Black Mirror: USS Callister


    You know…I saw this episode. Star Trek: The Next Generation had a character named Reginald Barclay (played excellently by Dwight Shultz)  who was a brilliant, but socially awkward, diagnostic engineer.

    Reg, got a little carried away with creating Holographic simulations in which he could express himself, release frustations and act out some of his inner desires. The simulations were for the most part harmless because Reg was actually a sweet and kind individual. Such was a time when a story like this could be told without the notion of damning a subset of the population. When people say they miss the good ole days…I, now, more than ever, know exactly what they mean.

    In the Black Mirror episode, USS Callister we have Robert Daly, CTO of the Callister software company. Robert Daly doesn’t like the way that he is treated by the people he works with. His partner James Walton ( played by Jimmi Simpson ) walks all over him and his subordinates don’t really take him seriously. Some of his expectations are a bit odd (he expects the intern to make him coffee…wait, I think interns are supposed to do things like that…nevermind). Others are more reasonable…like your business partner shouldn’t be treating you like a red-headed stepchild. Of course most of these issues could be addresed by Daly himself if he only had the minerals to be more assertive..a healthy assertive, not the whacked-out bosshog he enacts when he steps into his virtual simulation playground “Infinity” to…unwind.

    The spin on this little tale is that apparently technology is so advanced that you can take a person’s DNA and create a ‘self aware’ digital clone of this individual who retains their real iife memories up until the point they were copied. Robert Daly has done this with several of the people he works with and spends his free time terrorizing them when he takes on the role of a Space Fleet (his favorite TV show) Captain of the USS Callister. So..basically they have made this guy a monster. Color me surprised that 5 out of 6 of his subordinates are ‘minorities’.

    “It’s a bubble universe ruled by an asshole God”.

    The latest employee to join the deck of the damned is Nanette Cole who initially came to work for Callister because of Daly’s beautiful code. One of the other employees told her he was a freak and that she should keep her distance and that was all she wrote. Daly snagged her DNA and plopped her in the system. We learn that the rest of the crew had been chosen because of various slights Daly deemed they perpetrated against him ( They claim these were all innocuous ).

    “Stealing my pussy is a red fucking line”.

    So the digital clones are unhappy and want to die. Naturally, Cole can do what noone else has been able to do…hack into Daly’s system. With this advantage in hand the clone gang come up with a plan that will allow them to exit stage left…permanently. They manage to escape into ‘the cloud’ and Daly is trapped on his side where he is essentially lobotomized and left to starve to death. Clone Nanette…now Captain Nanette leads her team off into the stars.

    So in a nutshell we are to told that Robert Daly who isn’t treated like a God in real life opted to become a God in the virtual world. A sadistic God no less. A woman comes in to save the day. It’s interesting to note that when they escape the first person they encounter is another white male who seeks to assert his dominance over them “King of Space”.  This episode is written by Charlie Brooker and William Bridges. So Charles…what are we saying about white males here? According to digitalspy Brooker claims his inspiration for the character came from an innocent source:

    “There’s a brilliant Twilight Zone episode about a little boy who has sort of God-like powers, and so I thought, ‘That was chilling, I want to do something like that!’ prodded Brooker hoping he would confirm that the episode was making a statement about Workplace sexual harassment, criticism of classic science-fiction tropes, white men who long for the entitlements of yesteryear, and even possibly a critique of our current president.

    …excuse me…I had to choke back some vomit. Okay…let’s continue.

    Brooker claims that this isn’t the case:

    “It’s not where the idea came from. But as soon as you get into the workplace stuff, forcing people [into the virtual prison] for what he perceives as slights in the workplace, that then gets to a whole other level of stuff. So often with our episodes, really, there’s not a central message or certain thing we’re trying to evoke, but it comes out alongside of that. Certainly, a lot of those things resonate in that episode, but it’s not directly about any one of those things. Really “USS Callister” is about someone who is wielding absolute power who shouldn’t be, and people overthrowing him. “

    Okay Charles…I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt…the bad guy of this piece just happens to be a white male. You claim there is no agenda here but clearly many on the left have taken this to be yet another win for progressivism.

    The best parts of the episode resided in the third act where I thought the coordination of real and virtual events worked well. The setup for having Daly pursue the clones seemed a bit far fetched…even for cheesy Sci-Fi but the asteroid sequence effects were well done. Overall the acting is pretty solid. What detracted from the enjoyment of the episode was the easy to be politicized elements that kept occurring.

    Filtering out this propaganda….even if it was subconscious propaganda, was exhausting. If all the episodes are like this….it’s gonna be a long season.

    2.5 out of 5 stars

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