Black Mirror: Metalhead (2017)
Written by Charlie Brooker
Directed by David Slade
Three survivors travel across the apocalyptic landscape of England in the future. They are in search of something and make mention of being aware of “dogs” in the area. They stumble upon a warehouse with an ambulance parked outside. One of the survivors attempts to hack into the ignition of the ambulance while the other two enter the warehouse and search for a box with a particular serial number. They find the box but also find a dormant “dog.” The dog, a robotic drone killer, takes out one of the survivors and the hacker, with only Bella escaping. She engages in a drawn out cat and mouse chase with the seemingly unceasing “dog,” who will only stop when he kills his target.
Metalhead is a curious episode of Black Mirror in that it refrains from explicit exposition or direct commentary on the technological element at work in the story. Filmed in a beautifully contrasted and textured black and white, Metalhead is a sparse, to the point entry into the anthology series. It clocks in as the shortest at 40 minutes and has the smallest cast, just three people, only one of whom is on screen for the majority of the time. But in this straightforward framework, we get a solidly told emotional story of survival.
My personal read of what the situation in this world was is that these “dogs” were constructed for the same purpose as our modern day drones were, security and military purposes. At some point, an error in their programming occurred and they set out to kill all fauna on earth, including humans. Early in the episode, the trio drives past a former hog farm and point out all the pig carcasses and imply that the “dogs” killed them. A genuine question the viewer might have is “why were these dogs constructed?” It becomes apparent that they are incredibly efficient killers with a vast arsenal of built-in weaponry and the ability to adapt and use their environments.
The main dog in the episode is discovered in a warehouse of forgotten merchandise. I suspect dogs were a top of the line security measure for corporations. The job of security was automated with dogs, and they were typically set on a non-lethal level, their original designs allowed them to operate on a scale of offense. The dog’s purpose was to keep the valuable from the desperate.
The unrelenting nature of the dog and Bella’s increasing desperation to escape and evade acts as a metaphor to outrun the seemingly inevitable. The future is coming, in all its sleek, perfect glory and it remains to be seen if humanity will be able to adapt and survive. We also have to remember that weapons like the dog are made by us, with all the great leaps we have made in technology so much of it is focused around the protection of wealth by harming others. Metalhead is one of the bleaker episodes of Black Mirror, leaving us a bitter and helpless note. But its short and to the point structure doesn’t allow it wear on us and get old. Much like the dog, it is quick, efficient, and deadly.