In the second to last instalment of the latest Black Mirror series, we see Maxine Peake star as our protagonist in a gritty, black and white post-apocalyptic world. Unlike any Black Mirror story we’ve seen before, with no backstory and a minimalist approach, Metalhead is a fast–paced survival thriller with one human target and numerous murderous machines.
In an episode that lasts just 41 minutes, we follow Bella (Peake), Tony (Clint Dyer) and Clarke (Jake Davies) set out to fulfil a promise to Bella’s sister, which sees them attempt to retrieve something from an abandoned (or so they think) warehouse. It isn’t specified what exactly they’re searching for, but one assumes it would be medicine or some other vital supplies. In the build-up to this heist, there is the talk of “the dogs getting them” when the trio pass an empty pig farm. It isn’t until the warehouse raid goes awry that we realise these ‘dogs’ are actually autonomous killing machines. Perhaps a military project or security product gone wrong?
Tony and Clarke are quickly killed off and the story soon becomes a simple on the run chase as Bella trundles on, hopelessly radioing for help. The story is simple but effective, almost like if Ben Wheatley were to make a Terminator film, and for once, Black Mirror leaves it open-ended. There’s no backstory as to how the dogs came to be, how they went rogue or how society collapsed. Instead, we focus on one woman’s fight for survival, and Maxine Peake’s delivery is spot on. With the lack of back-story, it’s as if this episode is set in a post-internet world, with the stylish black and white cinematography representing an absence of information. Perhaps Metalhead is a glimpse into the post-Black Mirror, Black Mirror universe?
We move from the dingy warehouse and through the depths of a wooded forest before Bella finally finds herself in the final setting of this episode, a sleek post-modern house and someone who is very much dead (Bella finds a corpse in the master bedroom with a shotgun pointed at its head). This is to be Bella’s last stand against the ‘dog’ hunting her, which she eventually puts down.
Although the dog is autonomous, it is no A.I. It’s not Roy Batty or Terminator and has no chance of developing empathy or consciousness, which makes it all the more worrisome. It kills in a computer like fashion: detect a threat, turn on, neutralise, turn off, repeat. Perhaps a warning against autonomous military drones already in development and use today?
The dog, however, is not alone. The episode ends with a masterful shot of other dogs closing in on the house as Bella considers her options, the final shot being that of the box in the warehouse, with its contents spilt out onto the floor. Except it’s not medicine or survival supplies, but soft, innocent teddy bears. Black Mirror strikes again.