Black Mirror – Season 5 “Smithereens” Recap & Review

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At the heart of it, Smithereens is a simple, character-driven story, one that takes our fears and addiction to social media and wraps it up into an hour-long thrill ride. Although the sci-fi aspects act more like a plot device than a driving force for the narrative, there’s enough here to make Smithereens a compelling episode nonetheless.

We begin with a lonely man named Christopher acting as a cab driver and struggling to connect with people, while picking up fares from a tech company called Smithereen. After attending a support group and hearing the woes of the other people there, Chris winds up having sex with one of the women who’s obsessed with trying to log in to her daughter’s account every day, determined to find reasons around why she committed suicide.

Eventually Chris does pick up someone who works for Smithereen. He takes him to a remote area, pointing a gun at him and demanding to speaking to the CEO, Billy Bower. With a bag over his head, Christopher drives the intern down a country road and after a short police chase ensues, he threatens to kill the intern, firing a gun and starting a stand-off between the police and Chris himself.

From here, the rest of the episode sees Christopher trying to calmly navigate his way through a maze of managers and officials as he demands to speak to Billy on the phone. Smithereen happens to be a company specializing in social media. The US catch wind of what’s happening, as Smithereen officials and the FBI get involved, grouping Chris into data clouds and using their social media power to act one step ahead of the police investigation. They make assumptions over what he’s doing before the negotiator tries talking to Christopher. But he fails.

With all their options exhausted, Billy himself happens to be in Utah, on a silent retreat. He gets interrupted and just as they’re about to engage in a conversation, he admits to Jayden (the intern) that the gun is not real and is, in fact, a replica. As he realizes the phone is being tapped, they hear everything and begin making preparations to save Jayden and execute the kill shot. Only, it is a real gun after all. Chris fires it in the air which prompts Billy to be put through to Chris.

It turns out Christopher doesn’t want money or fame or any of those superficial things – he just wants Billy to listen. After his fiancee died in a car years earlier, he blames himself for looking at his phone notifications while driving. An unhealthy obsession with technology caused the crash and he begins pouring his heart and soul into his confession, tears streaming down his face. Billy pleads with him not to commit suicide but promises to do one thing for Christopher. His final request is to phone Persona and help the woman earlier in the episode find the password to log in to her daughter’s account.

The episode then ends with the police making their final shot, just as the woman presses enter, leaving us wondering quite what the fate of our characters is.

Smithereens does a pretty good job showing the power social media has over our everyday lives but really, the technology itself acts as background noise to the main drama here – a masterful character-driven performance from Andrew Scott. I’m a big fan of Andrew’s work and he really shows off his acting range here with a brilliantly unhinged and unpredictable performance as Christopher. This ultimately serves as the stand out sparkle of the episode, and the series if I’m honest, as he helps breathe life into the script.

Unfortunately, Smithereens pales in comparison to the other episode with a social media message – Nosedive. Unlike the latter, Smithereen is a very straight forward tale, with little subtext or near-future visual treats to keep you engaged. The acting is enough to see you through though, no doubt, but the episode also lacks that distinct Black Mirror vibe, an unfortunate trend this year in this sci-fi anthology. Still, it’s a very good episode nonetheless but whether it’ll stand the test of time next to some of the other heavy hitting episodes in this series remains to be seen.


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