Dark and gloomy are the first things that come to mind when thinking about Black Mirror. After the delight of the 4th episode, came this sad episode, with its dark colors theme, military plot and war-scarred future. This could all be meaningful, if the episode brought something new with it, some new ideas or resolutions. But unfortunately, we’ve seen this type of plot in several science fiction TV series and movies, with better results.
“Men Against Fire” tells the story of Stripe (Malachi Kirby, “Roots” mini-series), a new soldier in a futuristic world. He is about to go to his first mission, with some team mates. The objective: Helping some villagers after “Roaches” attacked and contaminated their food supply. Soon, the villagers point to where the roaches went, and the team heads there, to where they’re hiding, in a mentally-unstable man’s house. Upon engaging, Stripe manages to kill two of the roaches, human-like creatures with ugly face, sharp teeth, and monster-like eyes. Although, he found a lighting thingie in their possession, with green led light, which caused a high pitched voice inside his head.
All soldiers in this era have the “Mass”, a chip installed inside their brains, which helps them communicate, see through each-others eyes, load data, etc. At this point, it seems the green light tech interfered with Stripe’s “Mass”, causing it to glitch and freeze at random times. The army’s doctor and psychologist (Michael Kelly, Doug from “House of Cards”) checked him, but there seemed to be no error. The “Mass” also enables dreams-control, and so they reward Stripe with wet dreams about his wife/girlfriend, but the dream also freezes.
The army managed to question the mentally unstable weirdo from the house, and they now know where the roaches hide and operate. Upon getting there, Stripe’s “Mass” stops working altogether, and he begins to smell things. The roaches manage to shoot and kill their commander, so Stripe and his female teammate, Raiman (Madeline Brewer, “Orange is the New Black”, “Hemlock Grove”) storm in. Stripe doesn’t have blueprints inside his head, but he also doesn’t see the roaches anymore. Instead, he see civilians, scared and traumatized.
While Raiman kills roaches, Stripe helps a woman and her son escape. Raiman refuses to let them escape, and she shoots him. He manages to knock her out, and flee with the civilians, who take him to their hideout underground somewhere. There, the woman treats his wound, and tells him that the army’s program is responsible to why the soldiers see people as creatures, while others, like the villagers, are still terrified by them, because they are told to do so. One of those “roaches” put together this light tech, to mess with the “Mass”. Though we think something good may happen from this meeting and the fact that Stripe new sees the true reality, it’s still Black Mirror, and Raiman managed to find the place, kill the woman and her kid, and take Stripe back to base.
There, the psychologist explains that armies needed a tool that would enable the soldiers to cope with the war terrors. In World War One and Two, he says, very few soldiers even pulled the trigger. In Vietnam, a lot more did, but they returned scarred and mentally destroyed. When this future was happened, the “Mass” enabled they army to shape enemies as monsters, so soldiers would pull the trigger without consequences.
The roaches are actually people, but they carry diseases and mutations in their blood. Wiping them out is the army’s goal, in order to assure future generation’s safety and health, mainly genetically-wise. After that, he tortures Stripe by forcing him to see what he did, who he killed, without the “Mass”‘s added layer. He also shows him his agreement video to join the army. This memory was wiped, and will be wiped again now, if he confirms to have his “Mass” repaired in order to return to duty. And with no other choice, he agrees. The episodes sees Stripe visits his girl back home, but it’s a sad ending, knowing that he keeps on killing poor civilians, in a pointless war against his own people.
What did we have here? At first, we think those roaches are some sort of aliens who invaded earth and it’s an ongoing war against them, a-la “Falling Skies”, “V” or “War of the Worlds”. Later, we see that the roaches are humanoid, freaky, but can fight back and use technology. If they were invading aliens, they wouldn’t be so dumb. Are they some sort of animals? No, they are actually people, and the army masks their identity to help the soldiers kill them. It’s no more than a game of “kill as much as you can, and get rewarded”. The army kills the civilians, to make sure they inferior genes will cease to exist. It is a future where the strong survives, but the strong has already won the war, they control the earth, and they wish to get rid of everybody else. Nazi Germany, anyone?
In “Stargate SG-1” we had an episode (4×02) in which the team visits a planet that was in losing war, and to trade with them, the team agrees to help them against their enemy. Later, the team realizes the new allies are responsible of genocide against “the other side”, who are the good guys, so they help them destroy the attackers base. “Men Against Fire” rides on the same plot idea, with more sophisticated mechanism (the “Mass”) but with much less development. Stripe is actually brain washes again, and the future is gloomy again.
A war against your own kind is a never-ending war, and must not even be started. If there are, theoretically, people who are immune to diseases, and they wish to conquer the world and kill the rest, they better work hard to invent a cure to the others. Because no good comes from such cruelty, and guerilla war can NEVER be won. Not in Vietman, not in Iraq, not in Lebanon, nowhere. You have to make the other side want to end the war, you have to help them and make their life worthwhile. So that those so-called “roaches” can be cured, and not wiped out.
About the military’s policy and the way it deals with issues, nothing new was here. The military crushes everything that might pop in its way. They only opposition can happen outside, by civilians, and it may happen here, with this green light thingie, but odds are small. When the soldiers shoot first and talk later, it takes something far greater to shift the balance. Perhaps a sonic blast that will glitch all the soldier’s “MASS” at the same time. But being hunted this way, the civilians might never manage to create such thing.
All in all, this episode had no original story, it offered nothing new to the end-of-the-world-wars genre, and it was actually a closed story with no real implications. But every series can have a weak episode now and then. It’s okay, and we’ll be okay. At least, the fight scenes and the use of special effects were great.
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