Season 3, Episode 5 – Men Against Fire
“Men Against Fire” feels like a student film from beginning to end. There is nothing sophisticated, clever, or interesting about it in the least. I’ve spoken before about how heavy-handed Black Mirror can get at times, but at least it never feels quite as cheap as this. Everything about this episode feels like it was thrown together with the barest minimum effort. It’s strange to think that an anthology series like Black Mirror would need an episode to simply fill the time, but here it is. This is the result of a writer who clearly had to scramble to come up with six new ideas to fill out a season, and “Men Against Fire” is the unavoidable throwaway episode of a show that maxed out at three episodes a season before coming to Netflix.
“Men Against Fire” takes place in a world where people with “undesirable” genetics are being systematically wiped out by the government. In order to improve the military’s effectiveness at wiping out the undesirables (called “roaches” by everyone else), each soldier is implanted a piece of tech that makes them see the roaches as frightening monsters. The episode follows one soldier who gets his implanted tech tampered with, making him see the roaches as what they truly are: innocent human beings instead of monsters.
It’s not a bad idea on paper, but the execution of it feels forced. The main problem is that the episode doesn’t actually give you any reason to care about the lead character. He’s merely a vessel to help explain what the story actually is instead of someone you can sympathize with. It would’ve been much more interesting if the episode focused instead on one of the “roaches” trying to survive in a world where they’re being hunted because of their genetics. Watching them try to fight back would’ve made for a leaner episode that had characters we can root for. Instead we’re following a character who’s kept in the dark and needed to have everything explained to him in a long-winded scene that served as the episode’s anti-climax in the end.
Forget about the fact that “Men Against Fire” is a tediously predictable episode. Black Mirror is no stranger to delivering predictable storylines after all. Let’s even forget the fact that this episode displays its message loud and clear with no hint of subtlety whatsoever. Again, Black Mirror is no stranger to that as well. Where this episode went wrong and why it utterfly fails to even work on the most basic level is that its message is the whole point of the episode instead of its natural conclusion. Whereas other episodes explored the possible consequences of a world that’s increasingly being driven by technology, “Men Against Fire” simply declares its message like an hour-long public service announcement. The characters are mere props being used to send out a message instead of telling an actual story, which just cheapens everything that the episode was trying to say.
“Men Against Fire” has no artistry, creativity, or imagination. It’s a dour, lifeless, and hollow experience that fails to justify its cynicism or put it in any relevant context. Not even its action scenes managed to elicit any excitement because the episode gives us no reason to care about anyone, not even the faceless victims that get slaughtered onscreen. There is no suspense, drama, or insight throughout the entire experience. But above all else, “Men Against Fire” is forgettable. There is nothing that resonates within its lazily written plot and non-existent characters. Whatever message it screamed at me throughout its duration is immediately forgotten, effectively drowned out by the relief that this tedious experience is finally over and done with.