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Recap / Black Mirror: Metalhead

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"I can't talk for long. We found a dog at the warehouse. We didn't see it. We don't know how long it had been in there..."

In a post-apocalyptic Deliberately Monochrome world devoid of life, a woman is pursued by a robotic dog drone hellbent on killing her.

Starring Maxine Peake.

Trailer here.

Tropes related to Metalhead:

  • Action Survivor: Bella has survival skills but knows she can't outfight the Dog, so the episode is about her going on the run trying to evade it.
  • After the End: The setting is clearly post-apocalyptic. Items like medicine, batteries, and teddy bears have to be scavenged rather than purchased.
  • Ambiguous Situation: The plot is so minimal this is inevitable. Are the Dogs an example of A.I. Is a Crapshoot, killing off all life against the wishes of their designers? Or are they particularly horrifying weapons introduced into a war zone and doing exactly what their creators intended? Is the whole world being wiped out by them, or is the catastrophe confined to Britain?
  • Arm Cannon: The Dogs have what appears to be a miniaturised shotgun mounted inside their right forelimbs. While it seems to lack penetrative power (breaking a car window but leaving the person behind it relatively unscathed), it is more than sufficient to incapacitate and execute humans that get into range.
  • Artificial Brilliance: In-universe. The Dog exhibits an impressive degree of ingenuity in how it pursues its targets.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...
    Tony: Are you sure it's going to be in there?
    Bella: Of course I'm not sure.
  • Automated Automobiles: Unfortunately this means to hotwire a car you need to hack into its computer, and worse — the Dog can do the same to use a car to chase after you, despite not having any arms to turn the steering wheel.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: This is implied to be the case. Bella kills herself with a knife before the Dogs find her. The dead couple she pilfered her shotgun from obviously did the same thing a while back.
  • Black Dude Dies First: True to the genres this episode borrows from, a black man named Tony is the first to die.
  • Book Ends: The Dog launches a tracker grenade two times in the episode. Once when it first activates, and once more before it shuts down for good.
  • Boom, Headshot!: The primary method the Dogs use to dispatch people is to blow their heads off.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": The robotic "Dogs" are killing machines that are nothing like actual dogs aside from being quadrupedal. Justified, since the name is a reference to Boston Dynamics' BigDog project.
  • Call-Back: Bella ends up dying because a car wouldn't start: the same thing happened to Shazia in Crocodile two episodes earlier.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Bella gets teased about her sweets barely a minute into the episode. She later uses her supply to bait the Dog into wasting its power reserves by throwing them at it every time it tries to engage its power saving mode.
  • Combat Pragmatist: If the performance of the one featured in this episode is any indication, the Dogs are this.
    • The first thing it does, before even standing up, is launch and detonate a tracker grenade a few inches away from its discoverer's face. This serves the dual purpose of putting its target into a state of pain, and ensuring that even if it can't achieve a kill, it will be able to keep track of their location.
    • When Bella and Clarke try to drive away in separate vehicles, it boards and takes control of the rear vehicle, allowing it the opportunity to take out the only person without an implanted tracker. It then uses the van itself to keep up with Bella, and attempts to run her off the road.
    • When the car crash leaves its gun arm trapped (and possibly damaged), it simply detaches it and proceeds without it.
    • Bella climbs up a tree, where the Dog can't follow owing to its now-missing forelimb, but this also leaves her trapped. It folds up and goes into a power-saving mode, reactivating only when it detects surface vibrations, opting to wait for her to fall out of the tree.
    • It takes the opportunity to replace its gun arm with a kitchen knife when it tracks Bella to the house.
    • Its last act is to once again detonate a tracker grenade in its target's face, ensuring that she won't be able to escape when more Dogs arrive.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • When searching through the house she breaks into, a postcard from San Junipero is seen on the kitchen table.
    • As Bella is searching for car keys in a drawer, a takeaway menu for Barnies BBQ (the restaurant Kenny works for in Shut Up and Dance) is briefly seen.
    • In White Bear, a teddy bear owned by a child, which the audience doesn't learn about until the end, also features in the events leading up to the episode.
  • Contrived Coincidence: It requires a special brand of misfortune to loot a warehouse and have the one Killer Robot on site lurk behind the very box you're after.
  • Cranial Processing Unit: While it's Downplayed by the Dog not having a distinct "head", Bella still takes it out with two shots to the front end of the machine.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The entire episode is in black and white. According to Charlie Brooker, partially as an homage to old horror movies like Night of the Living Dead (1968).
  • Downer Ending: Bella successfully destroys the Dog, but has again been implanted with multiple trackers this time that are attracting more (and can't be extracted without extreme injury) so she kills herself afterward. Her allies Tony and Clarke are dead and the failure of anyone to answer her last transmission suggests that whatever hideout she came from has been wiped out too. The ending montage implies that the Dogs have already overrun the rest of the country, and maybe the entire world. Even worse is that all three of them died trying to get a teddy bear. For a child who's already ill and dying.
  • Drama-Preserving Handicap: The Dog's gun-arm would make it all but impossible for Bella to escape it. Fortunately, it is forced to abandon it after the car crash leaves it trapped in the wreck.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Bella finds the decayed corpses of a couple who committed suicide using a shotgun. She overcomes her revulsion to recover the shotgun, having found a couple of shells.
    • Bella kills herself after the Dog implants trackers on her, with the camera panning out just before she does the deed.
  • The Dreaded: The Dogs are highly efficient predators who have the few scavengers still out there walking on eggshells trying not to encounter one. Even the main heroine, who just killed a Dog, kills herself to avoid facing more Dogs at the end when she's sprayed with trackers.
  • Elite Mook: The Dog is a nearly unstoppable killing machine, and as shown at the end, he's just one of many.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: The dumped box of teddy bears is a twisted use of this trope. All the deaths happened because Bella wanted to replace a child's toy.
  • Foreshadowing: Bella finds a house with a couple who killed themselves with a shotgun before the Dogs could get to them. After Bella's own fight with a Dog with said shotgun, she realizes she can't remove the trackers the dying Dog sprayed her with. To avoid having to fight Dogs who know her location at all times, she kills herself by slitting her throat in that same house.
  • Fragile Speedster: Mixed with Glass Cannon. The Dogs are fast enough to keep up with (and jump in to) a moving van, and have a primary weapon capable of killing an unarmoured human in one or two shots, but two shotgun blasts are all it takes to render one non-functional.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: The diagnosis messages in the van monitor include references to other episodesnote . The screen also says this:
    LOADED: \
  • Genius Bonus: The Dogs are based on real-life robots being developed by Boston Dynamics, one of their most recognizable being called the "BigDog".
  • Go for the Eye: Bella throws a tin of paint on the Dog, blinding its radar. While it can still track her via sound, she's able to ambush it by luring it into a car with the radio playing.
  • Homage: To zombie, slasher, and vintage horror films. Near-future technology, the Dog, stands in for the monsters typical to said genres.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Bella is able to drain the Dog's power while it has her trapped up a tree overnight, but once the sun comes up it's able to recharge using solar power.
    • Bella manages to blind the Dog and bait it into attacking a wall, escaping the house while it's occupied. She gets to the car and tries to start it, only for it to have no fuel.
    • Shortly after, she uses a shotgun to permanently disable the Dog. However, before it shuts down, it primes and detonates a tracker grenade, catching her in the blast.
  • Justified Title: The title and black-and-white art style might lead some to think that the episode is about the Heavy Metal subculture. There's nothing related to heavy metal in the episode; the title refers to the Killer Robot that pursues the protagonist.
  • Killer Robot: The Dogs are basically weaponized and miniaturized versions of Boston Dynamic's Big Dog robot, possibly implying that militarization of the model got out of hand.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: The Dog detaches its arm cannon to free itself from the wreck of the car. It later attaches a kitchen knife to the same limb.
  • Logical Weakness:
    • As fearsome as the Dogs are, putting paint over their optic shields can blind them and throw off their scanning. They're still dangerous even if they're blind, but can only use sound as a judge to find what to attack next.
    • They also run on internal batteries, like any autonomous robot these days. Bait them into interrupting their power saving mode again and again and they eventually run out of juice.
  • Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair: Bella is momentarily awed seeing the luxurious dining room of the house she takes shelter in.
  • Minimalism: There are only a few vague hints to the episode's context, and the episode focuses mostly on a single concept: A woman attempting to evade a robotic dog that's out to kill her.
  • Minimalist Cast: Only three characters appear on screen and two of them are killed in the first few minutes, leaving Bella as the Final Girl and only living thing on screen for most of the running time.
  • My Car Hates Me:
    • True to its roots in classic horror, this happens as Bella is trying to escape the Dog. Justified since the car appears to have been sitting unattended for several years.
    • An updated version happens with Clarke trying and failing to hack into the van's computer so he can start it. He succeeds just in time, but the Dog just runs after him, smashes through the window into the back and kills him. It then hacks into the car with ease and starts chasing Bella.
  • Mysterious Past: We never actually find out anything about the "Dogs" besides them being highly effective at hunting humans down.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Bella's attempt to scavenge a teddy bear for a dying child gets her two friends, and ultimately herself, killed.
  • Noisy Robots: Mostly averted. The Dogs tend to move noiselessly except for the sound of their footsteps. However, a whirr when the Dog picks a kitchen knife lets Bella know it is in the house.
  • Patience Plot: When Bella climbs a tree and the Dog can't follow her, the Dog enters its power-saving mode. Bella repeatedly counts down from one thousand then throws sweets on it to briefly reactivate it, slowly wasting its energy. She only comes down from the tree after the Dog no longer responds, which takes multiple tries. It's also a Patience Plot from the Dog's perspective: since it can't follow Bella up the tree, it decides to stop and wait for her to come down, saving its power in the process.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: The Dogs are, as their name somewhat suggests, roughly the same height and width as a moderately-sized canine. They are also efficient killing machines.
  • Plug 'n' Play Technology: The Dog has a miniature probe that allows it to interface with and control any electronic device it encounters, such as cars, security gates, and smart locks.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: At one point, Bella comes across a house that appears to have been unattended for several years (based on the state of the corpses in the bedroom). Nevertheless, the interior is near pristine, the water still flows, and electric devices all work flawlessly. The last could be explained if the house has solar panels, though.
  • Recursive Ammo: The Dogs shoot shrapnel bombs, not to kill their prey, but rather to tag them with hard-to-remove tracking devices, the better to hunt them down with.
  • Robo Cam: Several shots are from the Dog's POV, who sees the world through LiDAR scanning.
  • Robot Dog: The robots are referred to as "Dogs" in reference to Boston Dynamics projects such as the "BigDog", but like those projects, they only resemble real dogs in that they're quadrupedal.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: The whole conversation about the "indignity" of being a pig and walking on all fours may seem like this on first view, but is actually thematically relevant in a way, since the episode features killer robots that are patterned after an animal form, instead of the usual anthropoid killer robot.
  • Self-Surgery: After the Dog hit Bella in the leg with a tracker, she's forced to remove it with a knife and pliers lest the things finds her even more easily. When she gets hit again by half a dozen of them near the end of the episode, she realizes that one now sticks near her carotid artery, making it impossible to remove and thus sealing her fate.
  • Shoot Everything That Moves: Apparently the Dogs have no target discrimination between humans and animals — at the start of the episode the characters pass a pig farm and discuss how the Dogs would have killed them off as well. Again we've no indication as to whether this is down to poor programming or a deliberate intent to kill livestock to starve out anyone who manages to avoid the Dogs.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: All the characters die without getting what they set out for — which turns out to be a teddy bear.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • The “Dog” in the episode is obviously named and based on Boston Dynamics’ BigDog. The body itself, however, is closely modeled on the—at the time of the episode's making—newest version of their robot, SpotMini, even down to the gait and having the camera in the right place.
    • The "Dogs" are also influenced by reports of experimental military drones being fitted with AI capacity so that they will no longer need human controllers.
    • The Robo Cam scenes are an accurate representation of what a Lidar sees. Once revealed, the device itself is also realistic.
  • Slashed Throat: How Bella kills herself.
  • So Much for Stealth
    • Bella is able to lead the Dog off by placing the tracker inside a bottle and throwing it into the river, but gives her position away with her radio transmission.
    • The Dog takes a kitchen knife and tests the attachment by spinning it, letting Bella know a Dog is inside the house with her.
    • Bella is able to blind the Dog, but pressing the start button on the car turns on the car radio as well, drawing the Dog to her location. Fortunately she uses this to sneak up on the Dog while it's busy stabbing the speaker system.
  • Stern Chase: The plot of the episode is the Dog chasing Bella across an isolated countryside.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: The Dog is able to track Bella across a great deal of difficult terrain, never gives up, never rests (except to recharge its battery), and even upon "death," it shoots a good half-dozen tracking devices into her, so other Dogs will pick up the chase. Takes this trope to the extreme by heavily implying the robots have become the “apex predator” of the entire ecosystem and wiped out all life.
  • Tempting Fate: Subverted. Bella triumphantly taunts and mocks the Dog for its futile attempts to climb the tree with a broken leg, but rather than shock her with a display of acrobatic celerity the audience might expect such a challenge to be answered by, it quickly accepts reality and decides to play the waiting game instead.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The protagonists make some ill thought out decisions during the episode.
    • Bella knows the Dogs can track radio transmissions but goes on a long diatribe instead of being short and precise, allowing it to triangulate her location.
    • The reason the trio went to the warehouse in the first place is to get a teddy bear for a terminally ill child close to death; while it is understandably kind and heartwarming to want to give a dying child some comfort in an apocalyptic setting it is an unnecessary risk which proves to be disastrously fatal.
      • Lampshaded when Bella mentions the three of them were considered “mad for trying.”
  • Trail of Blood: A couple times the Dog is able to track Bella by the blood from her leg wound.
  • Uncanny Valley: Just like the robots they're based on, the movements of the Dogs fall somewhere between that of a robot and a living animal, resulting in something that tends to look just plain wrong, making them unsettling even without the idea of them chasing you to blow your brains out.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Tony and Clarke are killed without much development.