What could be arguably one of the deepest episodes of Black Mirror in terms of raw truth, episode 2 of season 5, Smithereens, is a controversial masterpiece. The episode tells the story of Chris, a cab driver who starts his day parked in front of the London Smithereens headquarters.
Smithereens is an incredibly popular and wildly attractive social media platform. We see the addiction throughout the entire episode as Chris watches the people around him glued to their phones. The episode does an excellent job of building suspense, mystery, and tension. Instantly, we notice that Chris has something against people who are always on their phones, but we never know why exactly.
Chris waits every day in front of the Smithereens headquarters, hoping for an employee to get into his car. The first passenger we see reveals that she is not an employee resulting in Chris dropping her off at her destination. However, the next day becomes a little unusual.
Jaden, an intern at Smithereens, is the next customer of Chris’s, and Chris decides to take a detour underneath a nearby bridge and proceeds to hold Jaden hostage. We see that Chris is exceptionally nervous during this act.
The episode does a great job of keeping the viewer in the dark. We are given bits of information at a time, keeping us on the edge of our seats. Chris reveals his demand, and it is a simple one – he wishes to speak with the CEO of Smithereens, Billy Bauer.
Now for the CEO of a social media app designed to keep everyone in the world connected, we find that Billy Bauer is the most difficult in the world to reach. We are taken around the world to different locations, traveling up the chain of command to find Billy. All of the Smithereens employees are hesitant and scared to contact Billy Bauer because they are not sure this situation is either real or important enough to disturb him. This is another smart move by director James Hawes (The Alienist) as he continues to keep the viewer in the dark.
Due to Chris’s inability to keep a level head during a crisis, the police soon become involved, and a car chase ensues which results in helicopters and tactical teams being called in once they see that Chris posses a pistol. The police use the internet and even the platform Smithereens to find out more information on Chris. However, for the last few years, Chris has been entirely inactive online, which adds more mystery to his apparent hatred of technology.
A negotiator steps in to try and calm Chris down but fails. Chris is already two steps ahead of the police’s strategies, showing how long he has been planning for this day. Chris makes it quite clear that if he does not speak to Billy Bauer, he will end up killing Jaden.
We soon learn that Billy Bauer is on a ten day no technology retreat, which is ironic as he is the person for the entire world being addicted to technology. Everyone advises Billy against speaking to him, but Billy defies them all, showing that he genuinely wants to resolve this issue. The genuine nature that we see from Chris and Billy proves that those who are addicted to technology are fake while Chris and Billy are genuine due to their disconnect from it.
Finally, we see as Chris and Billy finally speak to one another, and we finally learn why Chris has gone so far to talk to him. Chris was not always so closed from the world, hating technology. Chris used to be addicted to Smithereens as well until that addiction caused him to crash into another car, killing his fiancé along with the other driver.
Chris breaks down crying as he reveals his story, admitting that he is the one who killed his fiancé. However, asks Billy why he designed the app to be so addictive, resulting in Billy acknowledging that there is a whole department in charge of making the app more additive. Billy even adds that he never intended for Smithereens to become what it did, showing that both characters are to blame in the death of Chris’s fiancé.
Once Chris has shared his truth, he becomes at peace with his plan killing himself. Jaden who has been held hostage this entire time tires to talk him out of it. This is what makes Chris a character we can all empathize with. We know that Chris does not wish to hurt anyone; all he wants is to speak with the man who caused the reason for his fiancé’s death.
In the final parts of the episode, Jaden struggles to get the gun away from Chris to prevent him from killing himself. The police who remained outsiders the entire episode see this struggle and kill Chris, unaware of his heart-wrenching story. The episode ends with shots of the world continuing like normal, with everyone still on their phones. The final shot we see is Billy Bauer going back to his retreat and closing his eyes.
This represents that Chris’s actions had no effect on the world and everything will go back to the way it was, with everyone glued to their phones and oblivious to the dangers that Smithereens could cause them.
I found myself watching the episode over again, haunted at the oblivious nature of the bystanders and sympathetic as I watched Chris’s actions over again, knowing full well how the events will turn out.
Smithereens will undoubtedly hit close to home for many viewers as it is one of the episodes that is the most realistic. The dependency and addiction to social media and technology leave us blind and vulnerable to tragedies such as Chris’s.
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