“Black Mirror”, Season 3, Episode 5, “Men Against Fire”

[Image via Netflix]

[Image via Netflix]

It’s time for the penultimate episode of Season 3 of Black Mirror. And here we come to an episode that seems to be the most science fiction-like all the episode so far. However, there is a subtle difference here…

We first encounter Koinange, better known as Stripe (Malachi Kirby, aka Kunta Kinte from the 2016 remake of Roots) throughout the episode, while he’s dreaming of a beautiful woman with whom he is obviously having carnal knowledge. Of course there’s always a buzz kill, and in this case her name is Raiman (Madeline Brewer, aka Tricia Miller from Orange Is the New Black and Miranda Cates from Hemlock Grove).

RT: I was so excited to see these  two actors together! 😀

CF:  I was surprised at all the Netflix work Madeline did.

It doesn’t take us long to find out that Stripe and Raiman are part of a military group tasked to seek out and destroy creatures known as “roaches”. We discovered this rather early on when the leader of this unit, Medina (Sarah Snook, best known for the role of Lorna Whyte in Sisters of War), notifies her unit that roaches raided a nearby refugee camp and it’s their job to go “take them out”. And just like that, lock and load, get the truck, let’s go out and kill the bad guys.

After speaking to people at the refugee camp—it’s not specified where this episode takes place, but since everyone at the refugee camp is speaking Danish, one could assume takes place somewhere on the European mainland—they figure the roaches have taken shelter with a gentleman who lives not too far away. The reason they suspect him is that in the past, he’s been friendly to the roaches, and there’s no reason not to believe he’s still helping them now. So the military high tales and over to his place, go on inside, and begin looking around.

[Image via Netflix]

[Image via Netflix]

It doesn’t take them long to find what they came looking for looking for: some roaches are found hiding in an upstairs alcove. Though they may have once been human, now they’re all kinds of nasty looking like proto-vampires from a bad horror film. It doesn’t take long for Stripe and Raiman to waste them all, save for one female who manages to get away, and they pack up their vehicle and return to base.

RT: Already I am hating the roaches…

CF:  They reminded me of the vampires from I Am Legend.

RT: Yes, that exactly what I thought too!

[Image via Netflix]

[Image via Netflix]

Stripe begins having issues remembering things and having his dreams glitch out. Turns out Stripe has a piece of equipment in his head known as MASS. He’s ordered to the infirmary to have it checked out and is given a clean bill of health; he seems fine and there doesn’t appear to be any software issues with his MASS. All he can remember is that during his firefight one of the roaches pointed a stick with glowing lights at him, and it wasn’t long after that he began having all these problems.

The doctor with whom Stripe is speaking implants some instruction into the MASS. Turns out that most of the dreams that Stripe is having are really nothing more than sensory illusions created by the MASS device as a reward. He’s given an order to have “good dreams” that night, and woman we’ve already seen him dreaming of earlier appears once more, only this time there’s three of her. Good dreams, indeed.

Things don’t get better for Stripe, however. His MASS still seems glitchy, and his sensory issues are continuing—one of those issues seems to be his sense of smell is returning. While on a quick sortie with Raiman and Medina the later is shot and killed by a roach sniper and Stripe and Raiman are forced to enter the building along to hunt down the roaches.

RT: At one point here it looks like Stripes is viewing themselves and I start to wonder if that green light messes with their chip and the roaches are now able to spy on the military, making the kill shot of Medina a result of fucking with Stripe’s implant.

CF:  There were a few moments like that in this episode.  I don’t know if it was just bad editing or if they wanted it that way.

This is where shit starts getting strange for Stripe: he’s seeing people, not roaches. When he tells one woman to leave the room because the building is infested with roaches, she is shot by Raiman the moment she stepped out of the room—and Raiman doesn’t even seem to notice or care. She begins killing roaches indiscriminately, while Stripe is freaking the fucked out over the fact that she’s murdering people. He stops her from shooting a young woman and a child, but in the process he himself is accidentally shot while knocking her out.

RT: This is the first moment when I question what the military are seeing versus what is actually seen. Although, I am still wondering if it is the roaches trying to make Stripes realise they are human, even if they are not.

CF:  I thought there was a moment when it looked like he was seeing both at the same time, but when I rewatched to do screen caps I didn’t see it.  I think it was my memory fucking with me.  😉

RT: I don’t remember seeing that either, so maybe MASS has wiped it?

[Image via Netflix]

[Image via Netflix]

He manages to get out of the building with the woman and child, but while driving back to base he passes out the wheel and it becomes necessary for her to continue driving…

Only she doesn’t head back to base: she heads to a hole in the ground to hide. Turns out she was the woman who got away from Stripe’s murder spree the day before. The device that pointed at him was designed to interfere with his MASS, and that device prevents him from not only seeing her and the young boy as human, but from being able to understand what she says.

About this time, though, Raiman shows up, finds the hidey-hole, and blows away the woman in the child. Then she knocks Stripe out and drags his ass back to base.

RT: I hate Raiman at this point 😦

CF:  She was quite the little bad ass bitch.  She really enjoyed roach killing.

In a quarantine room Stripe speaks with the doctor once more and it’s here we discover what’s really going on. There was some sort of biological war years before, but the roaches really are nothing more than humans who managed to survive the conflict even though they were exposed to biological contaminants. The military is conducting a eugenics war and are killing anyone with bad DNA left over from this conflict: a.k.a., the roaches.

RT: So, ethnic cleansing much? Let’s just wipe out all of those who might get illnesses or deviations against what the military consider “normal.”

CF:  It’s what’s en vogue today.  These guys were trying to out-Nazi the Nazis.

The MASS was developed to help soldiers cope with the job. Studies show that while everyone may have been in the fight, only a small percentage actually did a shooting. The MASS makes it possible for the soldiers of this eugenics war to kill indiscriminately. They can’t hear the roaches speak; they can’t smell them; they can’t see them as anything but inhuman, disfigured creatures.

It’s just the tool one needs to keep the master race pure.Stripe isn’t taking this news well: he didn’t realize any of this was happening. But the doctor shows him the video of him being inducted, and it’s here that we realize that this New World has the ability to alter your memories. Stripe not only knew what he was getting into, but he knew his memories of his induction would be altered so he never actually know who he was fighting.

He flips the fucked out on this and demands the MASS be removed. The doctor isn’t having any of his shit and activates the MASS so it takes over all of Stripe’s senses. He sees his first patrol played over so she sees what really happened, including him having to stab one of the roaches to death in a hand-to-hand fight. The doctor tells them they can allow the military to fix his MASS, or he is going to be thrown in jail and forced to relive this moment again and again and again.

He flips the fuck out on this and demands the MASS be removed. The doctors and having any of his shit and activates the MASS so it takes over all of Stripe’s senses. He sees his first patrol played over and over again, including him having to stab one of the roaches to death in a hand-to-hand fight. The doctor tells them they can allow the military to fix his MASS, or is going to be thrown in jail and forced to relive this moment again and again and again.

RT: I still was hoping for him to say no at this point.

Stripe agrees to have the MASS fixed so that he can return to duty. At the end of the episode we see him being driven home; it’s unclear if he served out the rest of his two were of duty, or he was immediately discharged after his MASS was fixed. In the end, however, he ends up in front of the house that he’s been dreaming—the one with the beautiful woman inside…

Only there isn’t a beautiful woman and the house is a boarded up, dilapidated shack. It doesn’t matter, though, because Stripe sees none of that. Just as when he was in the Army, he sees what he’s told to see.

Though it’s impossible for us to know if he knows that—

RT: I’ m glad you get to see this, because I was trying to work out who was correct, the military or the roaches. It really could have been propaganda from both parties.

CF:  I’m looking at it from a point derived from years of reading science fiction like this.  I think it was the military controlling him even at this point, because no one talks about this stuff.  I think if there was any roach propaganda going on, we might have gotten a hint of it because, like I say below, this is Black Mirror.

[Image via Netflix]

[Image via Netflix]


Personal note: After the brilliance that was San Junipero, it was hard to get into this episode simply because it seems so one tracked and simpleminded. Yes, the soldiers were doing something bad in that they were killing the roaches, and we get the impression somewhat early on that things aren’t quite what they should be–I mean, shit, this is Black Mirror. This is the only episode of Season 3 that I’ve only watched once, because the first time through left me so disinterested in the story and the characters. It then shouldn’t come as a surprise that of all the episodes of Season 3, this was considered the weakest of the lot.

I think it might’ve helped if this episode has been swapped with the episode that aired second, that being Playback. While that episode wasn’t particularly strong, it was far more interesting than this one and probably could’ve stood up better after following San Junipero.

RT: I actually enjoyed this episode, although it may have been the actors that did it for me more than anything else. I also enjoyed the fact that, as a viewer, I brought in completely at the start that roaches were the enemy, just like the MASS implant did to the military.

CF:  They did a good job there, right at the beginning.  I enjoyed the stuff for about the first half.  But, I felt, they did the reveal too soon and it sort of just spun out at that point.  Also, I watched this right after a third viewing of San Junipero, and that spoiled me.  Maybe I should look at it again now that I’ve written about the episode.

 

As always, leave a comment below and tell us what you think!

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