Spoiler alert – Black Mirror: Metalhead
I’m sure I speak for many when I say that when Season 4 of “Black Mirror” was released recently I completely stopped anything productive and binged the entire season. I’ve always loved the show, providing critical commentaries on society, to put it as simply as possible, and Season 4 is no exception whatsoever. Episode 5 “Metalhead” features scavengers searching for supplies in an abandoned warehouse, only to be chased out and hunted by a ‘robot dog’. A critique of the relationship between humans and nature, the episode draws many parallels to the academic study of nature within cultural geography.
The first thing to note in ‘Metalhead’ is the monochrome styling of the entire episode. The other episodes in this season are filmed in full colour, so my first question was “why this episode?”. If you think about ‘nature‘ right now, I can pretty much assure you that you’ll think of colourful forests, full of green shades. I do too. By using monochromatic filming, the episode contradicts everything we build up these imagined identities of nature to be. You don’t expect to sit down and watch a nature documentary in black and white, you expect to see how aesthetically pleasing all the colours in the jungles and the oceans are. Colour is key in allowing us to make a decision about whether or not something is considered ‘natural’, and ‘Metalhead’ toys with this idea. Monochromatism portrays a somewhat bleak future for nature should we carry on treating it the way we are presently, showing shifted power relations and even featuring the human within stereotypically nature documentary-esque ariel panning shots. An approach of the tables turning and of nature fighting back is taken by director David Slade.
The dog featured in the episode appears to be a military robotic technology of artificial intelligence, but what I found the most interesting was the humanisation of the machine. If we were to look at a dog, we would speak of it’s four legs, however in one scene where Bella is hiding from the dog in a tree, she screams
“You can’t do it! Your arm’s fucked so you can’t climb the tree.”
At first I passed this off, but later on when the dog breaks into the house in which Bella is hiding, it spots a knife and instead of using it’s guns or seemingly more powerful weaponry, it decides to use the kitchen knife to attack her. This is interesting due to the fact that the dog has clearly been programmed to have some form of emotional response by it’s creator(s), as it chooses it’s weapon seemingly based on what would cause the slowest, most painful death possible. It values the pain and suffering of Bella over the practicality of it’s own weaponry in killing her quickly. This was the intention of Slade’s direction, as quoted in an interview “she has to confront the humanity of [the dog]”. The humanity he speaks of here seems to be the intense emotion and need to hunt down and kill Bella, an emotional response that seems very revenge-like.
Within traditional nature-writing themes of nature as something to be conquered by a lone male, and as a site whereby masculine sexual scripts can be strengthened, have been recurring. Kathleen Jamie writes in response to Robert Macfarlane,
“What’s that coming over the hill? A white, middle-class Englishman! A Lone Enraptured Male! … Here to boldly go, ‘discovering’, then quelling our harsh and lovely and sometimes difficult land with his civilised lyrical words.”
The monstrous idea of a white, middle-class man coming over the hill in the horizon ready to conquer the wilderness is exactly what this episode seems to be a response to. We see the dog appearing in the horizon, running closer and closer. This man-made nature of sorts is coming over the hill, ready to conquer the very humanity that made it. If we continue to view nature as something to be conquered, how can we expect to truly treat it in a sustainable way? We destroy forests to make way for human activity, hunt animals for the fun of it, and even assist in it’s degeneration from a distance through the carbon emissions we produce at home. As we come over the hill, we must take a minute to acknowledge that nature is coming over on the other side of the very same hill.
Nature has been viewed as weak, as something being destroyed by human activity. However, are we moulding it into something more human than it once was? Perhaps we are implementing our ideals of conquering anything other than ourselves into nature’s very being, causing environmental changes that can only be seen as consequences, such as increasingly strong and frequent extreme weather events, habitat destructions, and rising sea levels. We destroy the environment, and nature fights back. But the real question is how exactly can we change our relationship with nature? We need to begin to explore multiple representations, other than simply as weak and as a victim of human activity, and ‘Black Mirror: Metalhead’ begins to facilitate this too a much larger, more mainstream audience.
There are a vast array of other points that I could make about this episode, not all so relevant to my main discussion here. I’m aiming to write another post to outline these so keep an eye out for that, and as always if you have any opinions don’t hesitate to comment!