The highly anticipated return of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror – after its first season on Netflix last year – begins aboard the USS Callister, a satirical Star Trek-esque spaceship in an immersive virtual reality video game. With similar themes and questions seen before in Black Mirror, the story this time is told through game developer Robert Daly, played by Breaking Bad and Fargo star Jesse Plemons.
Does it really matter what happens to a virtual version of ourselves? Can they feel? Think? Are they truly conscious? Or are they just a few lines of well-written code and computer software? These are just some of the questions raised as we jump between the real world; in the offices of Callister Inc. and Daly’s apartment, and the private, closed off virtual world of the USS Callister.
Daly is the talented game designer and brains behind Callister Inc.’s immersive video game Infinity. He’s your stereotypical nervous nerd and is vastly underappreciated, even avoided and laughed about, by his co-workers and co-founder of the company, James Walton, played by Westworld star Jimmi Simpson. Daly takes a liking to new programmer Nanette Cole, played by Cristin Milioti (The Wolf of Wall Street) and, after overhearing her gossip about him, you almost feel sorry for him.
Daly, however, has a very dark and hidden secret. He collects the DNA of his despised co-workers (from coffee cups, etc.) and creates virtual versions of them in his own private, modified version of Infinity. They’re all completely self-aware and have to play along with Daly’s twisted Space Fleet (Star Treck) fantasy as he takes his real world anger and frustration out on his slave-like co-workers.
This opening episode develops and perhaps plays on an idea originally used in Black Mirror’s Christmas special White Christmas (2014), in which people are able to pay to create a virtual version of their consciousness to be a handy smart-home gadget. USS Callister, however, is much less doom and gloom, and more a thrilling serving of justice by overcoming a disenfranchised, God-like game designer.
Even at 76 minutes long, USS Callister justifies its ambitious running time by taking serious philosophical and science-fiction ideas and using them to tell a fun, compelling story drowning in pop-culture references. Black Mirror is often bleak and warns against the dangers of the interconnected future, but USS Callister instead seems to warn against the dangers of isolation and the consequences of cutting yourself off from the world.
A cleverly written story with instances of rising tension, uncomfortable truths, great visuals (perhaps Black Mirror’s best so far) and a healthy dose of humour, USS Callister provides a strong opening for the new season and is perhaps one of Brooker’s best episodes to date.