Sometimes the scariest and most powerful episodes of Black Mirror are the ones which feel horrifyingly grounded in reality, and that is certainly the case with Smithereens; a tight and self-contained hostage thriller that features an absolute powerhouse performance from Andrew Scott.
Chris (played by Scott) is a driver for Hitcher (basically this world’s Uber!) who harbours a grudge against the social media company ‘Smithereens’. After picking up a man he believes to be one of the executives for the company (it transpires he is just an intern!), things take a darker turn as Chris holds him hostage, demanding to speak to the owner of the company.
On the surface, this is a straightforward stake-out thriller, but it is also one of those quietly unravelling Black Mirror episodes that slowly but surely gets under your skin, and of course, leaves you wondering if you may ever be happy again. Aside from perhaps series 3’s Shut Up and Dance, it is hard to think of a Black Mirror episode that feels more “real” than this one, and the final revelation is one so heartbreaking that it is impossible not to feel something by the end. It may also make you immediately want to throw away your mobile phone, or perhaps that was just me!
At the centre of this episode is a staggering performance from Andrew Scott, a truly underrated actor who is able to perfectly deliver the dark comedy of this episode and toe the line between mania and heartbreak absolutely perfectly. His rants against the tech-obsessed masses are fantastic to watch and he expertly portrays the pain that lies behind the rage as well.
The ending of this episode feels a little bit hasty given the slow build-up that leads to it, and it still feels like there were a lot of questions unanswered, but in terms of an episode which showcases a performance, and the subtle brilliance of Charlie Brooker’s writing, Smithereens is a wonderful hour of television. This may not be one of the all-time great episodes in the context of the wider series, but it is arguably the best episode in this season.