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Nothing stays forgotten on Black Mirror

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I think the title is about crocodile tears. Maybe there’s something I’m missing (there so often is!), but that’s my best guess: an expression of sorrow that’s all surface. It would be fitting, given how often Mia (Andrea Riseborough) cries in the episode while doing terrible things. It would also have that nice hint of ambiguity—is she insincere, exactly? Is her grief at her own misdeeds all for show? Or is it more the fact that no matter how awful she feels, she keeps pushing forward? That no matter how sad she might be about murdering people, that sadness has no bearing on her actual behavior.


There aren’t a lot of mysteries in “Crocodile” beyond the title. It’s over twenty minutes into the episode before we get the sci-fi hook (a machine that can view people’s memories), but while that hook is crucial to the plot, it’s really just a complication for an otherwise familiar story: a woman’s past comes back to haunt her, and she takes steps to get rid of it. Serious steps. Multiple-homicides-including-a-baby steps. Out of every episode in the season, this one is the thinnest from a conceptual standpoint, essentially a decent, disturbing noir papered over with some techno trappings. The biggest novelty comes in seeing just how far Mia will go to keep her secret safe. Pretty far! Although, inevitably, not far enough.

The fundamental appeal of stories like this is the queasy identification that comes from watching a supposedly good person go down a dark path. (Hm. I wonder if you could make a TV show out of that. Something involving drugs?) To that end, the episode starts with a classic “oh fuck” scenario, as a pair of addled youngsters inadvertently run over a guy with a bike while driving through the gorgeous, otherwise empty, countryside. The driver, male, decides the best thing to do is to dump the body in a sleeping bag, fill the bag with rocks, and through the whole thing to a lake. The woman objects, but not enough to matter.


Jump ahead 15 years and the woman (Mia) is doing well for herself. A successful architect with a family to protect, she’s in exactly the right position to go to desperate lengths when her past comes back to haunt her. Unfortunately her timing is all wrong, and the night when she murders her old lover (who is now filled with regret and wants to write an anonymous letter to the police) is also the night that she witnesses a minor accident on the street outside her hotel window. The accident brings in an insurance investigator (Shatia, played endearingly by Kiran Sonia Sawar), who starts poking around with her memory scanning device. Unpleasantness ensues.

There’s not a lot to this story—most of the important plot stuff happens near the end, and the episode spends a lot of time watching Shatia slowly but surely work her way towards Mia, interviewing various witnesses to ensure we understand just how effective the memory device really is. None of these interviews are relevant to the grand scope of things, apart from justifying Shatia’s need to talk to Mia. Once you understand the basics of how the machine works, and the fact that it’s pretty much impossible to fool, it’s clear where this is headed, and the answer won’t surprise you.

Which marks “Crocodile” as one of the weakest entries of the season (only “Black Museum” is worse), but it has enough style that it’s not a total waste. The Icelandic setting is gorgeous, managing to convey the characters’ isolation and vulnerability with visuals alone, and the acting is quite good. The various tricks Shatia uses to get the most out of her memory device (sense memory helps, so she uses scents and music to help people remember) are clever, and there are the usual questions technology like this raises. Is it ethical to force people to reveal their memories? Is it just another form of police questioning, or something more sinister?

Unfortunately, the episode isn’t particularly interested in looking into any of this. There’s some uncomfortable power in being stuck with a protagonist as she makes increasingly violent efforts to protect herself, but while that power justifies the running time (in that it gives the story room to breathe and distinguish itself in ways that a more compact version might not have), it’s probably not enough of a reason to be telling this particular story in the first place. In retrospect, it seems more than a little probable that the only reason this exists at all (apart from filling an episode quota) is that final twist: a blind baby and an observant family pet. But while both reveals are unexpected, neither of them illuminate anything that came before it, or do much to elevate what’s really just a nasty tale of a selfish woman brought down by not killing enough. Maybe crocodiles eat guinea pigs. Maybe that’s the secret.


Stray observations

  • It’s frustrating how much time the episode spends developing its technology without that development actually leading to anything relevant. Apart from the symbolic significance of a woman desperate to erase the past laid low by a machine that turns memories into facts, you could’ve just introduced a world where everyone walked around with cameras strapped to their heads and it wouldn’t have changed much.