In Smithereens, by far the most harrowing episode of the three new Black Mirror stories, the actor plays Chris, a cab driver who takes hostage an office worker from social media company Smithereen.
We first see him loitering in his vehicle outside the Smithereen office, waiting for an employee to accept a ride from him via an Uber-like app. He picks up a woman right by the building, but is disappointed to find out she works elsewhere.
Then we see him at a grief counselling session, where he meets a grieving mother, whose daughter took her own life unexpectedly in her university dorm. The two have sex, and afterwards she reveals to Scott that she has been trying access her daughter’s ‘Persona’ (a fictional social network) account, but as the company itself has been unhelpful, has resorted to trying different passwords each day.
After this, Chris finally lands Jaden (Damson Idris), a Smithereen worker, in his car and takes him hostage. From here, his plan begins to unravel catastrophically. Jaden reveals he is a lowly intern, and as he drives out west of London, they are spotted by police. The duo then become stranded in a field just off a country road, surrounded by the brass.
A negotiator makes contact with Chris, while plotting to take him out via sniper if it comes to it. Chris demands that he speak to Billy Bauer (Topher Grace), the founder and CEO of Smithereen.
After some time, Bauer, who is out on a week-long tech detox retreat in California, is tracked down. Chris makes it clear that he has no intention of hurting Jaden, and spills his heart out to Bauer, explaining that his wife had died in an accident he caused by looking at a Smithereen notification on his phone. Scott takes responsibility for her death, but places some blame on Bauer’s company, accusing them of purposefully making their service addictive.
Chris then attempts to kill himself, but as Idris wrestles with him to procure the gun, a shot rings out from the police, and the credits roll, leaving the audience in the dark as to who the bullet hit.
We spoke to Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones about the episode. Check out our debrief on all the main talking points from the episode below.
The idea came from Charlie Brooker’s own experience
Brooker merged two concepts together for Smithereen.
“One of which is to do with the social platforms belonging to people who are no longer with us,” he said, “and the other is to do with an experience I’d had, where I’d got into an Uber, I’d got in the back and I was staring at my phone like a zombie and after about 20 minutes I suddenly was aware that the car had pulled over and stopped and the driver had gotten out and was rummaging around in the boot, and I thought, ‘What is going on?'”
“I looked out the window and thought, ‘Oh my god, am I about to die?’ And then the guy came and said, ‘Sorry, it was a hot day, I wanted to get a bottle of water, and I didn’t want to interrupt you ’cause you were on your phone.'”
Unfortunately, Jaden was not so lucky…
Andrew Scott’s crazed monologue intentionally pokes fun at perceptions of Black Mirror
After Chris realises he has an intern in his car rather than a high-ranking board member, he freaks out and delivers a rant about the prevalence of smartphones in modern society.
Brooker and Jones suggested that it reflects the image that a lot of people have of Black Mirror as a tech-fearing morality tale.
“That was quite deliberate, though,” said Brooker. “There’s something darkly comic about the rant and then obviously in context in the scene it’s quite menacing, like, ‘Oh f***ing hell, he’s exploding, and it’s quite funny what he’s saying, but he’s obviously quite unhinged and disturbed.'”
“We’re not wagging the finger and saying ‘put your phone down’ and ‘delete that app’. That’s what we’re characterised as, and that’s why in a way it’s funny that Andrew Scott delivers that.”
Billy Bauer is not supposed to be a villain
The duo claimed they rarely set out to make a typical villain, and that Topher Grace’s character was not “evil”.
“We don’t tend to do [villains],” he said. “I never quite buy it. It works within the context of a Bond movie – you want a villain to be as f***ing evil as possible – but in Black Mirror that doesn’t quite work, when we’ve done really evil people like the villain in [season three episode] Hated in the Nation, they’re insane.”
Jones added: “And even that is driven by a misguided sense of morality.”
Andrew Scott agreed to star in the episode because the script “spoke to him”
“He was the first person we thought of, and he read the script and it just really spoke to him,” Jones said.
“He was thinking about his own relationship with tech and how he felt sort of enslaved to it, so I think he really wanted to do something that wasn’t a morality tale, where there is no obvious villain, where his character is not saying ‘I am not guilty, I’m not looking to Smithereen to absolve my guilt totally’, it’s just wanting some sort of understanding about how he got to that place.”