Check out our guide to Black Mirror season 3.
Charlie Brooker has clearly been watching Inglourious Basterds.
That's not to say that "Men Against Fire" is a rip-off of Quentin Tarantino's 2009 film. It's merely an observation that both feature intense interrogations of men suspected of harboring "the enemy." (Sarah Snook's Medina can't quite touch Christopher Waltz's Colonel Hans Landa, but who can?) In both cases, said "enemy" is also dehumanized — in Basterds as rats, and here as "roaches."
Does that make Stripe (the nickname given to Malachi Kirby's character because his peers can't pronounce his real name, Koinange) and his fellow soldiers the bad guys? The team is charged with visiting a village that's been raided by "roaches." The food supply has been contaminated, and equipment is missing. A religious recluse by the name of Heidegger may be supporting the roaches, so Medina takes her squad to raid his home using the fancy-pants software implanted in their brains. Things are about to get messy.
While Stripe and the trigger-happy Raiman (Madeline Brewer) scout out the home, Medina warns Heidegger about the dangers of extending Christian goodwill to the roaches. They have a "sickness" in their blood that must be quelled. Should they prosper and breed, the sickness will spread. Heidegger responds by attacking her.
The squad discovers a group of roaches, who turn out to be zombie-like creatures. Stripe manages to kill two of them, including one who flashes some sort of laser pointer at him. The experience leaves Stripe's eyes stinging. Glitches interrupt his nightly sex dreams about a beautiful woman, and screw up his concentration during shooting practice and his workout.
The army doctor runs some diagnostics and says Stripe's implants are fine. The soldier is then referred to Arquette (Michael Kelly), a therapist who also seems to downplay the glitches. He does, however, type some keys and treat Stripe to a group-orgy dream starring multiple naked versions of his fantasy woman. That, too, has a glitch.
Heidegger has given up the safe house where the roaches are staying. Medina takes Stripe and an increasingly aggressive Raiman out for a raid. Per usual, Stripe's software is glitching, making it difficult to follow Medina's instructions. He's also nose-deep in a pile of grass, noticing that he's just regained his sense of smell.
Shots are fired and Medina goes down. The squad has been ambushed by a roach armed with a rifle. Raiman leaps into action, while Stripe is virtually ineffectual at covering her from gunfire. They make it inside the safe house, where Raiman wastes no time in shooting everything and everyone that crosses her path. Stripe tries in vain to stop her rampage. He notes that two of the "roaches" are actually a mother and son who look completely normal. He knocks Raimain out cold before she can take them out, gets shot, and races off in the army van with the mother and son. Needless to say, Raiman, when she finally comes to, goes ballistic.
Here's the twist: The "roach" mother, Katerina, explains that they don't look like feral zombies at all. It's the soldiers' implants that make the "roaches" appear that way. Because Stripe's implant has been compromised by the laser device from the other day, he sees them as they truly are: human. The roach story is just that: a story designed to make the soldiers see their enemy as some sort of monster. There's no sickness, just a lot of prejudice and eugenics that call to mind Josef Mengele.
Alas, Raiman bursts in and kills Katerina and her son. A horrified Stripe protests, and is knocked out. When he comes to, he's sitting in a sterile cell of sorts. Arquette comes in with coffee and a sheepish "my bad."
The therapist acknowledges that Stripe tried to warn them all that his implant wasn't working. In placating tones, Arquette explains how the history of war has been undermined by soldiers who were reluctant to pull the trigger. Had people been a bit more bloodthirsty, the World Wars would have wrapped up much faster. The military community has tried to override this by developing the "mass," the implant that sharpens military training, targeting, communications, and conditioning. Soldiers with the implant see the enemy as "roaches," and don't hear the screams or smell the shit.
"It's a lot easier to pull the trigger when you're aiming at the bogeyman," he explains.
And how did these "roaches" come to be vilified? Arquette claims they're more susceptible to cancer, muscular dystrophy, MS, and sexual deviancies. They have lower IQs and more criminal tendencies. They must be stopped.
Stripe is outraged, especially when he sees a younger version of himself wilfully signing up for the "mass" six months prior. Arquette teaches Stripe a lesson by transforming him into a roach who can't see. Stripe can either have his mass reset and lose all memory of these recent revelations, or be incarcerated. Stripe refuses to play along, so Arquette pulls out his trump card. It's footage of what really happened in Heidegger's home. The roaches who Stripe thought were attacking him were helpless human beings. Stripe was the villain.
Arquette tells a hysterical Stripe that he can make this all go away. Apparently Stripe agrees, because we next see him back in uniform, pulling up to a house with a "Welcome Home" banner out front. His beautiful dream woman is waiting for him. Tears roll down his face.
Not really. There's nobody actually there. There's no woman; it's just the mass. Isn't war grand?
Check out our guide to Black Mirror season 3.