WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Black Mirror's "Smithereens," streaming now on Netflix.
Black Mirror's "Smithereens" is one of the franchise's more slow-burning, tension-ridden episodes, as it focuses on the kidnapping of an intern, Jaden (Damson Idris), from a tech company called Smithereen, a Twitter-esque social media platform. The perpetrator, a taxi driver named Chris (Andrew Scott), is quickly spotted by cops, with the ensuing car chase stranding the duo in a field.
As the police try to negotiate and defuse the hostage situation, Chris' reasons for the crime paint a somewhat sympathetic picture of him, so much so Jaden develops Stockholm syndrome after empathizing with his plight. Sadly, right after Chris uncovers the truth for which he's searching, the episode closes with one of the series' most bland and disappointing endings.
The episode has a Phone Booth-like feel to it, as Chris holds Jaden prisoner while wrestling with the guilt of a mysterious confession he wants to make to Smithereen CEO Billy (Topher Grace). As the company struggles to locate Billy, bystanders use the platform to signal boost the incident, putting Britain's eyes on the situation. Eventually, Billy is found on a silent retreat in the desert in America, and he breaks protocol by using "god-mode" (a program allowing him to track anyone anywhere in the world) to speak to Chris on the phone.
As Billy converses with the gunman, we find out Chris got into an accident with a drunk driver years ago, which resulted in the death of his wife. However, Chris, a Smithereen addict at that time, got distracted by his phone on the boring drive home, and checked a notification on the platform as he drove. In other words, he's just as much to blame as the drunk driver, as this distraction contributed to the crash, so his reason for the kidnapping is not to hurt Jaden but to ensure Billy has a one-on-one with him. Chris wants to find out why tech companies like Smithereen, and executives like Billy, make content so addictive.
It's at this juncture Black Mirror throws us for the usual loop, because rather than hear Billy claim it's up to users to consume content responsibly, he confesses social media companies profile users like Chris and make sure their content is addictive. He literally calls their content "tech-cocaine" and apologises to Chris, as he never wanted his tool to be used like this. Billy even says he's no longer in control of his company, and that he's unhappy with the direction it's taking.
With this revelation, Chris frees Jaden and is about to kill himself. However, Jaden grabs Chris' hands to stop him from pulling the trigger. As Jaden and Chris struggle, a sniper fires at the car, narrowly missing Chris. The shooter takes aim at Chris once more, but Jaden also dips in and out of the crosshairs. The sniper fires again, and it's clear from the crowd's reaction that someone gets hit. However, the episode cuts to the credits there, and it's never revealed who was shot. As the credits roll, people on Smithereen take in the news of the shooting, scrolling by quickly to emphasize the episode's message about desensitization to news.
Not knowing what happened to the characters feels like a waste of time because of how much the episodes gets viewers to invest in them, especially considering how much character development is made possible by the small cast. From a creative standpoint, not letting us know their fates is a copout and feels like a conclusion the show offers to simply force a cliffhanger ending.
Although the episode's social media crowd moves on in a matter of seconds, finding out the victim offers viewers closure after coming along for the journeys of thee three characters. This ending feels like a missed opportunity, as it doesn't allow viewers to finish judging those journeys. It would have also been intriguing to see Jaden surviving the incident and pondering his future at such a company, or conversely, Chris, Billy and Britain's police dealing with the aftermath of the intern's accidental death. In any case, this episode's theme revolved around actions and consequences, but with such a bland, pretentious ending, "Smithereens" feels meaningless, telling viewers something they already know about social media rather than showing how the road ends for its divisive and engrossing characters.
Black Mirror Season 5 is currently streaming on Netflix. This season consists of three episodes, which star such actors as Anthony Mackie, Miley Cyrus, Topher Grace, Andrew Scott and Angourie Rice.