Creator: Charlie Brooker
Director: John Hillcoat
Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Andrew Gower
With the ever-present allure of CGI animation, it is incredibly easy for filmmakers in the 21st century to substitute solid storytelling for extravagant visuals. This is particularly true of the science-fiction genre, wherein flashy future tech and other worldly creatures often supplant genuine emotion. Thankfully, Black Mirror has for the most part avoided these pitfalls of the genre. Crocodile is perhaps the most understated episode yet, weaving a simple yet intriguing story, which feels more Nordic Noir than science fiction. Unfortunately, the episode is not entirely successful; it is a story which will leave you entertained, but the memory of it will leave you very quickly.
Taking place in the not-too-distant future, Crocodile follows successful architect Mia Nolan (Andrea Riseborough). The episode begins with a young Mia, along with then-boyfriend Rob (Andrew Gower), accidentally killing, and subsequently disposing of, a cyclist. Burying this event in the depths of her memory, Mia has seemingly moved on in the following years, becoming a successful career woman whilst also raising a family. However, a returning Rob, still wracked with guilt, threatens to reveal the pair’s wrongdoing. Petrified by this prospect, manslaughter turns to murder as Mia attempts to cover her tracks once more. Meanwhile, insurance company employee Shazia (Kiran Sonia Sawar) investigates an unrelated accident, which Mia has unwittingly borne witness to. As Shazia, armed with a device which visualizes one’s memories, gradually pieces together the accident in-question, it quickly becomes clear that her investigation is inadvertently leading her directly into the spider’s web.
The story of Crocodile is refreshingly simple, but feels a tad predictable. Once the connection between the two plotlines is noticed, the direction of the narrative is fairly certain. In this regard, the episode is further hindered by the fact that very similar stories have been told elsewhere, with psychological thriller The Machinist bearing a comparable narrative. Despite a familiar plot, the depths to which Mia will plunge in order to protect her secrets are – in true Black Mirror fashion – quite shocking. However, the episode’s characteristic twist is deeply unsatisfying, appearing contrary to the established rules of this near-future world. The episode aims for a gut-punch ending, but the impact is a little underwhelming. Such a depressing conclusion has been pulled off more successfully in other episodes, such as The National Anthem, as well as Shut Up and Dance.
The performances throughout are perfectly adequate. Special commendation must be given to Riseborough, who all but carries the episode. Given virtually no lines with which to communicate her character’s motivation or innermost thoughts, Riseborough delivers all the salient information through her glassy gaze. Relative newcomer Kiran Sonia Sawar is less successful as Shazia, although she is given very little to work with; Shazia is barely developed as a character, serving as a mere conduit through which the audience can experience the story. Her inclusion in the episode feels like an unnatural means to an end; it is as though series creator Charlie Brooker simply needed a character – any character – to operate the memory device in order for the plot to unfold as intended.
Visually, Crocodile is a standout in a series full of memorable images. Shots of the snow-covered Icelandic landscape are a particular highlight. Here Australian director John Hillcoat, whose previous works include Outback Western The Proposition, feels right at home, portraying the barren landscape as an unforgiving wasteland. The locales featured throughout turn Shazia’s investigation into a Nordic Noir detective tale; one could easily envision the same story unfolding without a single element of science fiction. The sci-fi elements that are present remain unobtrusive; indeed, the memory device featured throughout – the Recaller – appears so low-tech that one could easily mistake it for a portable television set from the 1980s.
Crocodile is a good episode of Black Mirror, but that is about all it is. The story is a refreshingly simple tale of desperation and guilt, but feels a little predictable. Riseborough may be excellent as Mia but unfortunately it is not her but the one-note Shazia who draws us through much of the narrative. On the positive side, Brooker must be praised for stripping back the series’ social commentary in favour of a down-to-Earth, intensely human tale. Unlike other episodes, ‘Crocodile’ does not feel like a meditation upon society as a whole. Rather, the episode reflects some of our most primal fears; what happens when our deepest, darkest memories are no longer our own? Nevertheless, the episode fails to leave a memorable impression.
All this being said, one question from this entry lingers on – the title. Why “Crocodile”? Other episodes in this particular season have all maintained fairly straight-forward, easily interpreted titles. In this regard, Crocodile is a huge outlier. Perhaps the title is referring to the often-disputed reptilian portion of the human brain, responsible for such vices as aggression. Perhaps Mia represents the crocodile, a predatory animal capable of extreme savagery once cornered. Maybe the crocodile is our most sinister wrongdoing; lurking imperceptible within the murky waters of our memory. Or perhaps the crocodile is guilt; a fierce creature ready and waiting to pull us to the depths.