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Recap / Black Mirror: Black Museum

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"How long can happiness realistically last anyhow?"
Rolo
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A British woman visits an American museum of criminal artifacts, where she hears an anthology of disturbing stories related to misused technology.

Starring Douglas Hodge, Letitia Wright, and Alexandra Roach. Trailer here.


Tropes related to Black Museum:

  • 90% of Your Brain: Brought up in the second segment to explain having two consciousnesses share a brain, although it's been updated by stating that no more than 40% of the brain is used at any given time.
  • Accent Relapse: Once Rolo starts suffering the effects of Nish's poison, she drops her faux-British accent and switches to her natural American one.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • The eventual fate of Carrie in the second segment. She gets her consciousness transferred to a stuffed monkey who's later abandoned by her child, able only to communicate through 'monkey needs a hug' and 'monkey loves you'. This gets doubly terrifying when it's revealed that not only is she still in the monkey in the museum, it's illegal to end her suffering by deleting her from it.
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    • The fates of Clayton Leigh and Rolo Haynes. Clayton Leigh's consciousness was downloaded by Rolo before he was killed by electric chair for the weather girl killing. He didn't expect that Rolo would have his recreated digital self re-living being executed by the chair over and over again for a tourist attraction. By the time Clayton's wife and daughter arrive to the museum, he's a vegetable from all the shocking. For revenge, his daughter poisons and downloads Rolo, placing Rolo's downloaded mind in Clayton Leigh's digital mind. She then turns the lever on the chair enough to make the image of her dad "die" for good, but Rolo's mind is trapped in pain forever.
  • Asshole Victim: Played straight with Rolo, who had enslaved and tortured people throughout his career and end up getting the same fate.
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  • Audience Surrogate: Nish is introduced to the horrors of the Black Museum along with the audience, and reacts as a regular person would to Rolo's stories — she expects a grim twist and becomes visibly more disgusted at him the more he shares. In a broader sense, Nish is us, the viewer, and Haynes the writer, and the flashbacks are all mishaps that occur to Black Mirror protagonists.
  • Author Avatar: Rolo is an especially self-mocking take on Charlie Brooker, representing all the harshest criticisms the series has gotten as his stories have simplistic Ludd Was Right morals and he doesn't show a shred of empathy for his characters. And then he ends up being the real villain.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Played surprisingly straight... at first. Jack and Carrie hook up at a party, she gets pregnant, and they end up very happy together, to all appearances. When she ends up in a coma, he remains devoted to her, and is willing to do anything to get her back. Unfortunately, their happiness doesn't last, and their situation makes breaking up... complicated.
  • Batman Gambit: Nish's plan relied on Rolo Haynes getting thirsty enough from the lack of air conditioning to drink from her bottle.
  • Brain Uploading: The theme of this episode, mainly the last two segments, is about digitizing peoples' consciousnesses.
  • Big Bad: Rolo Haynes is directly responsible for the pain and anguish the people in his stories go through.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Each segment is darker and more disturbing than the last: the first ends with a doctor becoming a masochistic murderer while the final two conclude with very messed-up cases of And I Must Scream.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Clayton, the protagonist of the third story, is seen on TV during the second story of Jack and Carrie.
  • Clones Are People, Too:
    • The uploaded consciousnesses, despite bearing a human's entire personality and memories, are treated as dispensable. Jack and Emily seemingly had no qualms about leaving Carrie's consciousness in a stuffed monkey forever while people flocked to electrocute Clayton's consciousness (and even got a perpetually tortured copy as a Creepy Souvenir). Nish pegs the latter as a power fantasy.
    • The UN seem to have taken steps towards thisnote , but Rolo still scoffs at "human rights for cookies."
  • Converse with the Unconscious: Jack keeps talking to Carrie while she is in a coma after her accident.
  • Creepy Souvenir: Literally. People who would pull the lever to electrocute the copy of Clayton Leigh's mind ended up being rewarded with another copy of his mind, this time eternally in pain while being electrocuted, bound to a keychain in which they can see his face agonizing. Nish gets a similar keychain by the end of the episode, but this time with Rolo's mind in it.
  • Continuity Cavalcade: According to director Colm McCarthy, there is a reference to every previous Black Mirror episode within "Black Museum":
    • The hanged body (or a recreation) of Princess Susannah's kidnapper from The National Anthem can be seen on display. A news ticker also reports that "Callow marries pig".
    • Jack is seen reading a 15 Million Merits graphic novel.
    • The abandoned gas station is named "BRB Connect." "BRB" colloquially stands for Be Right Back.
    • We see a couple of references to White Bear, including Victoria Skillane's mugshot displayed on a screen for a moment, and the lambda (λ) mask and shotgun carried by Baxter displayed on a mannequin.
    • A news ticker alludes to a "Waldo politician", from The Waldo Moment.
    • Cookies are referenced multiple times in the episode, having first been introduced in White Christmas. Digital consciousness transfer was what Rolo's company was working on that became the tech used by Peter Dawson.
    • Nish rents her car from Blitz (as seen from the keyring on her car keys, and its charger), the same company used by Lacie in Nosedive.
    • The TV screens on the wall display, among other things, security camera footage of the characters from Playtest. The head scanner and mushroom from the episode are also seen on display. A news ticker shows the headline: "Saito trail continues".
    • Nish mentions "uploading old people to the cloud" as seen in San Junipero. Dr. Peter Dawson also worked at St. Juniper's Hospital, an anglicized spelling of San Junipero. Rolo Haynes used to work for TCKR Systems, the same company behind the "passing over" technology seen in San Junipero. Rolo himself states his sensation-transferring device and the proto-Cookies were eventually developed into Brain Uploading we see in that episode.
    • The mice Rolo tested the pain transfer mechanism are named "Kenny" and "Hector", the two main protagonists of Shut Up and Dance.
    • A "roach" from Men Against Fire is in one display case.
    • An ADI wasp from Hated in the Nation is on display.
    • The DNA scanner from USS Callister with the same red lollipop is on display. Cartons of Raimans Chocolate Milk are seen in Jack's fridge, previously appearing in USS Callister and an original reference to Stripe's colleague Raiman in Men Against Fire.
    • The tablet Sara used to bludgeon her mother from ArkAngel is shown, still covered in blood. A news ticker reports that the ArkAngel system has been pulled.
    • The bathtub where Mia Nolan murdered Shazia Akhand's husband in Crocodile is seen in a display case.
    • A news report about Clayton's conviction has a news ticker about the unveiling of military robotic "dogs", referencing Metalhead.
  • Curse Cut Short: Rolo gets to yell "YOU CU—" at Nish before the audio cuts off.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Almost. Rolo Haynes has to physically prevent a white supremacist from pleasuring himself while watching Clayton Leigh screaming in the electric chair.
  • Deal with the Devil: All of the stories' misery comes from accepting offers from Rolo Haynes.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Nish explicitly points out that her mother tried to keep hope alive up until she saw Clayton's docile, slobbering consciousness in Rolo's exhibit.
  • Destroy the Evidence: It's alleged that the police mishandled DNA evidence in regard to Clayton Leigh.
  • Disposable Vagrant: Dawson picks a bum for his pleasure torture.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Black Museum, which contains artifacts from previous Black Mirror episodes. There's also the main attraction.
  • Driven to Suicide: Clayton Leigh's wife despairs when she sees what Haynes' exhibit has done to her husband and gulps down a bottle of pills and a bottle of vodka. Subverted, as her consciousness lives on in her daughter.
  • Empty Shell: Clayton Leigh ends up catatonic after being electrocuted thousands of times in Haynes' exhibit.
  • Exact Words: "My dad lives out here," Nish tells Rolo Haynes. Turns out, he lives exactly there.
  • Fake Brit: Invoked. Nish pretends to be British to make damn sure that Rolo doesn't know she's Clayton's daughter until she wants him to know, but it's hinted at by him initially mistaking her for Australian, suggesting her accent might not be that good (it in fact slips a couple of times), by her smirking when he suggests she has a Preppy Name but she doesn't, and by her having lots of electronics and a drink in her bag when he comments that it's hard to get them through airports.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Rolo Haynes puts on a well-intentioned, bumbling Nice Guy facade, but it's all an act to hide the callous, manipulative, sociopathic Jerkass he really is.
  • Fictional Counterpart: The fictitious US Department of Penal Justice replaces the real-life US Bureau of Prisons in the episode.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The twist that Nish and her mother are Sharing a Body is foreshadowed by the scene where she holds up her hand to the glass, as it is intercut with a flashback scene of her mother doing the same.
    • At the end of the first segment, we see Dawson with a Raging Stiffie. Nish reacts dismissively and Haynes admits, "okay, I added the boner. I couldn't resist." This is an early hint that he isn't being entirely truthful, and will add or leave out details to the stories he tells as he sees fit.
    • Carrie's ultimate fate is foreshadowed by the machine she uses to respond to Jack when she's still comatose. She's only able to reply to stimulation in the affirmative or negative, not unlike the monkey's simplistic two responses. Later in the episode, upon seeing her child for the first time in months after being brought back from being on pause, she cries out "Tell him I love him" then "tell him I need a hug." These phrases later become the only two things she's able to say.
    • The news story surrounding the murder of Denise Stockley appears in the background of the first two stories before coming to prominence in the third.
    • Nish's accent slips a little bit while conversing with Haynes, showing she's not also telling the complete truth.
  • Genre Savvy: Nish is very aware that the stories Rolo Haynes tell come with a big "but."
  • A Glass in the Hand: The doctor in the first segment stays home in an attempt of Going Cold Turkey from addiction to his patients' pain. There he accidentally breaks a whisky glass in his hand by which he discovers the excitement of self-inflicted pain which sends him right Off the Wagon.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong:
    • In the first segment, a doctor uses a technology that allows him to feel exactly what his patients are feeling, just so he could give a better diagnosis. But this allows him to experience actual death, which apparently impacts him so deeply that he ends up developing an addiction to pain, which first results in him neglecting his duty to save dying patients in order to get high, then mutilating himself when he is fired from the hospital, and finally resorting to murdering innocent people to satisfy his craving.
    • In the second segment, a mother in a coma has her mind uploaded into her boyfriend's brain, so she could feel exactly what he was feeling and be able to see and hug her son again. However, things start to go wrong when her boyfriend gets tired of losing his privacy due to sharing the same mind with her and constantly hearing her voice in his head, to say nothing of the awkwardness when he starts dating someone new. As he refuses to just delete her artificial mind, he ends up asking for methods to control her mind until she ends up in a stuffed monkey, able to feel everything around her, but unable to interact with it in a proper way.
  • Hero's Classic Car: Nish's teal 1961 Ford Thunderbird coupe rental, converted to electric power, with an upgraded sound system and a portable solar panel stowed in the trunk capable of fully charging the battery in just over 3 hours.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: A copy of Haynes' consciousness ends up in a hell, quite literally, of his own making.
  • Hologram Projection Imperfection: Clayton's projection in his cell is in black and white and flickers from time to time.
  • Hospital Gurney Scene: The trailer shows one, with a later scene showing doctors operating stylistically slowly. The episode reveals it to be a collapsed senator that Dawson had to work on.
  • Humans Are Bastards: As demonstrated by the fact that people have been flocking to pull the lever and see a man getting executed on the chair. And then take the Creepy Souvenir home.
  • Ironic Echo: "A pioneer." First said by Rolo about Clayton, as he'd be the first person to survive his execution by having his consciousness transferred to Rolo's device. Later, when Nish puts Rolo's consciousness in Clayton's digitized body, she congratulates him for being a pioneer of the process.
  • Immodest Orgasm: Using his implant, Dr. Dawson experiences the male and female orgasm simultaneously. It's... intense.
  • Karma Houdini: Jack transferred Carrie from his brain into a stuffed toy, and Emily convinced him to make the second transferal out of jealousy and then threatened Carrie into behaving like a normal toy; plus both of them allowed her to eventually be thrown away. They don't appear to receive any comeuppance for the treatment of Carrie's consciousness, even though Haynes was punished by being fired from the hospital after the ACLU "raised a stink". It's implied that it was legal then because the law hadn't caught up with the technology (which is sadly Truth in Television). The law now requires any interface to express at least five emotions for it to be humane.
  • Let the Past Burn: And of course, Nish destroys the Black Museum to hide what went through in there.
  • Look Both Ways: Carrie gets hit by a truck when trying to take a photo.
  • Loophole Abuse: Apparently, it's legal to euthanize a coma patient if you download her consciousness into someone else's mind. But, once it's in there, there are apparently no rules against deleting them. Though it apparently later becomes illegal to delete a human consciousness, which isn't always a big improvement.
  • Ludd Was Right: Deconstructed. On a surface level, technology does cause the problems in the stories Haynes tells (and this is the message he's invested in sending), but actually, the real cause of all the pain and suffering is the flaws and malice of human beings. It's made clear that the neural linking technology saved lives, it was Dawson's indulgence in his pain addiction that was the problem. Carrie was already in a coma when the technology came along, and the real problem was other people treating her like a burden. Clayton Leigh's implied false conviction is a plain, old miscarriage of justice (and possible racism). While the technology allowed him to be tortured indefinitely, the fact that he was killed in the first place was a very human set of failures.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Nish rigs the same AC system that she hacked to start a fire that burns down the entire museum. The fire also destroys all evidence of her actions.
  • Male Gaze: Carrie calls Jack out for eyeing up an attractive woman in the elevator.
  • Meaningful Name: Jack has to carry Carrie around in his head after her coma.
  • Menacing Museum: Takes place in the eponymous roadside tourist trap, a museum focused on examples of criminally-misused technology from across the series. At first, it seems to be just morbid and creepy, but as the owner explains the backstory of his collection, it turns out that some of the "exhibits" are alive and suffering hideous torment - and the owner is directly responsible for their current condition.
  • Mercy Kill: Invoked and even namedropped by Nish, calling it the "first double-decker mercy killing". She uploads Rolo's consciousness inside Clayton's virtual one before shocking it with enough simulated voltage to put her father's copy out of his misery forever.
  • Miscarriage of Justice: It is heavily implied that Clayton Leigh was innocent of the crime he was executed for.
  • Monochrome Apparition: Clayton's hologram being in black and white.
  • Mundane Luxury: The comatose woman in the second segment gets excited by the taste of an apple after years of not getting to taste anything at all.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: When Carrie expresses her horror at being put in the stuffed monkey by pressing the buttons for "Monkey loves you" and "Monkey needs a hug" over and over again as fast as she can, Emily takes her into another room and threatens to have her wiped if she doesn't behave and be a good toy for Parker.
  • Once for Yes, Twice for No: While in a coma, Carrie can only communicate by making a green button light up for "yes" and a red button light up for "no." Much later, when she's transferred from Jack's mind to the stuffed monkey, she can only communicate by pressing a smiley-face button to make the monkey say "Monkey loves you" and pressing a frowny-face button to make it say "Monkey needs a hug."
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: What Nish ends up doing to Rolo is plain old murder, followed by an eternity of torture in a digital version of suffering in Hell, but the guy really had it coming, so no tears are shed on either side of the screen.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Dr. Dawson quickly figures out he can use the sensation-sharing technology in the bedroom, by hooking his girlfriend up to it so he can experience her orgasm and his own at the same time.
  • Psychic Glimpse of Death: This is what fritzes Dawson's implant and makes him start feeling pain as pleasure.
  • Raging Stiffie: Rolo adds a stupidly large boner to the end of the story of Dawson.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Nish's dialog and behavior before entering the museum leaks a ton of foreshadowing once you know the plot.
    Nish: My dad lives out here, and my mom wanted me to surprise him.
  • Royalties Heir: Nish can afford a classic car and an implant of her mother's consciousness; apparently for her father's royalties from Haynes.
  • Self-Deprecation: Several critics noted that Rolo Haynes, the main villain, seems to be a satirical attack on Charlie Brooker himself, and the Black Museum is symbolic of the show itself. Rolo ends up trapped in a Fate Worse than Death, and the Black Museum is burned down.
  • Self-Parody: The episode is one of the show itself, having a title that very directly invokes that of the show and being an anthology episode within an anthology show. The different stories also frequently comment on and play around with the tropes commonly used by the show. There is also the matter of Rolo Haynes being a quite scratching Self-Deprecating Author Avatar for Charlie Brooker.
  • Sharing a Body: Two people can choose to share a body by having one person's consciousness downloaded into the body of another. The "digital" consciousness can see and feel everything the body's owner can, but can only react without exerting any control. It's compared to having a backseat driver.
  • Shout-Out: A minor one, when Rolo says Nish "asks more questions than the average bear".
  • Soapbox Sadie: Nish suspects that Rolo considered the people who protested against his treatment of Clayton to be "social justice warriors." They eventually got bored and moved on to another cause, having protested just long enough to get Rolo's business model ruined but not long enough to save the consciousness that he'd already been victimized from further torment.
  • The Sociopath: Rolo Haynes is a pretty clear example. He is both manipulative and callous, the direct cause of all the bad happenings in all three segments and shows absolutely no remorse for his part in any of it and no understanding or empathy for the pain of others involved. He even takes pleasure in watching Clayton be electrocuted by all the different visitors to the museum.
  • So Proud of You: As Nish finishes killing Rolo and drives away from the burning museum, she asks her mom if she did well. Cut to a copy of her mom's consciousness within her head:
    Nish's mom: (smiling) Just great, honey. I'm proud of you.
  • Stealth Pun: Of sexual nature when the dialog switches from the first story back into the museum.
    Dawson: I can't get enough of your...
    Nish: But?
  • Stock Desert Interstate: It opens with protagonist Nish driving her 1961 Ford Thunderbird coupe across a desolate highway, stopping at what looks to be the typical Gas Station of Doom. As this is 20 Minutes into the Future, the station is defunct, the car is electric and Nish only needs to leave it out in the sun for a while to charge on a solar panel. And the attendant who greets her, wearing a Waist Coat Of Style, is the proprietor of the titular museum, itself a shuttered tourist trap that he wouldn't mind showing her around while she waits on her car.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: The song playing in Nish's car at the beginning and end is "(There's) Always Something There To Remind Me".
    You'll always be a part of me
    Yes, there's always something there to remind me.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Nish poisons her water bottle for Rolo to drink.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Even though Carrie is still trapped in the monkey doll, her fate changes for the better after Nish learns of her backstory. She provides Carrie a front-row seat to witness Rolo's karmic execution and then decides to take her home after setting the museum on fire. Carrie responds with 'Monkey loves you' as a sign of gratitude.
  • Too Kinky to Torture: Dr. Dawson from the first segment experiences patients' death during the connection which makes him take sexual pleasure from pain. He then takes this to terrifying places, culminating in extreme self-harm and taking a drill to a homeless man's skull.
  • Torture Cellar: The room where a copy of Clayton is forced to relive his death in the electric chair for the entertainment of the museum guests.
  • Toy Transmutation: When Jack is tired of Carrie always sharing his mind, he transfers her consciousness into a stuffed monkey for their son that can only communicate by saying "Monkey loves you" and "Monkey needs a hug." It is made very clear that this is an And I Must Scream situation for her.
  • Transferable Memory: This was the goal of Rolo's rat experiment in the first story. They discovered transferable sensations instead.
  • Trophy Room: Rolo's museum pieces are artifacts back from his work at TCKR.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Rolo Haynes leaves key details out of Clayton Leigh's story, and flat out lies about others, to downplay his own culpability. Nish knows better.
  • Unwanted Assistance: Protesters flock Rolo's museum on Clayton's behalf, and drive Rolo's attendance into the ground. This WOULD be good for Clayton, if they hadn't moved on to something else upon realizing the state isn't going to be doing anything. This left only truly undesirable people with deep pockets left as the only people wanting to see Clayton get shocked. For longer than the "safe" time.
  • Vignette Episode: This episode uses the museum in order to tell three different stories based on the "artifacts" that are on display.
  • Wham Line: "Take a seat if it makes it easier," uttered by Nish when Rolo Haynes starts getting seriously ill. Underscored by the fact that her accent changes when she says it.
  • Window Love: Done by Clayton's wife to him in prison when he relays Rolo's plan to her, later repeated when she visits his consciousness at the museum.
  • You Killed My Father: Nish's motivation for killing Rolo is Rolo's treatment of her father's consciousness and the toll it took on her mother.

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