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Nosedive (Black Mirror)

"Nosedive" is the first episode of the third series of the British science fiction anthology series Black Mirror. Michael Schur and Rashida Jones wrote the teleplay for the episode, based on a story by series creator and co-showrunner Charlie Brooker, while Joe Wright acted as director. It premiered on Netflix on 21 October 2016, alongside the rest of the third series.

"Nosedive"
Black Mirror episode
Black Mirror - Nosedive.jpg
Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard) gives a rating using her phone. The episode's pastel colours distinguish it from most Black Mirror episodes.
Episode no.Series 3
Episode 1
Directed byJoe Wright
Story byCharlie Brooker
Teleplay byMichael Schur
Rashida Jones
Cinematography bySeamus McGarvey
Original air date21 October 2016 (2016-10-21)
Running time63 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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List of Black Mirror episodes

The episode is set in a world where people can rate each other from one to five stars for every interaction they have, which can impact their socioeconomic status. Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a young woman overly obsessed with her ratings; she finds an opportunity to elevate her ratings greatly and move into a more luxurious residence after being chosen by her popular childhood friend (Alice Eve) as the maid of honour for her wedding. Her obsession leads to several mishaps on her journey to the wedding that culminate in a rapid reduction in her ratings.

Because of the programme's move to Netflix, the episode was given a much larger budget, with a different style based on pastel aesthetics. Brooker wrote an outline for the episode, then Schur wrote the former half of the episode and Jones wrote the latter. Production was undertaken in a manner similar to a short film; "Nosedive" was filmed in South Africa, with Seamus McGarvey as director of photography and Joel Collins and James Foster as the production designers. The tone of the episode is less bleak and more comedic than other Black Mirror episodes, with the ending significantly more positive than the programme's prior two series.

The episode has received mainly positive reviews and is middling in critics' lists of Black Mirror episodes, qualitatively. The pastel aesthetics have been widely praised, along with Max Richter's soundtrack and Howard's performance. A criticism for several reviewers was the episode's predictability and ending, though the script and comedic undertones were praised by some. Many critics noted the similarity of the episode to real world app Peeple and China's upcoming Social Credit System, along with fictional works about social media with themes of gender and obsession with image. The episode was nominated for several awards, including a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Howard and a Primetime Emmy Awards nomination for McGarvey.

Contents

PlotEdit

Society uses a technology where, through eye implants and mobile devices, everyone shares their daily activities and rates their interactions with others on a one-to-five star scale, which affects that person's overall rating. One's current average can be seen by others and has significant influence on their socioeconomic status.

Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard) currently has a 4.2 rating, seeking to reach 4.5 for a discount to a luxury apartment; however, her attempts to be an outgoing and pleasant socialite do little to help. She lives with brother Ryan (James Norton), who is not interested in ratings. Lacie talks to a consultant who suggests gaining favour from very highly-rated people, as they have larger impacts on scores. Lacie takes a photograph of Mr. Rags, a teddy bear that she and childhood friend, the now highly-rated Naomi (Alice Eve), made together. She is pleased when Naomi rates the photo five stars and calls her, saying that she is engaged. Lacie agrees to deliver a speech as the maid of honour, hoping it will boost her rating to above 4.5. Lacie then commits on the luxury apartment.

On the day of her flight, Lacie gets into a disagreement with Ryan, missing her ride, and runs into a passerby who spills their coffee. The two rate her negatively, dropping her below 4.2. At the airport, her flight is cancelled and she cannot buy a seat with her current rating. Lacie causes a scene, where security intervenes and subtracts a full point for a period of 24 hours, as well as doubling the effect of subsequent negative ratings against her. Because of her low rating, Lacie can only rent an older car to drive to the wedding, causing her to miss Naomi's rehearsal dinner. She cannot recharge the car when it runs out of power, and is forced to hitchhike; she rides with Susan (Cherry Jones), a truck driver rated below a 2.0. Susan tells Lacie that she used to care about her rating, once a 4.6, until her late husband was passed over for vital cancer treatment for a person a tenth above his rating; she feels much freer without obsessing over ratings.

The next day, while Lacie is en route to the wedding via RV, Naomi tells her to not come, as her severely reduced rating will negatively impact her own ratings. Enraged, Lacie manages to get to the site of the wedding and sneak in during the celebratory dinner. She grabs the microphone and starts giving the speech she had written but starts becoming dangerously upset, at one point grabbing a knife and threatening to behead Mr. Rags. The guests rate Lacie negatively, so her rating drops to below one star. Security comes and arrests Lacie. She is taken to prison, the technology supporting the rating system removed from her eyes, and placed in a cell. She gets into an argument with a man in a separate cell (Sope Dirisu), also stripped of the rating hardware, and both realise how freeing it is to speak without worrying about being rated.

ProductionEdit

External video
  Black Mirror – Season 3
The trailer for series three of Black Mirror.
  Black Mirror – Nosedive Featurette
Brief commentary by Charlie Brooker and Bryce Dallas Howard.

"Nosedive" is the first episode of the third series of Black Mirror; all six episodes in this series were released on Netflix simultaneously on 21 October 2016. Brooker says it was selected to be the season premiere "partly to slightly ease people in", as "we thought [it] was probably one of the most accessible episodes".[1] Alongside "San Junipero", "Nosedive" was first shown in 2016 ahead of its Netflix release at the Toronto International Film Festival.[2] Two days prior to the series' release on Netflix, Brooker hinted that "Nosedive" is "a pastel, playful satire about modern insecurity."[3]

Whilst series one and two of Black Mirror were shown on Channel 4 in the UK, in September 2015 Netflix commissioned the series for 12 episodes (split into two series of six episodes),[4] and in March 2016 it outbid Channel 4 for the rights to distributing the third series, with a bid of $40 million.[5] Due to its move to Netflix, the show had a larger budget than in previous series,[6] which one critic suggests is responsible for the "impressive line-up" that was noted by many reviewers.[7] Another critic called this episode the show's "most ambitious yet";[8] due to its larger episode order, series 3 was also able to vary its genre and tone more than previous series.[9] One reviewer also noted that "Nosedive" contained "only American characters".[2]

In November 2016, to tie in with the episode, Netflix released a tongue-in-cheek app called Rate Me. The app allows users to rate people, by their Twitter handle, and view their own rating and the ratings of others.[10]

Conception and writingEdit

Rashida Jones and Michael Schur, who co-wrote the script for "Nosedive".

The episode is based on an idea by series creator Charlie Brooker. In a 2016 interview, Brooker states that the original idea, from five years previous, was similar to Brewster's Millions and based on the idea of a high status person trying to reduce their ranking.[11] Later, Brooker wrote either a three[12] or four[13] page outline for the episode, wanting it to be "comedic, darkly".[12] Rashida Jones and Michael Schur wrote the episode. Known for comedy and sitcoms, the pair had previously worked together on many shows, including Parks and Recreation, but had never written anything together before "Nosedive". Both fans of Black Mirror, Jones had been in contact with Brooker for a few years beforehand; Schur wrote the first half of the episode (up to "[Lacie] finding out that [Naomi] doesn't want her to come"), while Jones wrote the second half, and the two then "blended and mixed" their scripts.[13]

In 2016, Schur had an account on Twitter but not Facebook or Instagram, as "there's a bunch of strangers talking shit about you in there", and Jones expressed a similarly negative attitude, stating "I do have very strong, very conflicted feelings about rating systems and social media."[13] Brooker notes that "you are rewarded for having a more extreme opinion" on social media; in the episode, as on the internet, almost all ratings given are either one or five stars.[14] Similarly, Schur opines that social media causes people to exaggerate their behaviour, particularly their rudeness.[15] Jones believes that the episode, as with all Black Mirror episodes, "pushes you into the near future", while Schur considers it to be more of a "parallel reality". Brooker has described the episode as "like a cross between Pleasantville and The Truman Show".[12] Jones says the idea that "women are taught to be liked, and men are taught to be powerful", credited to Sheryl Sandberg, is relevant to the episode, with Schur agreeing that Lacie's gender is important to the story,[14] though Schur notes that edited images on social media are causing negative body image issues for men as well.[15]

FilmingEdit

 
Joe Wright, the episode's director

Joe Wright directed the episode, Seamus McGarvey was director of photography and the production designers, working for VFX company Painting Practice, were Joel Collins[16] and James Foster.[17] The episode was shot in four weeks[18] on an island an hour from Cape Town, South Africa; "San Junipero" was also filmed in South Africa.[16] In an interview with Variety, McGarvey noted that the episode was shot in 4K resolution at the request of Netflix; he said the colour scheme was a mixture of duck-egg blue, "peppermint green" and "strange peach colors", and that props and "even the drinks people are drinking" were chosen with care to create a "sickly pastel feel".[18] Though Wright says that he made almost no changes to the dialogue,[19] Brooker notes that Wright had a "very strong visual idea that we had not foreseen", the idea to use pastel aesthetics. Wright also chose Max Richter as composer[20] and Bryce Dallas Howard to play Lacie, having auditioned Howard a decade previously for Atonement.[19]

Brooker pointed out that directors of Black Mirror episodes (in this case, Wright) have more "power" than in serialised television shows, as "it is like making a short film", and he said that Wright had "been feeling quite bruised after doing Pan, and [Black Mirror] was a good thing for him to get his teeth into which wasn't the full five-year commitment of a movie".[1] McGarvey had previously worked with Wright.[18] Watching rushes from the filming, Brooker was initially sceptical about Wright's saccharine style, but began to understand it as the filming progressed and the music was added.[20] The scenes in which Lacie is driving utilise a computer-generated landscape designed by Dan May, the episode's art director.[16]

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Lacie, the episode's main character. Howard gained 30 pounds (14 kg) for the role, saying in an interview with Marie Claire that body shaming is a "huge part of the subtext of the story". Howard first joined social media during Thanksgiving 2015 and was approached with the treatment of the episode a fortnight later, in December 2015.[21][22]

MusicEdit

Max Richter, a self-described "conservatoire, university-trained classical composer",[23] composed the episode's soundtrack. Richter first met the director, Joe Wright, in London before the shooting of the episode had been completed and began coming up with ideas for the score. Richter aimed to "support" the episode's display of "incredible anxiety hovering beneath this smiley surface ... while at the same time not flattening out the emotionality of it", commenting in an interview that Wright's camerawork had a "dream-like quality" and that Brooker's "story was fantastic".[24] In another interview, Richter said he was aiming for the episode to have "warmth and a fairytale quality throughout" with "darkness underneath it", and notes that his composition was based on "the sentiment and the emotional trajectory of the characters". Richter also composed the sound effects which play when one character rates another, and incorporated these sounds into the score itself.[23]

AnalysisEdit

Several critics compared the episode to a 2014 episode of Community, "App Development and Condiments", which features an app where users assign each other "Meow Meow Beenz" ratings on a scale from one to five; Jack Shepherd of The Independent notes that both episodes "critically [analyse] people's obsession with stature on social media platforms with rating systems".[8] Other reviewers compared "Nosedive" to the mobile application Peeple,[25] in which users could rate one another, that garnered immediate backlash upon its release.[25][11] Brooker said in an interview that he was not aware of the Community episode when he came up with the idea for "Nosedive", but that he did see advertising for Peeple during pre-production, initially thinking it would turn out to be marketing for a comedy show, and he considered whether or not they should still produce the episode.[11] The episode has also been compared to the 2003 novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, as each work explores a link between social approval and power.[26]

Manuel Betancourt of Pacific Standard explains how "Nosedive" fits with other portrayals of social media in television and film, comparing it to 2017 films The Circle and Ingrid Goes West, which both explore negative aspects of social media. Betancourt says that historically, women have been portrayed as victims of technology, a pattern which these works fit. For instance, Ingrid and Lacie are both obsessed with coming across as perfect online. In contrast, male characters are traditionally the voice of reason: in these works, Lacie's brother Ryan, Mercer (The Circle) and Taylor's husband (Ingrid Goes West) serve this purpose.[27] Furthermore, the androgyny of "Nosedive" character Susan is linked to her disdain for social media.[28] Betancourt writes that these characterisations do not accord with research on how men and women use technology, where some studies report that men have more emotional investment in positive feedback on social media. However, "Nosedive" shows people of all genders placing importance in social media, leading Betancourt to call it "perhaps the most keen-eyed critique [...] of recent titles".[27]

A Business Insider article by Erin Brodwin notes that the episode shows Lacie fall victim to the hedonic treadmill. Despite momentary happiness when receiving a high rating, Lacie is "lonely and unsatisfied". Brodwin points out that scientific studies concur with Lacie's experience, because there is no correlation between using social media and being happy in the long-term.[29]

Critics have also noted the inclusion of Easter eggs within Black Mirror – small details referring to other episodes. In "Nosedive", there is a frame where a social media post from Michael Callow reads, "Just got thrown out of the zoo again :(", a joke based on Callow having intercourse with a pig in "The National Anthem".[30] Brooker has described this Easter egg as his favourite in series three.[31] Another reference to that episode is the fictional show Sea of Tranquility; in "The National Anthem", a special effects expert mentions having worked on the show, while in "Nosedive", Lacie hitchhikes with fans of the show. Additionally, in "Hated in the Nation", a news ticker contains the term "Reputelligent", which is the name of the company that Lacie consults for advice about her rating.[32]

Comparisons to Social Credit SystemEdit

"Nosedive" has been widely compared to China's Social Credit System, a governmental initiative planned for testing in 2020,[33] and existing Chinese reputation systems such as Sesame Credit.[34] In November 2016, the Facebook page for Black Mirror shared an article in The Washington Post about the Social Credit System.[note 1] The system would assign each citizen a score determining decisions such as "whether you can borrow money" or "get your children into the best schools", and that actions such as "defaulting on a loan" or "criticizing the ruling party" would lead to a lower score. The existing Sesame Credit system, which assigns users scores between 350 and 950,[35] already allowed some people with high scores to rent vehicles without a deposit, or pay to skip hospital queues.[34][36] Furthermore, a person's score in Sesame Credit is dependent on the scores of the people in their social circle.[35]

The proposed and existing systems have been widely compared to the episode as a whole. Specifically, it has been noted that the apartment discount Lacie hopes for is similar to how high rated people under Sesame Credit can rent cars without a deposit.[37] Additionally, Lacie's ejection from the airport is reminiscent of the system's control over who can partake in some forms of transport.[38]

Series creator Charlie Brooker has commented on numerous occasions about links between the episode and the Social Credit System. He joked in an interview, "I promise you we didn't sell the idea to the Chinese government!" About seeing the concept of the episode come to life in the real world, Brooker said, "It was quite trippy".[39] He comments that a key difference between China's rating system and the one in "Nosedive" is "that there's a central government assessing things. Being state-controlled, it feels even more sinister", and also points out that the Social Credit System "sounds like an attempt to make the population behave in a particular way".[40]

ReceptionEdit

"Nosedive" was mostly well-received by critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the episode has a score of 94% based on 16 reviews, with an average score of 6.67.[41] The episode garnered four-star ratings in The Independent and The Guardian,[42][6] along with an A− rating in The A.V. Club.[43] In The Mancunion, the episode received 3.5 stars;[44] it was rated three stars by The Telegraph and the Irish Independent.[7][45] Emefa Setranah of The Mancunion writes that the episode lives up to the show's reputation,[44] and The Guardian's Benjamin Lee says the episode feels fresh despite covering technology similarly to prior episodes.[6] Charles Bramesco writes in Vulture that it expresses the show's "guiding theme" with "lucid clarity".[46] TheWrap authors praise how the episode tackles society's social media obsession,[47] and Mat Elfring of GameSpot opines that its thought-provoking nature makes it a good choice for the season premiere.[48] Matt Fowler writes for IGN that the episode is "both fun and frustrating" which contrasts with the "grounded and grim" episodes to follow.[49] Esquire's Corey Atad opines that it is "a tad too simplistic" though "totally engaging".[50] Pat Stacey criticises the episode in the Irish Independent that it "sets up the premise crisply, then spends far too much time labouring the point."[45]

A major criticism among reviewers was the episode's predictability and repetitiveness,[44][51] while reception to the ending was mixed. Aubrey Page on Collider calls the episode "woefully surface-level and a bit off-brand" because of its predictability,[52] with Variety's Andrew Wallenstein agreeing and further saying that the episode lacks a disturbing tone, though this makes it more accessible.[53] Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club believes that the first half of "Nosedive" is too predictable but the second half "[adds] depth and sincerity".[43] Tasha Robinson writes for The Verge that the episode "can be strident and obvious" but "understands human nature very well".[26] Some reviewers believed the episode was too long and the ending was too positive.[25][43][54] However, Digital Spy's Alex Mullane praised the ending, because though it is "bleak in some ways" it is also "a moment of sheer, fist-pumping joy";[55] Jacob Hall agrees on /Film, calling the ending "simultaneously cathartic and on-the-nose".[56]

However, critics had a mostly positive response to the script as a whole, with some noting comedic undertones.[57] Robinson describes the episode as an "exaggerated morality play about the dangers of conformity and the small pleasures of individuality".[26] The script has been called "bitingly hilarious",[2] "funny", "uplifting",[55] "moving" and "supremely unsettling".[46] Lee approves of the script avoiding exposition.[6] On the other hand, The Telegraph's Mark Monahan criticises that the plot and characters do not live up to their potential.[7] Page feels the episode "lacks the sadistic snap of Brooker's usual work".[52]

 
Max Richter's soundtrack for the episode was praised by reviewers.

The episode's visual style and Joe Wright's directing were highly commended;[42] the setting for the episode garnered positive reception.[2][6][7] Christian Bone of WhatCulture praises the "distinctive pastel-coloured visual palette"[58] and Hall compliments "stellar production values",[56] while Forbes' Paul Tassi calls it the "most visually-stunning" of the series.[54] Sophie Gilbert of The Atlantic praises the juxtaposition of calm visuals with narrative tension.[25] Robinson notes that the aesthetics mark a difference between the characters with high and low ratings.[26] Adam Chitwood comments for Collider that the visual style "keeps everything focused on the characters", which is different to Joe Wright's typical style.[2] Setranah notes that Netflix's large budget is apparent in the visuals of the episode,[44] and The Independent writers suggest it is detailed enough to be revisited.[59]

Many critics praised Howard's performance,[43][44][58] with Atad calling it "delightfully unhinged".[50] Additionally, Gilbert writes that Howard "conveys Lacie's inner frustration while grinning cheerfully through it".[25] Howard's acting ensures viewers are on Lacie's side, according to Mullane, who also compliments Eve's acting as "excellent".[55]

Max Richter's musical composition for the episode was well-received. The Independent writers compliment Richter for "blending the diegetic sounds of the app with the non-diegetic score evoking our protagonist's struggle to determine reality and fiction",[42] an element which Robinson also praises.[26] Fowler calls the score "very compelling"[49] and Monahan describes it as "elegantly elegiac".[7]

"Nosedive" was parodied in the 2017 Saturday Night Live sketch "Five Stars". It features Aziz Ansari and Bobby Moynihan desperately trying to impress each other on an Uber ride in order to boost each other's ratings. The sketch explicitly mentions Black Mirror, with both characters saying that "San Junipero" is their favourite episode.[60][61]

Episode rankingEdit

"Nosedive" appears on many critics' rankings of the 19 episodes in Black Mirror, from best to worst.

Instead of by quality, Proma Khosla of Mashable ranked each episode by tone, concluding that "Nosedive" is the 15th most pessimistic of the 19 episodes.[66]

Other critics ranked the 13 episodes in Black Mirror's first three series.

Some critics ranked the six episodes from series three of Black Mirror in order of quality.

  • 2nd – Jacob Stolworthy and Christopher Hooton, The Independent[59]
  • 3rd – Paul Tassi, Forbes[54]
  • 3rd – Liam Hoofe, Flickering Myth[69]

AwardsEdit

"Nosedive" was nominated for several awards in 2017; the third season of Black Mirror also received several other nominations and awards.

Award Category Recipients Result Reference
BAFTA Television Craft Awards Best Photography and Lighting – Fiction Seamus McGarvey Nominated [70]
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries Bryce Dallas Howard Nominated [71]
Art Directors Guild Awards Excellence in Production Design for a Television Movie or Limited Series Joel Collins, James Foster and Nicholas Palmer
(Also nominated for "Playtest" and "San Junipero")
Nominated [72]
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture – Television Rashida Jones and Michael Schur Nominated [73]
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie Seamus McGarvey Nominated [74]

MerchandiseEdit

Asmodee will publish "Nosedive: A Social Game", a licensed card game based on the episode, in November 2018. The game challenges players to collect enough Lifestyle Cards to create a perfect life, whilst maintaining their Social Score. The game includes a mobile device app that provides numerous scenarios that other players use to impact each other's Social Score.[75][76]

NotesEdit

  1. ^ The article shared was the following: Denyer, Simon (22 October 2016). "China's plan to organize its society relies on 'big data' to rate everyone". The Washington Post.

ReferencesEdit

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  3. ^ Mellor, Louisa (19 October 2016). "Black Mirror series 3 interview: Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones". Den of Geek!. Dennis Publishing. Retrieved 31 August 2017.
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