Note: Just some quick thoughts motivated by a podcast I was listening to. The @decipherscif podcast was going through the second half of season 4 of Black Mirror, breaking down the science in episodes like Black Museum. Interestingly, when the conversation moved to “Metalhead” the podcasters pretty much skipped the episode, criticizing its plot.
For anyone who’s been reading the blog, you’ll know Black Mirror is one of my favourite tv shows. I recommend it to people anytime the topic of tv pops up. When I heard about a fourth season on Netflix I completely forgot about wrapping up season 5 of Samurai Jack and moved on to Black Mirror. The season has birthed some new favourites for myself and other fans, such as “Black Museum” and “USS Callister”. It has birthed some episodes that might land in the middle, such as “Crocodile” or “Arkangel”. Season 4 has also birthed an episode that I personally believes gets an unfair helping of hate, “Metalhead”.
Now, it is easy for me to see why the hate exists, but I don’t think the hate exists simply because the episode is poorly done television. For many, “Metalhead” was likely just an unwelcome deviation from what they expected in a Black Mirror episode. The philosophical underpinnings weren’t as salient, and the episode doesn’t offer any of the twists or turns fans came to expect. Instead, “Metalhead” offered a simple chase sequence that has drawn comparisons to Mad Max and Terminator. Compared to the episodes that came before, “Metalhead” was a drastic shift.
Personally, I still put “The Waldo Moment” at the bottom of my list, and people may consider my reasoning shallow, but I could not stand the voice the actor used for the cartoon character. The messages were good and turned out to be quite relevant (cough, Trump) but it is an episode I refuse to revisit.
I have always loved post-apocalyptic stories, and although the Skynet-esque trope of technology hunting down humankind has been done, I still found the episode very engaging. It is not the type of scenario that can ask the same type of questions about topics like consciousness or reality, but “Metalhead” did leave me speculating what led to the world we see in the episode. We can guess the dogs were a military weapon that either went rogue, or may be hunting a certain segment of the population. I liked the fact that we were left to speculate about the details surrounding the character’s predicament. I also thought it was amusing to see a more literal representation of technology leading to death. While some may criticize the subtlety of this episode, I also think there is a segment of fans who like to feel smart because they watch the show, just like the denizens of Rick and Morty fans who claim you have to be pretty smart to “get it”. An episode like “Metalhead” breaks the illusion of philosophical theater.
Maybe “Metalhead” was a bad Black Mirror episode but it certainly wasn’t bad tv.