“Black Mirror”, Season 3, Episode 2, “Playtest”

[Image via Netflix]

[Image via Netflix]

It’s Time for Episode 2 of Black Mirror, and this one takes us into the world of Gaming. So, power up your consoles and ready your gear: it’s time to see where this reality take us.

 

We meet mopey asshole Cooper (Wyatt Russell) leaving home early in the morning, backpack on, passport in pocket. Cooper has decided to leave home, where he is living with his mother, and see the world. We get the usual travelogue montage: Australia, Thailand, India, and the major cities of Europe. Eventually he reaches London, and it’s here that he decides he needs to do something besides see the sights. Use the phone app to get a hook up with a girl, Sonja (Hannah John-Kamen, who had a small part in the Black Mirror Season 1 episode Fifteen Million Merits and will appear in the movie Ready Player One), and they head back to her place for sex.

The next morning, while Sonja is cooking breakfast, Cooper’s mother calls. She’s apparently been trying to contact him for a while and he’s refusing to answer the phone. It’s here that we discover Cooper seems to have a bit of a relationship issue with his Mom, and he isn’t eager to meet her again when he returns home the following week. Sonia can see he is having a problem, but she tells him he’s a nice guy and to do the right thing: give his mom a call.

A while later Cooper discoverers his bank account has been emptied and he has no money for a return flight: he has fuck-all cash to do anything, actually. He returns to Sonja and uses a phone app to find odd jobs to raise money. One is offering to pay a lot of money: it’s with SaitoGemu, and Sonja knows this place as she’s written about it on her blog. They’re a gaming company and they do some fantastic horror-genre role playing games for the computer. She lets Cooper know that if he can somehow get a picture of whatever it is they want him to test, it’s going to be worth a fuckload of money—probably more money than he’s Going to be doing whatever it is they want him to do.

RT: It was at this point that I suspected Sonja in her involvement. I am still unsure what ot believe.

He sets off to SaitoGemu (represented by Englefield House, used as a stand-in for any number of movies and TV shows, among them Professor X’s home in X-Men:  First Class) where he meets Katie (Wunmi Mosaku) who takes him to a private white room where she has him fill out a standard NDF. She realizes the signature page is missing and when she steps out of the room, Cooper snaps a quick picture of the game gear she left on the table. Once Katie returns she starts getting Cooper ready: she straps an electronic device around his head and attaches a small button to the back of his neck. While she’s initializing the game gear Cooper’s phone rings: it’s his mother again. She turns off his phone and finishes the initialization.

Cooper gets to try out the new gear playing game of whack-a-mole with a 3D cartoon character. It’s not VR though: Katie says it’s more like setting up multiple layers of reality for him to view, so Cooper sees the cartoon character but no one else can.  After this Katie takes Cooper up to see Shou Saito (Ken Yamamura), the owner of the company, and those two decide Cooper is ready to move on to the next phase: letting Cooper play the real game.

They set him up and the game is on.

[Image via Netflix]

[Image via Netflix]

He’s taken out to a house that was used in one of the company’s more successful horror games, Harleck Shadow. The objective here is simple: Cooper needs to spend the night in this creepy old house while Katie watches him through video cameras, noting his reactions, and speaks to him through an earpiece.  And that’s the game.

Well, sort of.

The hardware they attached to his neck is supposed to read his memory and be able to gauge what it is that scares Cooper the most, so right off the bat it starts throwing shit at him. First there’s a really large spider on the floor that makes its way up to a table next to where he’s sitting. Next he sees a lighted window in a painting of the house he’s in that wasn’t there before. Then there’s a man in that same window. The light goes out and the man is standing in the room with Cooper. He immediately notices that the game person has the face of a guy who used to bully him in school and Katie surmises that the game is delving into his memories, looking deep into Cooper’s past.

He goes into the kitchen to get a snack and this is where one of the more horrifying apparitions appears: a huge, gigantic spider with the face of his high school bully appears in the room, scaring the shit out of Cooper.

Finally:  a spider Australia doesn't have. [Image via Netflix]

Finally: a spider Australia doesn’t have.
[Image via Netflix]

There’s a loud banging on the front door and when Cooper goes to answer it he finds Sonja there.She starts telling him he needs to leave, that he’s in danger. She says that the game company is the one that drained his bank account and made certain that he would find them on his odd jobs app. Cooper isn’t buying it, however. He says he thinks Sonia’s actually working for the game company—since he can touch her he knows she’s not a VR figment—and it’s at this point she goes completely Fatal Attraction on Cooper, grabbing a big-ass knife and going after him. Cooper almost gets away—well, he would have except he runs into that big ass spider again, screams, and leaves enough time for Sonja to stab him through the shoulder. Then he rips off her face and shoves her skull into the knife that’s sticking through his shoulder.

RT: Even after viewing this episode, I am still not sure what ot make of this bit. I get that the device implanted in his head could make it seem real, but I still wonder if maybe she is entirely in cahoots with the company.

That’s enough for Cooper. He asks to be let out of the game and Katie directs him to a room upstairs. It’s here that shit starts to get really weird on him: he begins realizing he’s losing his memory while Katie is reminding him that his biggest fear is that he’s going to end up like his father, coming down with Early Onset Alzheimer’s. Katie shows up with the game personnel and Cooper does appear to be losing his memory: he can’t remember who she is or any of the people with her. Shou decides that Cooper needs to be put with the others, and as he’s hauled off—

He comes to in Shou’s office. He’s been playing the game for exactly one minute.

Cooper’s paid and he now has enough money to go back to America. He flies home and returns to where he had started out: his mother’s house. He goes upstairs and finds his mother crying. When I ask her what’s wrong, she said she has to call Cooper. She has to know where he’s at because she doesn’t know. Cooper is confused: he tells his mother he’s right there, but she doesn’t seem to hear. She takes the phone and begins to dial–

And that’s when we see Cooper back in the chair in the first white room, the band around his head initializing the game while he screams.

RT: This is when the episode really hooked me completely. While I was questioning everything up until this point, from now on I was just strapped in and waiting to see where the ride took me.

In the same room we see Katie speak with Shou. it appears that when Cooper’s phone rang it had an adverse effect on the signal the game was sending to Cooper’s brain. Basically, it lit up all of his synapses and then shut them down. Katie blames herself: she thought she’d shut the mobile phone off, but apparently she hadn’t. Shou asks Katie to make notes on what happened and assures her they’ll take steps so this never happens again. She notes on her computer that the game lasted exactly 0.04 seconds and in those last moments Cooper cried out “Mom”.

Cooper is placed in a body bag which is then sealed.

Game over, man. Game over.

[Image via Netflix]

[Image via Netflix]


This episode of Black Mirror was much like the ones I’ve seen from Season 1: you have absolutely no fucking idea what’s going on all—though Katie did warn us early on in the episode that what this game did was laid reality up on reality—

Maybe that’s what we’re going through this very moment…

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