“Hated In The Nation” is the sixth and final episode of the third season of Black Mirror. It begins as a police procedural to uncover the root of a string of bizarre deaths happening in a futuristic UK. Due to a decline in the population of bees and the damage to the ecosystem, a tech startup has created self-replicating robotic bees that do the same job.

However, when the bees start showing up at the crime scenes of highly disliked personalities, the seasoned detective (Kelly Macdonald) and her recent partner (Faye Marsay) soon discover that they’re related to a hashtag on Twitter, and kill whoever is the most disliked person at the moment.

Many publications, like The Verge or The Atlantic, see this as a cautionary tale concerning the perils of online bullying and the consequences of outrage in the new age. However, I don’t see it quite that way.

Obviously, those themes are at the center of the episode, but even the characters in it offer pushback against those being a valid reason to murder thousands of people. The episode is a much harsher critic of the government who doesn’t see eroding civil liberties as too high a price to pay for increased security. Jonas Karlsson’s character Rasmus, who runs the bee program, comments:

One of the government’s conditions for backing the project…we had to consent to permitting government security services access to the visual feed at times of quote “increased national security”. Which is, as I understand it, pretty much all the time.

I think that the Verge and Atlantic articles mistake what characters are saying for what the show itself is saying. For example, they skip right over the fact that one of the chief lessons you can take from the episode is “When your enemy is unclear, you will hurt innocent people.”

The mastermind of The Great Bee Takeover was simply issuing an indictment to…what? To broader culture? To cyber-bullying? To online outrage? Because his enemy was unclear, even though he saw himself as a purveyor of justice, he became just some guy that slaughtered thousands of innocent people. His actions were not localized or targeted. They were random, and (most importantly), they likely didn’t change anything.

This speaks to the broader critiques that we hold in our minds about the culture in which we live, from “political correctness” to “body shaming” to “Trump supporters.” How localized are those critiques? How specific are those grievances? Are we guilty of a vengeance culture in which we don’t have to actively participate, but wouldn’t grieve, even respectfully, if one of our opponents was brutally murdered?

It’s also worth noting that the people that were playing the game weren’t aware that it would lead to deaths. It took a detective to connect those dots. What’s more important is the question of how we react when we are told the consequences of our actions, like the conversation between the detectives and the teacher. Do we do a defensive crouch, insisting that it was just a game or just a hashtag? Do we blindly re-assert our own goodness? Or do we ask harder questions and reconsider our actions?

“Hated In The Nation” calls to mind questions of larger society, how we comport ourselves, and the parsing of personhood between reality and social media. Many internet outlets felt like the episode was blaming us, but it seems to simply be asking us to the think about the question. And if we’re unable to see the difference, we’re proving that it has a point, and one that it’s made very well.

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Photographer: Glasseyes View