Some Black Mirror episodes are filled to the brim with new ideas and crazy sci-fi concepts. “Men Against Fire,” by contrast, is more like a classic episode of The Twilight Zone in that it has one central idea — but a very thought-provoking one at that. Let’s dive in.
The episode opens with a dreamlike vision of a beautiful woman. We quickly learn that vision belongs to Stripe (Malachi Kirby), a new recruit in a gender-integrated military force of the future. After some teasing from his comrade Raiman (Madeline Brewer), Stripe and his squad are sent on a mission to check out an infestation of “roaches” in a nearby village. Shrouded in mystery for now, the “roaches” are apparently some kind of contaminant — vermin with infected blood who prey on innocent people. The grayish landscape and Eastern European-inflected accents of the villagers certainly evoke vampire myths.
After using a translator device to speak to the villagers, Stripe’s commander learns that the roaches escaped in the direction of Heidekker (Francis Magee), a solitary religious freak who may have mental health issues. Suspecting a sympathizer, the soldiers head out for Heidekker’s compound. Here, we get our first view of the military’s sci-fi technology. They plan their raid using holographic maps and data displays, which each soldier has access to thanks to implants in their brains.
Heidekker’s compound is large, but when he answers the door it seems like he might be the only one there. Although reluctant at first, this loner lets the soldiers into his house, and they quickly go about searching while their commander interrogates Heidekker. She sees the religious symbols decorating the walls and figures Heidekker must be looking out for the roaches out of some Christian-like view that all people are worth saving. She attempts to disabuse him of this notion by discussing the supposed sickness in the roaches’ blood, which doesn’t care about ideals of common humanity. In her words, the roaches need to be exterminated if humanity is going to survive.
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Stripe is put to the test about that upstairs, when he finds a cluster of roaches hiding behind a blanket. They are definitely grotesque – between their sharp teeth and discolored eyes, they certainly look like the kind of vampires that show up in I Am Legend or 30 Days of Night. One of them holds up a mysterious device with a green light. The other roaches scatter, but not before Stripe shoots some and falls to the ground tussling with another. Drawing his knife, Stripe repeatedly stabs the roach even after he appears dead – but the sounds produced sound fake. They resemble dull pokes in cardboard rather than bloody, messy squelches. Afterward, Stripe examines the mysterious green light device.
A few roaches escape, but Heidekker is captured after an ill-fated attempt at stabbing the commander. They bring him, hooded and restrained, back with them after torching his compound – including that green light device, which is destroyed.
Back at the compound, Raiman is practicing her sharpshooting against roach targets, so that none get away the next time. Stripe killed two roaches, and Raiman’s jealous; she claims killing even one would have violently turned her on. Stripe tries to join in on the exercise, but a sudden glitch in his implant staggers him and he misses his target. The glitch continues later during push-up exercises, so he goes in for review.
NEXT: The nature of the glitch