Guest post by zic.
We meet Liam in the middle of his appraisal (employee evaluation in American parlance) at his law firm. “[T]his isn’t a witch hunt for the dead wood,” he’s told, “it’s much more a treasure hunt for the gold; shit sinks, cream floats.”
And the cream, in this case, is litigation in retrospective parenting cases, “Bobby sues mom and dad for insufficient attention leading to lack of confidence, leading to lack of earnings.”
Insufficient attention, we’re about to learn, is no longer a matter of what the child remembers; every moment mom turned away to use her smart phone will be not only remembered, but recorded for replay whenever the child wants. Because of the grain.
The grain is an implant, just behind the ear. We discover the magical, amazing technology of the grain when Liam’s in a cab on his way home, his eyes go all silvery as he replays the appraisal, a redo it’s called, courtesy of some future technology like Google Glass built in to one’s eyeballs. It’s not a memory, but a video recording of the event; and Liam’s redo includes questioning the ethics of the firm’s pursuing retrospective parenting cases, foreshadowing that he’s sinking shit and not floating cream.
Liam’s sinking is played out in the rest of the episode as the story unfolds, a classic tale of jealousy that’s self-destructive. Liam goes home a day early, and drops in on a dinner party where his wife is, to find her in animated conversation with another man, and then suddenly uncomfortable when she realizes he’s there. But the episode bears watching twice, it’s not a just a tale of jealousy that destroys. The implications of the grain are explored in subtle ways; often just hinted at. Using the age-old story of how we focus on the details of trauma we can’t forget warped into a world where any sight-memory can be instantly recalled and replayed.
When Liam goes through security, he’s instructed to redo where he was by the security agent, and he calls up scenes from his appraisal. At the dinner party, there’s a woman who had her grain stolen, literally cut out of her head, and she supposes it’s for people who get their kinks from other’s sex memories. When this same woman witnesses Liam attacking the man he’s jealous of, we learn that she’s violating the law by not having a grain. In that attack, Liam first demands to be shown the scenes of infidelity, and then demands they be erased. Throughout, security state and surveillance issues are present, but only hinted at, and it’s up to you, dear viewer, to sort them out. This is Black Mirror at it’s best, not in your face, but in your subconscious; presenting problems for you to chew upon long after the episode’s over.
At the dinner party, we meet a woman who works in memory research, and she tells us that half our organic memories are rubbish. Liam does a redo of this in my favorite part of the episode, shown in the clip here, where a drunken Liam talks with the babysitter the next morning, (this is after an evening’s sex where both he and his wife redo better times instead of being in the moment). Liam shows the babysitter the events from the dinner party that have made him so jealous; but he’s forgotten that he called her a pedophile babysitter as an excuse to get out of having to hang out with the man he’s sure his wife is having an affair with.
That ability to forget you said something rude and inconsiderate, forget the moments that make us jealous, is a blessing. That half our organic memories are rubbish can be a very bad thing, eyewitness testimony is often faulty, and responsible for a lot of wrongful incarceration. But forgetting is also healing, as Liam discovers after his jealousy drives his wife and child away. He cannot stop redoing the looks of love and affection from his wife, Fi, and moments with their child. What he’s lost tortures him, he cannot heal and move on. He’s beocme a potential retrospective-parenting case himself, by driving his wife away with redo-reinforced jealousy, and so depriving his own child of his attention.
In the end, Liam cuts his own grain out. A few days after I watched, I learned that Google is doing the same thing; they’re no longer going to sell Google Glass.
While this day’s grain, Google Glass, may not be available for sale any longer, Robert Downey Jr. optioned the episode, so we may see it explored on our black mirrors soon.