Black Mirror: Hated in the Nation

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Season 3, Episode 6 – Hated in the Nation

There’s no reason why “Hated in the Nation” should work as well as it does. Although the episode deals with topical issues regarding the dark side of social media, at the end of the day, it’s still an episode that has killer robot bees in it. It straddles the very thin line between being a legitimately engrossing sci-fi thriller to being a cheap Syfy TV-movie, and in all honesty, had it done one or two things wrong in terms of execution, it would’ve easily fallen apart. It shouldn’t even work as a tongue-in-cheek, so-bad-it’s-good piece of trashy entertainment like Sharknado, but it succeeds because the filmmakers weren’t afraid to present the idea of killer robot bees as seriously as they did.

The plot is pretty basic. Someone starts a poll on Twitter asking people to nominate who they want to die. The “winner” is then targeted using robotic bees that have been released into the environment to help recover the collapsing bee population. It’s a B-movie plotline at best, but updated to current themes surrounding social media. If this were a movie and I watched the trailer that outlines its basic plot, I would’ve scoffed at the sheer stupidity of it and avoided it at all costs. But unless you go out of your way to look online and read the plot summary, there’s no way to know what “Hated in the Nation” is about until you actually watch it. You don’t know that you’re watching an episode that has killer robot bees in it until they actually reveal that there are killer robot bees in it. By then it’s too late and you’re already strapped in for the ride, too engrossed to care about how silly it all is.

And that’s where this episode succeeds. It’s not silly at all. Or at least, it’s not presented as such. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The episode starts as this intriguing crime drama where a journalist who gained notoriety across the nation after publishing a scathing article against a crippled activist is found brutally murdered in her home. Not long afterwards, another victim who gained similar notoriety in the media mysteriously dies, leaving important evidence. We then follow two detectives as they slowly uncover the true nature of the murders and how they’re connected.

It feels like we’re watching the first episode of a network TV sci-fi crime show, where we follow our cast of detectives solving murders in each episode, but with a futuristic twist. You even have the experienced, jaded detective played wonderfully by Kelly Macdonald, and the newcomer junior detective who’s assigned as her shadow. It has all the recipes for a CSI spin-off set in London, which might sound like a knock against it, but it isn’t. Everything in this episode just works. The characters are grounded in a familiar reality that gives it an authentic feel, which prepares you when they finally go all out with the killer robot bees part of the episode.

And boy do they go all out with this. After finding out that the two victims were targeted on social media and killed by a rogue ex-employee of the company that released the robot bees, it’s not long before we find our characters trying to save the next target against a giant swarm of flying insects. It’s completely ludicrous, seemingly at odds with the cold, gritty crime drama that we’ve seen at the beginning, but for whatever reason it just works. Serious murder investigations and a swarm of killer robot bees shouldn’t belong in the same sentence, much less in the same show, but “Hated in the Nation” succeeds at combining both for an engrossing, feature-length episode. Mostly because it’s massively entertaining, and not in a tongue-in-cheek way. It’s entertaining in an authentic way. The characters are well-developed and identifiable, bringing moments of levity that make them even more endearing to us. Most importantly, they’re just as confounded at the concept of killer robot bees as we are. The lead detective, Karin, says at one point that she can’t believe she’s living in the future, which helps us go along for the ride because Karin isn’t leading us into this whole mess; she’s riding in the rollercoaster right next to us.

Its hour-and-a-half running time might feel excessive, but it’s this lack of limitation that manages to give us such well-rounded characters. When we see them attempt to rescue a victim from a horrific death via robot bees, the episode doesn’t devolve into a groan-worthy TV movie from the 90s. Instead it’s a thrilling scene that kept me glued to my screen and had me eagerly anticipating what happens next. It’s the filmmakers’ commitment in taking a ludicrous concept and executing it in a serious, straight-faced way that makes “Hated in the Nation” such an involving episode. When the episode reaches its climax where the mastermind turns against all the people who participated in the death poll nominations, the episode achieves a grand scale that brings home its message in a shocking and satisfying way.

“Hated in the Nation” could’ve been a disaster in many ways, which makes its effectiveness all the more impressive. Even the worst Black Mirror episodes have always presented alternative realities that are ultimately believable, and “Hated in the Nation” is no different. Overall, season 3 of Black Mirror has been a mix of extremes for me. While it definitely features some of the best episodes that the show has to offer, it’s also the season that features some of the worst. Thankfully, “Hated in the Nation” is decidedly in the former group and is an excellent end to one of the most unique shows made in the last few years.

8/10

 

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