As Christy Smyth gets to the business end of both Black Mirror and Inside No. 9 it’s almost level pegging. Up next it’s Metalhead vs. And The Winner Is…

We are nearly at the end of our journey. So far, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s Inside No. 9 is ahead, but not by much, with Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror only one point behind.

In our penultimate article we’ll be looking Metalhead and And The Winner Is… As is standard, the two shows, in spite of all their similarities, have offered up two stories that are worlds apart. Doesn’t mean one’s not better than the other, though.

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Metalhead

We know so little about the world of Metalhead. Bella (Maxine Peake), our protagonist, travels through a seemingly post-apocalyptic landscape, in search of something unspecified. We don’t know what’s happened to everyone, why the roads are so empty, why burned out cars and houses with overgrown gardens have been abandoned. We don’t know what Bella’s motives are or where she’s come from. We don’t know why robot dogs are bent on killing everyone they come across.

All these details that are left ambiguous are what make Metalhead one of the best episodes of Black Mirror’s fourth season.

Brooker and Co. can be awful for needless exposition and heavy-handedness. It’s the one big problem that Black Mirror has had right from the off. Metalhead doesn’t come close to falling into this trap. We are thrust into this world, we come to know our protagonist as we go along, we even get a sense of the group she’s come from without even seeing them or hearing their voices or being told their stories. It’s a real lesson in world-building. What isn’t said is as important as what is, and this essential element makes Metalhead one of Brooker’s best told stories.

The episode is stripped back in other ways, too. It’s black and white; the epitome of minimalism, but it’s also the shortest episode the show has ever produced. Its focus is almost entirely on our protagonist and the menacing robot dog. It’s an incredibly tense episode that doesn’t make a show of the techniques it uses to achieve this. It can be hard to pin down exactly what makes the story so great because it’s so effortless in achieving its greatness.

On the other hand, as good as Metalhead is from a technical standpoint, it fails to achieve the emotional impact that Black Mirror’s best episodes have. Perhaps the fact that I’m willing to declare this as one of the season’s best says more about the overall quality of the season. For all my praise, I’m not entirely sure as to how Metalhead would fare were it in season three. Though there’s little to fault it for, a couple of years ago you would imagine Brooker writing three episodes as good as this before breakfast.

I do like Metalhead and it has been a real highlight of this season. However, if you want the best of the best, re-visit White Bear, The Entire History Of You, or Shut Up And Dance, then try telling me season four has been all that good.

And The Winner Is…

In this episode of Inside No. 9 we join a jury panel as they choose who should receive the award for ‘best actress’. There’s a director (Noel Clarke), two actors (Kenneth Cranham and Zoe Wanamaker), a critic (Fanella Woolgar), a writer (Reece Shearsmith), and a ‘member of the public’ (Phoebe Sparrow). These characters/archetypes are obviously either at each other’s throats or up each other’s arses, and it’s this idea that drives the majority of the story.

This is a simple set up, typical of Shearsmith and Pemberton, but one that continues into an atypically simple middle and concludes with a surprisingly dull and underwhelming ending.

This episode is unfortunately one of the weaker ones of the series, though it isn’t outright bad. The performances are as good as we have come to expect, especially of late, particularly from Woolgar and Cranham. Though, as an ensemble piece, it doesn’t hit the highs of episodes like Zanzibar or Sardines.

Now might be as good a time as ever to point out how much Steve Pemberton has dominated this series, something that became evident in last week’s To Have And To Hold. It’s something that is made clearer here, simply by the fact that though he seemingly does so little as Giles, the adjudicator, he still manages to be one of the funniest and most likeable characters in the room. How’s he doing that?

In summary, And The Winner Is… has a good build up but steadily loses its steam as it goes. Just as Wanamacker’s Paula repeats herself throughout the panel’s proceedings, as does this episode, creating the rare feeling that at only half an hour, this story still runs a bit too long and wears a bit too thin.

Result

And the winner is… not And The Winner Is….
Metalhead takes this one pretty easily, making it an even score as we head toward the final battle.

Next Week: Black Museum vs. Tempting Fate