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Recap / Black Mirror: Playtest

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Cry out for your mommy.

Katie: It's important that you realize there is a small medical procedure involved.
Cooper: ...sorry, for a game?

A young American man running away from a troubled home life to go adventuring across the world signs up for a highly experimental, full-immersion survival horror game that adapts and personalizes a horror experience based on your brain activity. When the horrors get too personal for his tastes however, his mind is pushed to its breaking point.

Starring Wyatt Russell as Cooper and Hannah John-Kamen as Sonja.

Tropes related to Playtest

  • Actor Allusion: In Sonja's video game collection, the game Dark Souls II can be seen. The actress who plays Sonja, Hannah John-Kamen, was a voice actor for Dark Souls II.
  • An Aesop: Cooper repeatedly ignores his mother's calls. If Cooper ever answered his mother's calls they could have regular times to talk instead of her calling randomly at all hours. This Aesop is driven home with the final words: "Called 'Mom'".
  • Asshole Victim: A mild example. While Cooper is a fairly decent guy, he's arguably still an asshole for abandoning his mother without notice and ignoring her for weeks or months while he indulges in a globetrotting vacation.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The game company's name, Saito Geimu is Japanese (or rather, the Japanese pronunciation of English) for "Sight Game", hinting at the visual nature of their 'game'.
  • Brain/Computer Interface: How Cooper enters the game.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: At first the game figures out that Cooper's afraid of spiders. Then it figures out he's afraid of a childhood bully. Eventually, it conjures up a spider with the face of the childhood bully.
  • Break the Haughty: Crosses with Break the Cutie due to his nice, adorkable moments. Cooper is quite confident about his ability to cope with the game's shock value. He is being taught a lesson.
  • Call-Back:
    • Cooper tries to cut the mushroom out with a shard of broken mirror, bringing it to his neck like Bing in "Fifteen Million Merits", and Liam in "The Entire History of You". Punching a mirror also happens in "San Junpiero", two episodes later.
    • One of the markings on the QR targets in the gopher game is the "White Bear" logo.
    • Fattax is one of the game titles being reviewed in the Edge magazine.
  • Call-Forward: The cover of Edge magazine promises a review of Bandersnatch
  • Compromising Call: First subverted but ultimately played straight. Cooper's mum calls him at the worst possible time. Katie barely takes notice of it. Turns out this part was not real. The real call compromised Cooper's life.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Here a video game developer puts a volunteer through an unsafe and negligent experiment that ends up horribly killing him, and then he coldly treats the incident as a corporate loss.
  • Creepy Changing Painting: The scene where a figure appears in the window of a painting, and then disappears from the painting and appears in the house. Likely to be a reference to the classic ghost story The Mezzotint by M. R. James.
  • Death by Materialism: Cooper's greedy attempt to get a photo to sell leads directly to his death. If there had really been video monitors in the room (as he dreamed) he would have been caught immediately, saving his life.
  • Downer Ending: Cooper dies at the end while in the game, miles away from home, thanks to a call from his cellphone messing with the technology. He dies while living out his worst fears, screaming for his mom. To make the ending even worse, Saito doesn't seem to give a crap about the harm his experiment has caused, and depending on what was in the contract Cooper recklessly signed away before undergoing the test, his mother and Sonja may never find out what happened to him.
    • Though a Freeze-Frame Bonus moment in Black Mirror: Black Museum shows security footage of Cooper and Katie along with a news ticker saying "Shou Saito trial continues", suggesting that Saito eventually gets his comeuppance.
  • Dying Dream: Actually, everything from the Whack-a-mole game up to his meeting his mother is an effect of him dying after his brain has been partially uploaded.
  • Fantastic Aesop: Don't agree to undergo experimental medical procedures from a video-game company.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • On the plane, a stewardess asks him to switch off his device, so it doesn't interfere with the plane's systems. The cause of his death is the interference between the brain interface and his phone, which he switched back on.
    • During the whack-a-mole game, we're shown a view from a camera in the room. If that were real, Cooper wouldn't have gotten away with turning on his phone and taking a picture of the briefcase.
    • When he's being led to the access point, Cooper goes up the stairs and through the first door on the left, but he hesitates because he thinks he will be presented with some kind of personal horror involving his mother. When he returns home to America at the end of the episode, he goes to his mother's bedroom to see her and is presented with his worst nightmare. Where's his mother's bedroom? Up the stairs, first door on the left.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In the brief shot of the contract Cooper signs, one statement says "If you have paused to read this, you will die unless you forward it onto five people within a 28 day period."
  • Gainax Ending: Mixed in with All Just a Dream, Dream Within a Dream and Dying Dream.
  • The Game Never Stopped: Inverted. The game never started. It was all a Dying Dream.
  • Hope Spot: Cooper seems to exit the test, leave England, and go back to the United States to finally visit his mother. He soon realizes to his horror that his mother has contracted Alzheimer's in his absence and doesn't remember him. Then the episode snaps to reality and the viewer finds out that Cooper actually died from the experiment malfunctioning and that everything from the gopher game to that point was all in his head as his brain was fried.
  • In the Back: Sonja stabs Cooper from behind.
  • Ironic Hell: In the worst possible way. The game tortures Cooper with his very worst fears in the last moments of his life as his brain shuts down.
  • Mirror Scare: Lampshaded by Genre Savvy Cooper when he suspects some shock value behind the opened shelf door. Nothing happens though.
  • Mind Rape: The Dying Dream.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Saito has more than passing resemblance to Hideo Kojima. Cooper also looks a lot like then Giant Bomb employee and "blinking White guy" Drew Scanlon right down to the blue shirt in the style Scanlon commonly wore while working at Giant Bomb.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The experimental technology which reacts extremely poorly to radio interference with lethal (and as it turns out horrific) consequences to the poor subject, is tested in a room unshielded from outside radio signals, and without a screening process to ensure all electronic devices capable of producing these dangerous signals are not brought into the room. If they took both of these precautions then Cooper would have survived the game test without incident.
  • Pull Yourself Down the Spear: Cooper stabs Monster!Sonja with the knife sticking out of his shoulder.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: Cooper breaks a mirror with his fist out of anger.
  • Room 101: While not used in the same sense as George Orwell's novel, this trope is pretty much played straight. Cooper is terrified to open the door to the access point that he is led to believe will allow the game to end, as he believes it contains his greatest fear. However, it does not end the game and his suspicion turns out to be true. His ultimate fear is presented to him at the very end when he returns home to America where he finds his mother crying in her bedroom in a confused state, having succumbed to Alzheimer's in his absence.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Played for Drama. Cooper watched his father slowly succumb to Alzheimer's and it's all but stated that his reason for his world trip was to gather as many happy memories as he could, as long as he could, and his subconscious fear of ending up like his father is used by the game to torment him. When he seemingly returns home to America, he finds to his horror that his mother has contracted Alzheimer's in his absence and she doesn't remember who he is.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Katie refers to the game's brain implant as a "mushroom", and Cooper asks if it's "Like Mario Bros.?"
    • Resident Evil. A man with the surname Redfield is placed in a spooky mansion.
    • Sonja tells Cooper she stole his credit card money while he was asleep.
    • In the midst of Cooper playing a video game that makes him question his sanity and free will, he tries to keep from playing along. His operator responds by politely asking him "Would you kindly?". No doubt intentional, as one of the games on the shelf early in the episode is BioShock 2 (See below).
    • There are a number of video games on the shelf in Sonja's flat, a lot of which are very contemporary at the time of the episodes release:
      • Portal 2. The director of the episode, Dan Trachtenberg, created a live-action short film based on Portal titled "Portal: No Escape" early in his career.
      • Dark Souls 2. Which counts as an Actor Allusion as Sonja's actress, Hannah John-Kamen, voices Sweet Shalquoir in that game.
      • BioShock 2
      • The shelf of video games also includes a single film, Face/Off. Later, in the simulation, Sonja's face is torn off.
    • Cooper is played by Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt Russell. Kurt played a lead role in The Thing (1982), which depicted all sorts of horrifying monster mashups. So when Cooper is in the haunted house, he is confronted with very similar things.
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: Shou Saito at the end is wearing all-black clothing, different from the blue coat and white shirt seen previously. This is because the earlier version was just how Cooper imagined him. He never met the real Saito.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The credits song is "Mama Liked The Roses" by Elvis Presley, played after a Downer Ending where Cooper dies screaming for his mom after a call from his mother compromises the device he's testing and fries his brain.
  • Take That!: Effectively, the entire episode is this due to it being made in response to "what if phones, but too much?"
  • Tempting Fate: When Cooper asks if Katie is qualified to perform the procedure, she snarkily replies that she hasn't killed anyone yet. She then adds "May I?" (ie, may I continue with the procedure?)
  • Time-Passage Beard: We can tell by the changing length of Cooper's beard how long he's been away from home.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Since the majority of the episode is actually Cooper's Dying Dream, it's unclear how many of the events shown actually happened, such as Sonja stealing Cooper's credit card, the mysterious disappearance of the previous playtesters, or Cooper's mother developing Alzheimer's.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Katie leaves Cooper alone at the Haunted House and continues communicating with him via earpiece. Gradually becomes Mission Control Is Off Its Meds as Katie seems to turn on him and taunts him with the fear of losing his memories.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy:
    • Cooper thinks he's well-prepared for any kind of Jump Scare. He's actually in a different sort of horror story.
    • Cooper takes an opportunity to take a snapshot to send to Sonja of the new product dismissing Saito Gamu of being paranoid about the secrecy of their new product. As it turns out it's for his own safety.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: In the end, it's revealed that everything that happened after his phone rang, from the gopher game, to the test inside the mansion, to getting pulled out, to flying back home and seeing his mom, only took 0.04 seconds, with none of it being real.
  • Your Makeup Is Running: Cooper's mum at the end has her makeup ruined by crying.