I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but something very fundamental about Black Mirror, is the diversity of its genres. While all episodes discuss future tech and inventions, with dark twists, some episodes are somewhat light (this season’s first episode), and some are much more dark and frightening (this episode). “Playtest” starts easily and nice, but later turns into a little horror film, that manages to kick you in the stomach even if you think you can foresee all possible twist.
Cooper (Wyatt Russell, who manages to be naive and smart at the same time), leaves home one morning, to take a trip around the world. We know that he didn’t inform his mom about it, and that she keeps calling him. After visiting no few places, and decides to find a hookup in England, and meets Sonja (the lovely Hannah John-Kamen, Dutch from Killjoys), a nice girl who seems to care about him. After his credit card was hacked and his account dried, he decides to look for a job, and finds a gaming company called “SaitoGemu” who seeks paid volunteers to test new technologies. Sonja is a gaming addict herself, and convinces him to try and take a picture for her from inside this secretive company.
Soon, Cooper meets Katie, the company’s guide, who takes his stuff and invites him to a room, where a piece of hardware is injected to his neck, and a software is downloaded to him, to connect to his brain to add a layer of Virtual Reality. He manages to shoot a picture of Katie’s case, but then his test starts. It begins with a very real Whack-a-Mole on the table, and continues in the owner’s office, where an advances program is downloaded to him, for the next stage. He is inserted to a castle, where the program will bring to life his greatest fears.
Now, before I continue, I must point out some things. Being a TV addict, I’m usually able to sniff a twist in advance. Here, I believed the twist would be somewhere around those injections: I thought that he never experienced any of this games and fears, and everything will be inside his brain. In the castle, the first scares were nice, but when Sonja found him and wanted him to leave, and later tried to kill him, I was as suspicious as he was, and knew it was inside his brain. The fact that nothing should have been able to touch him was a red flag, and the fact that he screamed “stop” lots of times (his exit safe word) and Katie didn’t stop (also, the communication “problem” around Sonja’s fight).
When he was sent to the above floor and feared from what would be behind that door, I presumed it would be just another test. But the “scare” of his memory wipe was one of the crazy moments of this episode. The owner, very coldly, asking to put him “with the others”, was a hint at what’s to come, but yet, Cooper woke up in the owner’s office, understanding that all the castle’s adventure took place inside his brain. The leaving and the flight home was a twist I saw clearly, because we didn’t see Sonja, and it was too quiet and peaceful.
But upon returning home and finding his mother having his late father’s Alzheimer, I knew he would wake up once again, “Inception”-style. Still, this moment, with his mom, not recognizing him and keeping on calling him to find out if he’s safe, it was a heartbreaking moment. He didn’t love his mother enough, this much we know, and his father’s sickness only put an edge on it.
His next “awakening”, was less waking up, but more of an end. We find out that he never even tested the Whack-a-mole, and never left the first office. After sending the picture to Sonja, he left his cell phone on, and his mom tried to call him. We already saw that. What we didn’t know, was that this call interfered with the devices, causing him to die brain death instantly, 0.04 seconds after activating the software. Everything, including everything, was inside his brain. We can assume he knew how the owner looked from searching the internet, but we can also assume that all of the tests he “did” were not necessarily that tests he would do if he managed to continue.
It can be flattened and summarized: Cooper didn’t care enough for his mother, after being close to his father, who died. He knew it wasn’t okay, but still ignored her calls. She, on the other hand, cared for her son, and her call was what led to his death. His fear about something bad happening to her was a solid moment inside his brain, but eventually he was the one to err. The only thing Cooper actually did while being connected to the software, was saying “Mom”, as Katie reported in her system. It may have something to do with his cellphone and the mixing signals. But she may still be the most important thing in his life, and he knew it.
After all, Black Mirror managed to twist the story in a way I didn’t predict, but it wasn’t a smooth story. If they knew a cellphone could cause that, why leaving the phone in the room? At first I thought Katie wanted him to grab his phone on purpose.
One big applause would be to the horror sequences, which were top notch.
What did you think about Playtest? Comment!