It wasn’t clear whether or not this particular special of Black Mirror would be aired. Brooker, the showrunner, had expressed wanting to take a hiatus from the show in the past. In fact, it was the cause for the delay between seasons 1 and 2. There was some confusion as to whether or not this Christmas special was going to be the start to a third season, but this is merely a standalone piece exploring more of the darker sides of technological progression.
Joe Potter (Rafe Spall) and Matt Trent (Jon Hamm) live in a shack in the middle of a tundra as a Christmas day blizzard whips around them. For five years Joe has refused to speak to Matt, but as they sit down to dinner his housemate finally gets him to interact and tells him the story of his life that led him to this place.
Harry (Rasmus Hardiker), a socially awkward man, hires Matt to be his dating coach. Through “Z-Eye,” a widely-used implant that acts as a mobile device, Matt talks him into a closed-door office party on Christmas Eve. By following his tips and advice, Harry tries to seduce Jennifer (Natalia Tena), a socially recluse woman who chooses to avoid the gathering of the party. Matt guides Harry until he manages to get her alone and learns of her drug history and disdain for the company and its culture. When she leaves to get more drinks, Harry regrets his decision to hire Matt and he argues with them aloud until Jennifer returns and invites him back to her home.
In her bedroom, believing they are about to have sex, Jennifer reveals that she’s a schizophrenic and hears voices, falsely believing Harry is suffering as she has and offers him a route to escape the confusion through suicide. Fearing for his life, Harry tries to explain about Z-Eye and Matt, but Jennifer forces drug-laced alcohol down his throat, then continues to poison herself. Matt is then arrested for leading Harry to his death and streaming the whole thing to a group of men online. When Matt gets an opportunity to explain to his wife what’d happened, she “blocked” him from her Z-Eye which rendered him a mute silhouette of pixels to her, and her to him. Because of his crime Joe was sent to live in the shack. When scrutinized by Joe, Matt tells him this wasn’t his primary profession, merely a hobby.
Greta (Oona Chaplin) receives an operation to have an implant removed and installed in a “Cookie,” which is a standalone unit that houses artificial intelligence molded after the patient’s personality. As this AI struggles to understand existence in a never-ending white room, Matt greets her and explains that the AI’s sole purpose is to run all electronic functions of this smart house. To help her cope, Matt programs a body for her with clothes and gives the room a control panel to help her feel more human. But the AI refuses to comply, believing itself to be Greta and not a program at all. Matt explains that he is there to make sure the AI subjugates itself to its owner’s will, but when the AI continues to fight him, he forwards time for it so six months seem to pass while it has been only seconds. This drives the AI mad with boredom and begs for something to do with her time.
The following day, the AI wakes up Greta, completely content to live to serve her whims. Hearing this disturbs Joe who sees Matt as a sadist who tortured an AI that believed itself to be a person. This touches Matt who now thinks of him as a good person, then asks again what brought him to the shack.
Joe was in a dedicated relationship with Beth (Janet Montgomery) and the couple is happy until Joe drinks and embarrasses her while out with her friends Tim and Gita. Planning to make up for it by cleaning around the house, Joe comes across a positive pregnancy test. He questions Beth about her drinking through the night and whether or not she planned to tell him. She claims to not want the child and a fight ensues. The following morning, Joe attempts to catch her before she leaves the house to apologize for what he’d said. But rather than discuss their problems, she blocks him from her Z-Eye and drives away. Joe spends days looking for her. Eventually he runs into Tim and Gita and learns that she had quit her job.
Months later, Joe finds Beth’s pregnant pixelated silhouette and begs for her to speak to him, but he is arrested for violating both the block and a legal restraining order. This leads him to write letters to Beth for months without reply. Still determined for some relationship with his child, he stalks Beth to her father’s cottage on Christmas for the next four years.
While watching the news Joe learns that Beth had been killed in a train crash, and then concludes that the block is expired. Nervously excited, he purchases a snow globe for his daughter and drives to the cottage on Christmas. When he approaches the small girl playing on the lawn, he sees that she has clearly defined Asian features like Tim, which he then concludes was the reason for Beth’s abrupt departure and initial desire to abort the pregnancy. Beth’s father challenges Joe to leave after admitting that he’d sabotaged his plans with letters to Beth for all those years. Overcome with grief, Joe attacks the old man with the snow glove killing him. He then flees the cottage until he’s caught by police months later.
Joe reveals that Beth’s daughter died shortly after he left the cottage. She’d left to walk through the snow to find help for her grandfather but collapsed in the storm a few yards away. Joe erupts into tears at his confession, then notices the clock on the wall of the kitchen is the same as the one in the cottage. The shack then shifts and becomes the cottage. Matt disappears, then is seen in a police station. “Joe” was actually an AI placed into a Cookie that Matt was able to manipulate.
Joe is charged with both deaths, and Matt, who’d gotten the murder confessions as part of a plea arrangement, is then allowed to go free as long as he agrees to be labeled as a sex offender. When Matt leaves on a Christmas night all the people he sees are blocked to him, and to them he appears as a glaring red outline to announce his new status to the world.
Joe’s AI is sentenced to a thousand years in the cottage where he must look at the body of Beth’s daughter in the front yard.
Conflict resolution is one of the weirdest social changes to come about from the Internet boom of the ‘90s. No longer do we discuss our problems in depth nor attempt to discuss our feelings before things get too uncomfortable or complex for us to walk back. We block, ignore, and outcast those we are done with as though they were smartphones only to be upgraded six months down the line. At times it appears that we no longer hold dear the value of a person but merely their interaction. We want anyone—not just someone—who fits our ideals for the moment, and when they slip up, commit a human error, we discard them, upgrade to something more agreeable. One party is left scarred, made timid for fear of being rejected just as callously a second time, the other moves about listlessly until another body fills the void.
I’m not sure if it’s right to call Brooker misogynist over his portrayal of women, but in seven episodes it’s shown that the female member of all relationships is the cheater, liar, philandering vixen hiding behind lies and an unwillingness to speak. That’s not to say women don’t do these things—they do—but it has become a social practice among all peoples the world over. Technology has provided us with the means to select sexual and romantic partners like products, and their sex or time to be exchanged like services. And when the human element is removed from human relationships, why shouldn’t you hire a consultancy service to help you get the girl you’re interested in, or remove a partner you’re done with from your life entirely? After all, she’s just a person to get, and he’s just a man you can replace.