'Black Mirror': In 'Metalhead,' Bleak Survival is No Fun

Season 4, Episode 5

The optimism of the preceding episode, “Hang the DJ,” is immediately counterbalanced with the bleak nihilism of “Metalhead,” a post-apocalyptic survival story. Directed by David Slade, “Metalhead” takes its inspiration from Boston Dynamics’ “dogs,” the unnervingly autonomous robots with frighteningly advanced physical capabilities. The robot dogs in “Metalhead” are on a new level: not only can they run, jump, and stand up when knocked over, they can also use solar power to charge, track electric signals and vital signs, and detonate deadly shrapnel bombs. Like the other episodes this season, “Metalhead” features a dynamic female lead: Bella (Maxine Peake), a dauntlessly ingenuitive survivor who tries to outsmart the killer robot, even in her darkest hour. Peake’s performance is richly human. While she devises schemes to distract or weaken the robot dog, she’s also acknowledging pain, wincing after digging a GPS tracker from her thigh, or gagging at the sight of a dead body, the sorts of vulnerabilities usually absent from a typical action hero’s infallible façade. However, despite Peake’s vivid acting, there’s frankly nothing narratively meritorious about the monotony of survival when the outcome is so transparently futile—an effect compounded even further by shooting in black-and-white. The final image is meant to be one of humanity, a kind of symbolic Turing test, but it’s a tough sell after forty minutes of bloodlust.

—Staff writer Caroline A. Tsai can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @carolinetsai3.


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