With “Metalhead,” Black Mirror officially dispenses with any notion that it’s solely concerned with dystopian half-stepping. Here are 41 terrifying, black-and-white minutes of Bella (Maxine Peake) being chased across a desolate outback landscape—somewhere in the U.K? New Zealand? Australia?—by a sleek, indefatigable robot dog without a face. This David Slade-directed episode makes for a fantastically tense watch.
It’s a doomed-mission misadventure. Bella, Clarke (Jake Davies), and Anthony (Clint Dyer) leave a survivor’s hideout we’re never shown, burgle a warehouse in search of unspecified supplies, and unwittingly awaken a chic, diabolical killing machine. One partner is dispatched in blunt, summary fashion; the other, in a significantly more elaborate and blood-chilling way. Then, of course, Bella drives—then runs—as fast as she possibly can, with death hot on her heels.
Neither you nor I really know anything about this apocalyptic future; all to the good, as some of Black Mirror’s comes from supposition. The lack of exposition forces our attention on the pursuit itself: the rushing overhead shots, the bare trees, the robot dog digitally scanning terrain for drops of heat signatures and wayward drops of freshly shed blood. In the interim, “Metalhead” becomes a stark metaphor for humanity innovating itself into obsolescence—because regardless of what calamity befell this world, there is no sane rationale for the existence of pre-programmed exterminators so efficient and adaptable that they make Terminator 2’s T-1000 look like a scrub.
There are arguably two endings here; the first finds our heroine surrendering to a cold, rational truth, while the more incredulous second reveals the purpose of the trio’s original quest. But what I’ll always remember comes earlier on, when Bella finds and breaks into a walled compound surrounding a home, makes her way into the master bedroom, and discovers a pair of dessicated corpses cradling the weapons they used to commit suicide.