'Black Mirror's' 'USS Callister' Is So Satisfying, You'll Need A Cigarette After
Remember when Kristy told us that we should watch the ‘USS Callister’ episode of the new season of Black Mirror next to last because of how good it is? She wasn’t f—king around. It’s stupendous. It’s ball-crushingly good. It’s what The Orville wishes it could be, and what Star Trek is terrified of. It’s great. So, if for some reason you haven’t watched it yet, go do that right now and then come back to read the rest of this post.
And of all of the things I loved about this little bastard of a great episode (movie almost?), what I love the most is is that I’m not really sure where to start with what I love most about this little bastard of a show. (That’s not true. It’s Jimmi Simpson’s character’s last lines to Jesse Plemons’s character, but we’ll get to that in a minute.) So let’s talk big picture: “USS Callister” is an unapologetically feminist, sci-fi space spoof centering on inherent issues of consent as related to human consciousness that also manages to be a psychological thriller critiquing the current state of virtual reality and cyber security. There’s a fuck ton going on, but the show makes for an exceedingly quick watch. I’ve done it twice since yesterday.
But just because it’s got a lot going on doesn’t mean it feels messy or overly complex. Because essentially all of it relates to “Meth Damon is a psychotically entitled dick.” See, Plemmons’s character Robert Daly is a guy all of us know far too well taken to (a slight) extreme. Daly builds his own private VR, and equips it with very real clones of people he knows in order to be adored by/torture them. Which is only a technological half-step from the dudes who claim Rey is ruining Star Wars by making it political (a true fan move, as others have pointed out, considering Star Wars started with a literal trade negotiation. Fucking Qui-Gon Jinn needs to keep his libtard policies out of my inter-galactic, parliamentary space-drama). Daly and his fellow sci-fi bros have heard the true meaning behind Star stories in both War and Trek form, and his song is “THIS IS MINE. I MIGHT BE A PUT UPON DWEEB OUT THERE, BUT THIS IS WHERE I RULE. YOU CANNOT HAVE IT, AND IF YOU TRY TO ENJOY IT, I WILL RUIN IT FOR YOU.” Daly doesn’t love Space Fleet because it shows a kinder, more accepting world for all peoples. He likes it because it’s where he gets to be the bully.
Which isn’t without a small amount of sympathy. Jimmi Simpson’s non-virtual counterpart is a total dick to Daly at their real world jobs. Walton doesn’t appreciate Daly. Daly gets ignored and disrespected by interns, and mocked by beefy gym assholes at the company where he should be in charge. But, to paraphrase that Simpson line I mentioned, then he threw a child out of an air lock, so fuck him. Also, women don’t owe you anything, Robert. You fucking dick. The list of sins committed by men against Daly is significantly different from those committed by women. The men personally offended Daly by disrespecting him, ridiculing him, not following his directions. The women failed to smile enough. Daly’s character is so realistic my skin is actually crawling just thinking about that.
Luckily, for as shitty of a shit piece of garbage human being Daly is, Nanette Cole is equally kickass. I need someone to cross-stitch me an “I Haven’t” pillow immediately. The only minor complaint I have about the entire episode is that we didn’t actually see the scene where it dawns on everyone on the ship that they just sat around, not science-ing their way out of that hellscape for years, and Nanette Cole got it done like a boss. Because she doesn’t have time for this bullshit.
All of which would make for a really impressive take on gender politics, sexism, and that pesky consent thing in the Nerd/Geek/SciFi community. But that’s not what makes this the most satisfying episode of TV I’ve seen since Cersi blew up all the shit. No, what makes this episode the Cigarette Needing Winner of 2018 is two-fold:
1) Robert Daly gets all of his comeuppance. Fuck you, both virtual and worldly version of Daly. Fuck you forever, and for the next ten days respectively.
2) The fact that a sci-fi series created an episode based in part on a fictional sci-fi series that ends with the very real crew making a sci-fi inspired mad dash, replete with chase through an asteroid field, and it totally works. The layers, man. Somewhere Abed Nadir is crying at that level of meta.
Mostly “USS Callister” is what Black Mirror does best in the best way. They present a terrifying problem based on technology and its effect on humans, but don’t fall too far onto the “everything is fucked” side of it. It’s scary because technology allows people to be horrible to each other in entirely new ways, but it isn’t insurmountable. For all of the torture inflicted on the crew of the USS Callister, the episode itself is about human resourcefulness and resilience. It’s about ingenuity and hope. It’s about the fact that what draws people to sci-fi isn’t about being a cool space dude, but about the wonder of possibility and limitlessness. It’s about using technology not to destroy ourselves, but to make ourselves better. And then Aaron Paul shows up. It’s the f—king best.