As with the start of every Black Mirror episode, you always know that Charlie Brooker is up to something. With the start of season 3 episode 5 featuring soldiers taking out ‘monsters’ in ramshackled farmhouses, it was probably the most suspicious I have ever been at the start of a Black Mirror episode.
This episode sees new soldier recruit Koinange (played by Malachi Kirby) placed on his first outing with the troops. He believes he is protecting scared villagers from mutant-like creatures called ‘Roaches’ which are terrorizing the town. Every soldier is fitted with a ‘MASS’ device which is embedded in the soldiers’ heads. This device puts them in the right state of mind for combat and aids them in the battlefield.
The Terrifying Twist
As Stripe (Koinange’s nickname) goes into the field and takes down his first two Roaches, he notices one of them is holding a device. This device sends out a signal that disrupts the MASS system, which, in effect, disrupts Stripe’s entire state of mind and perception of the world around him. What he now sees is reality, and not what his superiors have determined.
As ‘Men Against Fire’ progresses, Stripe soon discovers that ‘Roaches’ are simply an undesirable group of humans who are being eradicated to protect the human race. The MASS system alters the soldiers’ perception/vision of these people transforming them into ugly and terrifying monsters.
But why bother with this technology? As explained in the episode, by masking the human identity of the Roaches, it makes them easier for the soldiers to kill. The soldiers see them as monsters and cannot even hear their human screams. This can emotionally distance the soldiers from the killings, making the eradication of the Roaches easier, and most importantly, more efficient. If your victim is a crying/begging human or is pleading for mercy, you may not want to pull the trigger. Transform the enemies into inhuman monsters, and the killing becomes nothing but guilt-free and dutiful, it’s a simple yet sinister concept.
‘Men Against Fire’ Ending Explanation
So, what was Charlie Brooker getting at with this episode? He’s certainly giving us a literal representation of how altered perceptions of people make harmful actions against them easier. By making a group of people seem a lot less human than they really are, it is, therefore, a lot easier to cause harm to them. I think there is comment here on how the media and politicians can all-too-often paint undesirable groups in a more negative light. Terms such as fear mongering, scapegoating and propaganda certainly come to mind. Brooker shows how harmful means of prejudice can literally be implanted into your head, affecting your perception of the world and your actions against others.
The ‘Men Against Fire’ ending also shows the chilling need for a society’s constant need for superiority. To maintain a high standard in this society, the slaughtering of people becomes the only way to control the problem of miscreants, criminals, and carriers of hereditary illness. Soldiers don’t want to kill innocents? Don’t worry there’s technology available to fix that. I’m not saying the current human race is going to sudden turn on itself, but Black Mirror always presents its dark tales as if these events aren’t beyond the realms of possibility. The ever-present ‘logical’ and ‘practical’ reasoning behind episodes such as this one always make you fear the things that could somehow end up happening.
However, with Koinange, once he has discovered the truth, he opts to forget. Even as Arquette (played by Michael Kelly) tells Koinange the true nature of the MASS system, he chooses to undergo a process that reset his memory. He could stand up and challenge the system, but I think Brooker is showing here that rather than ‘fight the system’ it may be easier just to go along with it. Standing against it forces us to reflect too much on ourselves, for Koinange he would rather not remember what he’s done. For him, it is simpler to be ignorant and oblivious of the atrocities. As we know from watching Black Mirror there are too many uncomfortable truths lurking if we started looking at ourselves too closely in the mirror.
Are you a huge fan of Black Mirror? If so, what did you think of this episode? For me its one of the best! Not seen this awesome series yet, be sure to check it out on Netflix!