
That disturbing proximity is aided by the focus on two concepts that are part of our present-day lives: environmental concerns over waning bee populations and the ramifications of their extinction… and getting shit on on Twitter. Charlie Brooker doesn’t try to hide the fact that these two are related; they’re mentioned in the same expository opening sequence in which newscasters discuss a journalist receiving death threats on Twitter (after she criticized a wheelchair-bound activist who took her own life) and the life-saving Autonomous Drone Insects (or ADIs), designed to mimic bees’ behavior and keep everything pollenated. But the ADIs aren’t sticking to flowers, as we learn when one of them is responsible for the grisly death of Jo Powers, the journalist whose Twitter mentions were filled with “#DeathTo Jo Powers” and other creative, c-word-filled threats.
Of course, we don’t know this immediately. “Hated in the Nation” is Brooker’s take on the police procedural, grippingly done, and we do spend quite a bit of time dissecting crime scenes and running down clues with DCI Karin Parke (Kelly Macdonald, a cranky treasure) and her new “shadow,” Blue (Faye Marsay, a.k.a. the Waif from Game of Thrones). These new partners are such opposites that in lesser hands they would be archetypes, but here the distinction between their worldviews is clean and spare: Blue worked in cybercrime; at the Powers crime scene, her next step after seeing Jo’s slit throat is to check her computer, which is still spitting out Twitter mentions. Karin disdains Twitter, social media, and even complicated technology like phone tracking; her line “I can’t believe I’d be living in the future, but here I fuckin’ well am” could sum up most disgruntled Black Mirror viewers. From a police standpoint as well, Karin clearly disapproves of Blue’s decision to move out of forensics after looking through too many of the awful, incriminating photos that people keep on their phones and computers. “You’ve seen what people tuck away on these,” she says in their first conversation, regarding her smartphone. “Now, they can’t help but entrust it to their little companions.”
It’s on-the-nose, sure, but also an interesting bit of dialogue, especially since the eventual reveal is less about what people are hiding on their devices—compared to, say, “Shut Up and Dance”—and more about their blind trust that they can say anything they want on the internet without fear of consequences, that their online vitriol and hatred are divorced from their much more proper behavior in real life. And considering that “Hated in the Nation” takes place within a frame story about Karin—but not Blue, it would appear—testifying at a hearing about some mysterious tragedy points to that as the moral.
At Blue’s insistence, the police track down an elementary school teacher, Lisa Bahar (Sherlock‘s Vinette Robinson), who pooled money with other Jo Powers haters to send the journalist a cake reading “FUCKING BITCH,” which she gladly devoured before her death. The cake turns out to be a tasty red herring (in a nice reversal to the gun hiding in the cake in “Shut Up and Dance”), but putting a face to hateful tweets begins to reveal a pattern: Thousands of Twitter users posted Jo Powers’ name alongside the #DeathTo hashtag the day of her death. Twenty-four hours later, the hashtag has claimed another victim: Tusk, a rapper who got slammed on Twitter after footage circulated of him making fun of a young fan’s dancing while the kid was waiting backstage to meet him (oh, the cringing). Like Jo, the rapper suddenly begins screaming and having a seizure; unlike Jo, who slit her own throat with her wine bottle to stop the pain, the rapper died when he was put into an MRI and it sucked the metal ADI out of his head.
Teaming up with NCA agent Shaun Li (Benedict Wong), Karin and Blue’s investigation takes them into physical and figurative spaces: to the offices of Granular, the company that created the ADIs and oversees the hundreds of hives and thousands of mechanical bees; and Twitter itself, as they discover that #DeathTo is part of a game. Every day, users vote on who should be hunted; whichever name gets the most tweets by 5 p.m. is then targeted by a hijacked killer bee. After Karin, Blue, and Shaun try to take her to a remote safe house the third victim, Clara Meades, the full extent of the hackers’ control is evident. In a sequence reminiscent of The Birds, an entire angry, buzzing swarm of mechanical bees (why were they programmed to still buzz?) break past windows and doors to get at the poor girl whose only crime was mock-pissing on a war memorial.
Of course you know what else it reminded me of:
I found the ADIs a much more effective use of drones than the military-grade ones in “Men Against Fire”—probably because they’re disguised as something so innocuous, presented as tools to help sustain the environment. But their ubiquity is dangerous, as Blue learns when she realizes that the only way that the ADIs could know to track down their targets through facial recognition is if Granular also had access to government records. And what do you know? The government has been using ADIs for covert surveillance, just as all the conspiracy theorists suspected.
But there’s not time to address this issue, because the clock is ticking on the next #DeathTo target: the Chancellor of the Exchequer. While the feds are trying to find a safe house that won’t get rammed by bees, Karin and Blue track down the twisted mastermind behind all this: Garrett Scholes (Duncan Pow), a former Granular employee. Though Garrett includes a 98-page manifesto inside the ADI that killed Jo Powers, his true reasoning is more nebulous: On the one hand, he spouts fanatical rhetoric about people facing the truth of consequences, but he also has a personal stake, as his flatmate and fellow employee attempted suicide because of online hate.
With just minutes to go until the 5 p.m. deadline, Karin discovers the horrifying truth: Garrett has used the hashtag and the ADIs’ facial records to target the 387,036 people who used the hashtag—including a fellow officer, who joined the barrage to try and flush Garrett out of hiding. Despite Karin and Blue’s pleas not to deactivate the system, Shaun presses the button, and condemns hundreds of thousands of people to agonizing deaths.
We return to the frame story as Karin finishes giving her testimony. While the members of the hearing commend her for revisiting the trauma, she has become a hated public figure because of her failure in the investigation and indirect part in the mass deaths. That doesn’t seem to affect her so much as the absence of Blue, who went missing a few months prior, leaving behind her clothes and a note on the beach. But as Karin heads home, she receives a text from a withheld number: Got him. Our girl Blue has tracked down Garrett—who did an impressive job of changing his appearance once the button got pressed—in another country and, looking very much like the Waif, shadows him as he leaves a café.
I have to admit, more than once I thought that Blue was in on it, due to her tech savvy being constantly dismissed by everyone around her. But I much prefer this ending, as the cynical loner Karin takes on the public vitriol (we know she can handle it) and Blue finally proves herself to her partner as a detective in the field. It’s not a happy ending like in “San Junipero,” but we get to see the mystery solved and the bad guy taken out. That said, it took the senseless deaths of more than 300,000 people, and we know the government probably used the tragedy as an excuse to crack down on surveillance, though they would have to find a new way to do so. Because it’s not the technology’s fault, it’s the fault of human error.
Of all the ways that Black Mirror could have used Twitter, this was the most chilling: closing the gap between online and IRL behavior, forcing people to confront their digital Mr. Hydes and putting weight behind empty threats by turning them back around on the users. “Hated in the Nation” is among my favorite episodes, but not for the same reasons as other installments—not because I want to delve more into the richness of the worldbuilding, but because it weaves the best of our society with the worst and shows that, once again, human nature is our downfall.
- Who else wants to see DCI Karin Parke team up with DCI John Luther?
- By dint of much of the story taking place over news media, we got a handful of Black Mirror Easter eggs, including a mention of the U.S. military announcing their MASS project and a bunch of “#DeathTo Victoria Skillane” (the protagonist of “White Bear”) tweets. Blue also mentions working the Rannoch case—Iain, Victoria’s lover.
- I truly don’t understand how other television series aren’t on the same level as Black Mirror in depicting modern-day tech. Their Twitter wasn’t a poor man’s version, as we see on so many shows; it was the real thing (albeit more streamlined), winning us over immediately with its authenticity so that we went along with the rest of the mystery.
- Mallory Ortberg and The Toast got a shoutout! (Hat-tip to Redditor gymnol7412.)