“Smithereens” has a thin premise and is slightly overlong, but there’s nuance here if you’re willing to look for it.
This Black Mirror Season 5 Episode 2 review for the episode titled “Smithereens” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words, and you can also check out our spoiler-free thoughts on the entire fifth season by clicking these ones.
“Smithereens” works, for the most part, because it isn’t trying too hard, especially by the standards of a show which often tries a bit harder than is necessary. It tells a pretty simple tale of grief and the need for closure in the looming specter of big business, where information is hoarded like dragon’s treasure and can mean both everything and nothing, depending on who’s sifting through it.
Andrew Scott, a hot property right now after playing the sexy priest in the second season of Fleabag, plays Chris, a twitchy driver for an Uber-style rideshare company who has beef with a big technology firm and its enigmatic CEO, Billy Bauer (Topher Grace). The reasons for this are best left unexplained, and besides, “Smithereens” is much more about the journey than it is the destination.
That journey is shared between Chris and Jaden (Damson Idris), a company employee who Chris mistakenly believes is a high-flying executive but is really just an intern. And things don’t get any more straightforward from there. Typical of hasty plans formed out of desperation, it’s a series of unforeseen escalations that eventually amount to a standoff in a rural field with various interested parties all listening in.
Doesn’t sound much like a Black Mirror episode, does it? But that’s the secret to “Smithereens”, I suppose. The technological implications inform the plot rather than completely defining it. A lot is made of informational intrusiveness; the idea that these huge social media companies know more about the people that use their service than even law enforcement does. Information can be pulled up and cycled through and conclusions can be drawn from it in seconds, by whomever about whatever, which is a terrifying prospect even if you’re not in a police sniper’s scope.
I’ve heard tell that “Smithereens” is the weakest episode of Black Mirror‘s fifth season, but I’m not buying it. It’s an installment that manages to find jokes and tension and build towards a moving conclusion, and even if it takes a while to get there, it’s worth taking the journey.