Black Mirror 103, “The Entire History Of You”

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.

Full Episode on youtube

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14 thoughts on “Black Mirror 103, “The Entire History Of You”

  1. Alternate episode title: The green-grey-eyed monster.

    Having a character’s eyes change color has become sort of a genre trope on TV, generally denoting demonic possession; here, we have met the demons and as usual, they am us.

    I also noticed that the color they chose looks a lot like how pupils look when captured on infrared (that is, something commonly used for surveillance cameras) – this isn’t as noticeable, because everything else is in color, but I assume it was an intentional choice.

    This ep is devastating. Despite all of Liam’s escalating jealous rage and unforgiveable actions, the episode keeps playing with our sympathies – after all, Liam’s suspicions turn out to be correct, there was much more there than Fi(delity) was telling him, going back a ways and continuing right up to the now, and the baby might in fact not be his. Liam is also presented at the start as having a conscience, balking a bit at the law firm’s plans. So Liam may not be such a bad guy, save for his fatal flaw.

    OTOH, if he’s been this jealous all along, no wonder Fi has kept things from him. He left for several days with no contact once, following a prior row over another man (Fi of course insists there was nothing going on there either, but…) and she sought comfort in the arms of an old flame. Speaking as someone who has been in a relationship with an irrationally-jealous person, excessive irrational jealousy can tempt one to wish to have COMMITTED the infidelity – after all, if you are going to spend days and weeks fighting over it anyway, you might as well have taken the hours of pleasure up front, right? Seems only fair. So did Liam drive her to this?

    On the other other hand, well, Fi does kind of get caught in lie after escalating lie, and Liam says that it’s been like worrying at a rotten tooth all this time, but now he finally knows…

    AND THEN, the wrecking coda, with Liam going through his now-empty house, replaying moments – catching Fi lost in quiet thought with her morning coffee, a conspiratorial smile of love from her as she heads upstairs – that shows why that ambiguity is what the ep is about: I think Liam realizes too late that Fi DID love him, and that *too* was part of their “Entire Hisstory” – unfortunately Liam began to construct a narrative, and then he went and looked for and found the pieces of evidence that would make that narrative true.

    And, in a reverse-twist, it IS true – but so were those glances, the child, all of the “story” he *wasn’t* looking for, because he went looking for this one instead.

    Fi says something to the effect of “Just because something’s not true, doesn’t mean it’s a lie”, and it sounds desperate and ridiculous in the moment, and it IS, in one way, but in another…well, pick your “truth”.

    Liam did.

    EDITED TO ADD: we learn that she’s violating the law by not having a grain

    Was she violating the law, or did the police just not believe her since it is so unusual not to have one? “If you are witnessing a crime, then why didn’t you get video of it, huh?”

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  2. There’s a pretty wacky movie from 1995 called “Strange Days” (warning: contains all sorts of triggers including rape) in which similar technology plays a role. You can record (and rewatch) your own (or others’) experiences (called “jacks”).

    Sure, a lot of people use it for sex (and, as such, I want to say that this movie foresaw the explosion of POV pornography) but some people use it to record exciting stuff like crimes or, and this is creepy, situations in which the person using the device dies (“blackjacks”). There’s all sorts of sordid stuff happening in the movie which might be interesting if only for its surprisingly optimistic vision of a dystopian future (n eribyhgvbanel/enccre trgf zheqrerq ol gur YNCQ naq gur cbyvpr srry gung gurl arrq gb pbire vg hc yrfg gurer or fvtavsvpnag fbpvny haerfg) but if you want to see this kinda tech explored for two whole hours (again: trigger warnings galore), it’s a movie that will get stuck in your craw.

    Also the soundtrack is freakin’ awesome.

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    • Oh, forgot my point. There’s a wonderful scene in the movie where Angela Bassett tells Ralph Fiennes that “Memories are meant to fade. They’re designed that way for a reason.”

      Without getting into the whole “design” word choice thing, that was a really, really good scene that hammered home a lesson that Ralph spent the whole movie refusing to learn.

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      • Glad to see I can stream on Netflix, thanks JB.

        I’ve read a lot of scifi that sorta goes in similar directions, my fav’s probably Iain M. Banks culture novels, where people have neural nets grown throughout their brains. I’ve been wondering about it with Matrix-like jacks, as well. But none of these sound quite so close, and perhaps Strange Days was an inspiration for the episode.

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      • I haven’t, but New World Of Darkness deals with what it sounds like some of the themes might be… vampires could be a thousand years old but the moment they go into torpor, they have dreams that rewrite their memories and so they cannot remember anything about their former existences (or worse, they cannot trust their former memories).

        They may have lived 2 or 3 thousand years ago, but when they wake, they’re back to being as powerful as a fledgling without the benefit of remembering what happened yesterday.

        Good stuff, if you’re into dressing in black and group storytelling.

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      • If anything, it’s worse. The notion is that memories fade, but traumatic memories fade much more slowly, so someone that has lived for thousands of years will remember nothing but trauma. Worse yet, these immortals know this, and therefore seek out traumatic memories in order to avoid oblivion.

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  3. I just watched episode 1, in which the PM was imposed upon to do a rather disgraceful thing. The moral bleakness of that episode was so overpowering that I don’t particularly want to carry on with the series. Not the awfulness of the PM’s disgrace, for which I felt a lot of sympathy. But the heavy “YOU are responsible for even watching this!” condemnation of the public at large as being vapid, morally fickle, and senselessly prurient even after the horror was revealed to them in its utter awfulness just left me utterly clobbered, looking to maybe read a little Kirkegaard for some spiritual uplift.

    I have an appetite for darker-themed entertainment. This was too dark for me.

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