Black Mirror: “Shut Up and Dance” Season 3 Episode 3 Review

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“Shut Up and Dance” is the first episode of season three that could take place in the present and no one would bat an eye. There are no stretches in technological advancement and no heightened sense of reality. Director James Watkins, best known for the surprisingly effective The Woman in Black, uses the real world setting to his tactical advantage. This episode is a breakneck thriller, tense from its inciting incident to the hopelessly bleak final shot.

We follow Kenny (Alex Lawther, a relative newcomer to watch), an everyday average teen who is picked on by his coworkers, fights with his sister, and, like every teenage boy, watches porn on his computer. There’s a twist that comes late in the episode that, sadly, tries to make something far more sinister out of Kenny. But “Shut Up and Dance” works best when we believe this young teen is merely fighting to avoid extreme humiliation. After a seemingly routine session with his laptop and tissue box, Kenny gets an email from an unknown address saying that they know what he did with a recorded video from his webcam of his session. These mysterious Internet trolls threaten to release the video to everyone Kenny knows if he doesn’t follow their every instruction.

Tension is brewed from the unknown here, especially as more people at the will of these hackers start interacting with Kenny. Do the people doing this have some purpose? Is this all a sick game? Will Kenny ever be set free? Watkins’ effortless direction has us hanging on every text he gets, searching for clues for answers that just aren’t there. Of the first three episodes of season three, “Shut Up and Dance” is the most economical with its time. Just as Kenny’s quest of shame may start growing tiresome on his lonesome, he meets Hector (Game of Thrones‘ ever-charming Jerome Flynn), a man waiting in a hotel for a prostitute his wife doesn’t know about. After seeing that Kenny’s father is out of the picture, it’s fascinating to see Kenny correspond with an adult male figure. Neither the script nor Flynn position Hector as a father figure to Kenny, instead making him a selfish figure out for himself that occasionally shows affection for Kenny due to their extreme circumstances.

By leaving us to fill in the blanks in the beginning, Black Mirror smartly advances Kenny’s arc with another disappointing male figure. Which makes it all the more disappointing when the final act reveals a twist about Kenny that, through the episode’s conventions, changes how we feel about him. It also hurts that we get a boring “everyone loses” resolution that fails to make any real statement about the characters or any ideas the episode might’ve been building toward. It’s a bad ending to what was a really strong episode before it, full of tension and exciting plot turns. But, it is the nature of Black Mirror to sometimes refuse to satisfy us. This facet is part of what makes the anthology series so uneven. In this case, its non-budging bleakness knocks down what should have been a classic to merely a very solid entry. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

 

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