The relationship between technology and memory is not a new concept to ‘Black Mirror’. Back in season one, the triumphant ‘The Entire History of You’ examined how sharing our memories can cause the disintegration of a marriage. In that episode, memories were stored on devices and could be projected for everyone to see. This drives the protagonist to extreme measures to find the truth after falling into a deep paranoia when he suspects his wife of cheating — the ability to access memories only increases his paranoia tenfold. In this imagined dystopia, secrets are impossible to keep, and everyone feels some sort of entitlement to know what people are hiding — even when the truth hurts.
‘Crocodile’ takes another look at memory, and how far one might go to keep their memories private. Apart from that though, technology doesn’t play that large of a role in the parable of the episode. The technology itself — a device used by police and insurance agents which can access and visualise people’s memories — isn’t introduced until 20 minutes into the episode, and it’s only a small element of a familiar story in which the ugly past of a woman comes back to haunt her. In the prologue of sorts, Mia (Andrea Riseborough) and her friend Rob (Andrew Gower) are driving home from a night out — both clearly drunk — and run into cyclist, killing him instantly. Mia tries to call the police but Rob stops her, tearfully explaining that he’ll receive a life sentence. Instead he proposes to hide his body in a sleeping bag and dump it into a nearby lake — Mia is initially reluctant but helps anyway. Cut to fifteen years later, and Mia is now happily married with a son. She meets Rob on a business trip, who finally wants to confess to the murder after being plagued by guilt for years. Not wanting to destroy the perfect life she has built for herself, Mia does some, let’s say, questionable things to prevent Rob from going to the police. Oh, and also, Mia witnesses a car accident during all of this — a detail I somehow missed until later. This is where the dystopian technology comes in — in a parallel storyline — an insurance agent inspects the memories of the events prior to the accident from several witnesses, including Mia. In lieu of spoilers, I’ll just say that Mia’s memories of the accident implicate her in something bigger and so, she does even more questionable things — and so on and so on, in a quickly escalating spiral.
From what I’ve gathered, ‘Crocodile’ is divisive in terms of its quality. I’m in the middle but I do think there is a lot to appreciate. The Icelandic scenery is captured beautifully, with the pristine snowy landscapes reflecting the cold atmosphere of the story. Like the snow, Mia’s idyllic life, the kind that seems so perfect that it looks like something straight out of a postcard, is one wrong step away from being completely ruined. I think the title of ‘Crocodile’ works perfectly in this way. At first it eluded me, but the concept of crocodile tears very much applies to Mia in this situation. She appears shaken by the terrible things she’s done but her sadness seems insincere, for as soon as the tears she fall, she wipes them away to carry on. Andrea Riseborough is unrecognisable from her scene stealing roles in ‘Battle of the Sexes’ and ‘The Death of Stalin’, with a stone cold surface that risks cracking to expose the emotional vulnerability underneath, she arguably gives the performance of the season. With all of this considered, I had a complicated relationship with Mia — I rooted for her in the beginning but as she committed atrocity after atrocity, my sympathy for her began to fade.
Beyond the stunning cinematography and the amazing Riseborough though, ‘Crocodile’ doesn’t seem to be particularly memorable compared to other, much stronger, episodes of the season like ‘USS Callister’ and ‘Hang the DJ’. It even pales in comparison to its aforementioned counterpart, ‘The Entire History of You’. Apart from the sci-fi component, the basic plot feels like it’s been done many-a-time before. This, of course, is made ten times more morbid in true ‘Black Mirror’ style but by the end it all feels like a stunt for shock value rather than a brutally honest piece of commentary. If you dig deep enough, you could string together some kind of prediction that the government’s entitlement to access our information will escalate from our computer (How many jokes on Twitter have you seen about covering your laptop camera, after all?) to our memories. But this all seems like a reach for a show that usually conveys its message on a surface level. ‘Crocodile’ is a slick noir that unfortunately boils to a point of ridiculousness. The show seemed terrifying back in its Channel 4 days, but with our current climate, the horror stories of ‘Black Mirror’ verge on becoming empty and vapid. Call me a romantic, but I much preferred the episodes of this season that gave me hope, not despair — I had more than my fair share of that in 2017.