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Recap / Black Mirror: Metalhead

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Series Four
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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..."
Bella
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In a post-apocalyptic Deliberately Monochrome world devoid of life, a woman is pursued by a robotic guard dog 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?
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  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • Boom, Headshot!: The primary method the Dogs use to dispatch people is to blow their heads off.
  • 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.
  • 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 been implanted with trackers that are attracting more (and can't be removed without extreme injury) so she kills herself afterward and her allies Tony and Clarke are dead. The ending montage implies that the Dogs have already overrun the rest of the world.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • Final Solution: As an alternative theory to Gone Horribly Wrong is that the dogs' mission is to completely depopulate an enemy country. One could easily see it as the sequel to Men Against Fire.
  • 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: \WHY.did.you.bother
  • Genius Bonus: The Dogs are based on real-life robots being developed by Boston Dynamics, one of their most recognizable being called the "BigDog".
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: While the episode itself gives no backstory on the "Dogs", one can easily imagine from The Reveal that they're nothing but robotic security whose programming got messed up somehow (like many contemporary drones tend to do at one point or another), or were given guidelines too draconian by Too Dumb to Live human masters.
  • Homage: To zombie, slasher, and vintage horror films. Near-future technology, the metalhead, stands in for the monsters typical to said genres.
  • Hope Spot: Two in quick succession:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • A much more exotic version happens when Clarke is killed by the dog in a hacked self-driving van, and then it hacks into the car and starts chasing her.
  • Mysterious Past: We never actually find out anything about the "Dogs" besides them being highly effective at hunting humans down.
  • 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 the dog is in the house.
  • 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.
  • 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 the Shaggy Dog: All the characters die without getting what they set out for—which turns out to be a simple 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.
  • 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: True to the genre the episode pays homage to, the protagonists tend to make spectacularly dumb decisions on a regular basis. To name but the two worst examples: 1) Bella knows the Dog can track radio transmissions, yet instead of keeping it short and precise, she goes on a veritable speech like she just won the Oscar. 2) The very reason the trio even went to the warehouse in the first place - to get a teddy bear for some kid that won't live to see the next week anyway. Doesn't get much dumber than that in a world overrun by murderous robo-dogs you can't defend against.
    • This is possibly the case in-universe as well, given that 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.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Tony and Clarke are killed without much development.

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