Black Mirror Season 3, Episode 2: Playtest


We started season 3 of Black Mirror last night. If you haven’t been watching this show, go ahead and catch up, it won’t take you that long (the episodes are on the longer side — almost an hour each — but there’s only 7 episodes in the first 2 seasons total). The show has been compared to The Twilight Zone in the sense that each episode is its own story, its own world… and there’s some dark shit going on most of the time.

“Playtest”, directed by Dan Trachtenberg, follows Cooper (played by Wyatt Russell) as he backpacks his way across the globe in an effort to escape his family turmoil at home following the traumatic death of his father.  He winds up finding himself low on funds and volunteers as a game tester to make some quick cash, which is when things take a turn for the worse. The game is a new, barely-tested version of virtual reality in the horror realm, complete with the chip in the back of the neck and uploading the game specs directly to his brain. He strolls into the test cocky and sure of himself and winds up literally weeping and screaming by the end. Without going into too much detail (and giving too much away for those of you who haven’t seen it), let me just go into what I liked (and didn’t like) about this episode.

Russell’s character is charming and fun — he’s almost TOO much of a typical “bro” but they make a point to do some light delving into his real personality and you kind of realize how much his jokes and loud mouth are compensating for some very real pain hiding under the surface. But I liked him almost immediately. There’s some moments while he’s in the house playing the game that truly made me jump — they had some good timing. And ultimately, for me, the concept that something just like this is right around the corner in the real world — and therefore the possibility of it going terribly wrong is right around the corner, too — is terrifying. I am all about technology advancing and I am usually on board with most of the new, fun things… but when you start talking about injecting a web of data into my neutral pathways, I’m probably going to peace out. The ending is also terrifyingly heartbreaking in a way, and well done… it really gives pause when you re-think the scenes you just watched.

But really, I wish the episode had played more on his fears. It ended up relying a bit too heavily on us not knowing when he had truly exited the game (and, honestly, scaring us with things jumping out of the shadows) rather than spending more time scaring the hell out of him, psychologically, inside the house. I felt like there were so many other subtle fear tactics they could have used since they literally had access to THE ENTIRETY OF HIS BRAIN AND MEMORIES. They went the spider route, the high school bully route, and then… literally a hybrid of a spider and the bully? Come on, now. I wish they had played with him more without going down some very predictable routes. But ultimately it was a fun, suspenseful episode despite its room for improvement!

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