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BLACK MIRROR’s “Crocodile” Proves There’s No Statute of Limitations on Sin

BLACK MIRROR’s “Crocodile” Proves There’s No Statute of Limitations on Sin

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? And what would you do to keep it hidden?

“Crocodile” is a long slog into a tell-tale heart of darkness. In her youthful fervor, Mia Nolan (Andrea Riseborough) abetted her boyfriend (Andrew Gower) in hiding the body of a cyclist he hit with his car while driving under a lot of influences. They never paid a price, but the universe has decided, 15 years later, to collect.

What’s most intriguing about this episode of Black Mirror is that the plot is completely laid out for us by the time Mia kills her old flame and orders a hotel porno to create a flimsy alibi. We know the insurance adjuster Shazi (played by Kiran Sonia Sawar) will eventually work her way to Mia. We know Mia’s memory will be on full display. What we don’t know is how she’ll respond, and that makes the journey like trudging in the muck toward a loaded gun. Director John Hillcoat, with the Western sensibilities of The Road and The Proposition, was the perfect choice to see this downward spiral through.

Instead of admitting her crimes and sleeping the sleep of the guilty, Mia chooses to go Walter White-ing all over the place. It’s a good thing she has so many isolated places to hide bodies.

To think about what Mia ultimately does is astonishing. In order to protect her new life with its successful trappings and happy family, she destroys another family down to the roots. Through despicable actions, we learn that Mia will sink to any depth to avoid the universe’s bill. We also learn that there’s no statute of limitations on sin, which is a timely lesson when “That all happened decades ago” has become a common excuse to dismiss wrongdoings just now seeing the light of day.

For Mia (and maybe real-world sinners), it’s a rationale worth believing, whether out of self-preservation or simply because she views herself as an innocent. After all, she was complicit, but she wasn’t behind the wheel when the car hit the cyclist. She didn’t make the call to hide the body. She bowed to her boyfriend’s pressure and even tried to stop him.

Yet the act revealed her true icy nature. While her boyfriend’s life has been derailed by addiction, Mia successfully partitioned the crime, or utilized the living fear of it, to rise to power and fame within her career as an architect. The Mia of the past had nothing to lose, but the Mia of the present has everything at stake.

The first half of the story is capped by the stunning sequence of Mia in her car, talking to her son with her ex-boyfriend’s body in full view. The body is the past, her child is the future, and Mia is now in the driver’s seat.

The easy read of “Crocodile” is that Mia is wrong for wanting the past to stay buried. But is it really that simple? Like the best Black Mirror episodes, this story asks what we’d do if we were in her position, first on that lonely, snow-covered road with a dead cyclist at our feet and, later, facing the prospect of the truth coming out. How beholden are we to the actions of our past selves? Are we solely defined by our worst act? Can there be rehabilitation without punishment? Is there something you did years ago that you never apologized for? Never paid for?

The answers are clear for Mia, who seems to have disconnected herself from her own past, viewing that party girl entity as a separate person entirely. Because of a random pizza delivery truck accident, her memory has a chance to betray her.

That’s a common theme in this series where so much of the sci-fi tech allows us to see into other people’s experiences to judge them accordingly. Weaponized empathy. The little box and mental nodes in “Crocodile” offer the insurance industry a chance to create a crowdsourced picture of reality, but everyone feels uneasy when they’re hooked up.

It’s an invasion of the privacy we can normally create a firewall around when we simply answer questions to offer our experience, which is why it’s the law compelling witnesses to use the memory machine that’s the real nasty bugger of the episode. In partnership with the tech, the law is the next best thing to a pre-crime unit, destroying our right to invoke the Fifth Amendment or even call for a lawyer. Who cares to have an attorney present if our minds are wide open to the interrogator? When there’s nothing to hide behind?

This is the corner Mia is backed into when she decides to tie up Shazi and beat her to death. When it turns out that covering up a crime with a crime doesn’t work so neatly. Mia has avoided the confessional—an image Shazi evokes—for so long that she lashes out in animal rage against it. If the Mia of the past is a different person, why are her memories inside the new Mia’s head?

Shazi’s tragic death comes at the end of a kind of anti-Ockham’s Razor (so, Ockham’s Beard). Instead of the simplest solution being the preferable one, it turns out the winding memory road of the orchestra member’s accident, the pretty girl he saw, and the peeping Tom dentist leads to a woman who killed someone wanting to reveal a crime from 15 years ago. And she just wanted to figure out how fast the pizza truck was going. Too bad she was trying to do it in the Black Mirror universe.

Her portion of the story was sweet but dull, and at first it felt like the episode was too long, but when Mia squirms as police fill the auditorium where her son is singing with his class, it dawned on me that the boring inevitability of Shazi’s path lulls you into an everyday security. Her steady hard work offers a parallel that makes you wonder what other shortcuts Mia took in her rise and makes the destructive tragedy more complete. Surprisingly, the episode doesn’t gawk at or relish in Mia’s downfall as other Black Mirror stories like “Shut Up and Dance” have in the past. It shows it to us plainly. Sleek and skeletal. With the added jab of the guinea pig ratting Mia out. It’s the kind of punchline writer Charlie Brooker can’t resist.

Black Mirror Joy-Binge Discussion Questions:

  1. If smell evokes memory, what memory is Shazi trying to relive by constantly popping those peppermints?
  2. How efficient do those memory boxes make the insurance industry? The police?
  3. Why are there so many places to hide bodies in Scotland?

Images: Netflix

Read more of our recaps for Black Mirror season four!

Images: Netflix

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