Warning: This recap is chock-full of spoilers. If you don’t want to know what happens in the episode, “Men Against Fire,” or if you don’t even like hearing the word “roach,” then you’ll want to leave the page now!
“Men Against Fire” delves into the military Black Mirror style, and if that sounds like a combination of all kinds of frightening, you, dear reader, are right on the mark. The enemies in this world are “roaches” (with faces you really don’t want to see in a dark basement), and the soldiers are subordinate to electronic implants that can affect their performance, and even their dreams.
The episode opens with a beautiful young woman moving about in slow motion, then suddenly, we realize she was just a dream. A dream inside the mind of Stripe, played by Malachi Kirby (Doctor Who, Roots). Quickly we learn that Stripe is in the military, and right now his unit needs to go to a small village that’s been plundered by roaches. When his unit arrives at the village, we learn that the roaches did indeed plunder food, and are now probably hiding out at Parn Heidekker’s place—Heidekker is a hermit who lives by himself in a distant cottage.
Before raiding Heidekker’s house, Stripe’s C.O. lays out virtual plans for the troops using Mass—a type of augmented reality/communications device (implanted in each soldier) that lets soldiers see battle plans, etc. It’s like Rainbow Six but in the future. Stripe’s squad raids the house, and they find that it’s crawling with roaches. The roaches have faces like Voldemort or maybe like goblin-y owls. Stripe kills two of them himself—one with his gun, one with his knife—but not before the one he kills with a knife flashes him in the face with a laser, which is projected out of what looks like some kind of handheld detonator.
Stripe is celebrated for his kills by Raiman (Madeline Brewer), a fellow female soldier, but back at the base, things start to fall apart for him. His dreams glitch and turn nightmarish. He can’t shoot straight, he has trouble doing push ups, and he has this sporadic gnarly pitch in his ears that completely throws him off balance. His C.O. tells him to see the doctor, who refers him to Arquette, who’s played by Michael Kelly (Doug Stamper from House of Cards). Arquette, who seems to essentially be a psychiatrist, does his own mental evaluation of Stripe, and even though Stripe says “something is up with [his Mass implant],” Arquette deems him fit for service.
After Stripe has another very sexy yet glitchy and disturbing dream about his dream woman, we’re back in the village that was plundered by roaches. Stripe’s C.O. tells her crew that after what was presumably torture, Hiedekker has given up the location of more roaches—they’re in a housing project. Stripe’s squad heads to the housing project, and it’s there that all Hell breaks loose: Stripe’s C.O. is shot through the eye, and Stripe’s struck with strange headaches and the ability to smell the world around him (apparently he couldn’t do this before). He and Raiman take heavy fire from the roaches inside the housing project, and decide to charge the building. Once inside, Stripe encounters something very strange—it’s a regular innocent woman, but she’s scared out of her mind. Stripe tells her to get out of there, but before she can run, Raiman guns her down.
Stripe watches as Raiman attempts to gun down several more seemingly normal, innocent people. It freaks him out to the point where he tackles her, and knocks her out cold—but not before she shoots him through the torso. Stripe, and the two civilians he saved from Raiman’s spray of gunfire, run away. After Raiman awakes from being knocked out, she spots Stripe and the two civilians running, and it’s obvious that she’s going after them.
Stripe drives himself and the two civilians he’s saved—a woman and a little boy—back to a hideout in the woods. It’s there that Stripe passes out (presumably from blood loss), and when he awakes he’s being taken care of by the woman. He’s confused as to what’s going on, and the woman informs him that his Mass implant is what causes him to see normal people like herself with a Voldemort-ish scary owl face. She says that anybody with a Mass implant—anybody in the military—sees her people with those horrific faces. He says that the villagers see her people as her horrific too, even without the implants. She says that’s because they’ve been convinced that her people are disgusting “roaches.” The woman also informs Stripe that the laser shot into his eye by the other “roach” he killed has reprogrammed his Mass implant, and is allowing him to see her people as they really are: not roaches, just normal people. We also learn that the “roaches” are, in this world, considered to be sub-human because their genes carry diseases (like all the ones we carry).
Before we can learn anything more, Raiman, who’s tracked down Stripe and the civilians thanks to her mad deer hunter skills, enters the underground hideout and kills both the woman and the little boy. She then knocks Stripe out cold.
When Stripe wakes up, he’s back on base, inside of a mental asylum-type prison cell. Arquette comes to visit him, and apologizes for what he calls “a fault in [Stripe’s] Mass.” Arquette tries to convince a very distraught Stripe that killing the “roaches” (people!) is the right thing to do, but Stripe’s not having it. In order to calm an increasingly indignant Stripe, Arquette uses a Mass-controlling remote to turn off Stripe’s eyesight and then replay for him his two original roach kills. This time however, Stripe watches himself kill two innocent human beings. Arquette offers Stripe a choice: either go to prison with memories of killing innocent people, or have his mind wiped by Mass and pretend the whole thing never happened.
Then we’re at Stripe’s house, the house from his dreams. He steps out of a military SUV in his soldier’s garb and we immediately know that he chose option two. The beautiful girl from his dreams comes out of the house and greets him with a smile. Only, she’s not real. She’s simply a figment created in his head by the Mass implant…
What did you think of “Men Against Fire?” Are you thinking about “the enemy” in a whole new way? Let us know in the comments below!