Six Degrees of Separation: Black Mirror’s Smithereens

Black Mirror made its return with the fifth season consisting of three episodes in 2019. While this season may be considered moderately satisfying compared to the others, there is one particular episode within it that deserves extensive discussion: “Smithereens.” Despite its lack of direct connection to the themes commonly explored in Black Mirror, it serves as a summary of our present-day through its story, presenting what we already know in a detailed manner. Maybe not. Black Mirror is a series that narrates potential technologies and the troubles they may bring with a dark undertone. This dark undertone is strongly felt throughout most of its episodes. However, there are two episodes that, in my opinion, deserve further discussion and should be watched by everyone. The first one we will discuss is Smithereens, and the second one is the widely acclaimed episode, “San Junipero,” which, in my view, stands as the best episode ever produced in the series. These two episodes may not possess the typical Black Mirror essence, yet they contain content I highly appreciate and wish to explore extensively.

Now, after providing an overview of the plot of the episode “Smithereens,” let’s delve into its content. Smithereens begins with Chris, who works as a driver for a company similar to Uber. Chris listens to soul-soothing spa CDs in his car, but his aggressive and tense personality becomes evident from the start. Chris picks up passengers from the same spot every day, and we soon learn the reason behind this. He is waiting for someone who works at Smithereens. His expectation is fulfilled shortly when a young black man, later revealed to be named Jaden, exits the company and enters Chris’s car. However, as soon as Chris discovers that Jaden is just an intern, he loses his temper and kidnaps him. The kidnapping scene somewhat resembles the music video for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “By the Way.” Chris abducts Jaden, but his rage intensifies upon learning that Jaden is merely an intern at Smithereens.


The kidnapping, which takes place in a panicked atmosphere, catches the attention of police officers waiting on the street, and they begin pursuing Chris’s car. After evading capture for a while, Chris’s car gets stuck in a meadow, rendering him unable to escape. Realizing he is trapped, Chris seizes the opportunity, even by force if necessary, and begins executing his plan. Chris has only one concern: to contact Billy Bauer, the owner of Smithereens. Although we eventually understand the reason behind his desire to reach Billy Bauer, it remains unknown for a significant period of time.

At this point, the story splits into two parts: the story of the police officers and the story of Chris. Personally, I became more engrossed in the stories of the police officers and everyone who becomes involved subsequently. Therefore, I will distinguish the narratives as “outside” and “inside.” While outside, there is a crowd trying to determine the identity of the man inside and rescue the hostage; inside, a man is risking his life to reach “one person” without getting caught by those outside.

The police outside have no knowledge of the identity of the man inside. Even though they eventually learn his objective, they remain unaware of the reason behind it. Consequently, they begin their investigation. The police approach their investigation in a traditional manner: checking license plates, visiting addresses, questioning neighbors, and conducting general background checks. Through a combination of casual conversations, online research, and access to registered systems, they manage to uncover almost everything about Chris. I say “almost” because…

Meanwhile, Chris inside carefully observes the outside world and tries to reach Billy Bauer through Jaden. According to a study, it is called Six degrees of separation, if you want to deliver a letter to someone you don’t know, on average, it takes about six intermediaries to reach that person. Perhaps a friend of yours knows someone, who knows someone else, and eventually, that person knows the individual you’re seeking. As absurd as it may seem, this has been proven true. Chris utilizes the corporate language of this system and reaches someone within the company through Jaden. That person is likely to know someone familiar with Billy Bauer, and indeed, they do. Let’s emphasize this: in 2019, finding or contacting someone you’re looking for is quite easy. With the right phones and a well-crafted message, you can reach anyone you desire. And Chris’s message is crystal clear: I have Jaden.


Of course, the person Chris reaches happens to be Penelope Wu, the company’s CEO. Penelope and her advisors do not immediately grant Chris’s request. They put him on hold, claiming they will reach Billy Bauer and commence a thorough investigation. From this, we understand that Smithereen is a social media company resembling Twitter. By monitoring Chris’s posts and likes, Penelope and her team manage to uncover his identity. In addition to the “old-fashioned” methods employed by the police, they not only gather personal identification but also ascertain personality traits. Even more intriguingly, they manage to identify not only Chris but also the police waiting outside for him. The FBI, too, locates the Smithereen team who had been in contact with the police. Why? Because the person they are searching for is an American. All of this unfolds within a matter of minutes.

The reason I enjoyed Smithereens lies in the events transpiring outside. Yes, we were already aware that we were being monitored and analyzed. However, through this episode, we catch a glimpse of what lies ahead. If you pay attention to the details, you’ll realize that they know us better than we know ourselves—they can learn everything about us with just a few clicks. They undoubtedly listen to our phone conversations. Through our phones, they can determine our whereabouts, and not only that, they can identify those around us and establish contact. If they wish, they can now call you based on a tweet you just posted. As Chris nervously waits inside the car, he is unaware of all this. Yes, he may be an IT professional, but he is unaware he will become a victim of such a thorough investigation. He is unaware that he is being listened to, just as you are currently unaware.

We are living in the world of 2023. Technology and social media are genuinely convenient aspects of our lives. Do they have disadvantages? Yes, they do. In the past, we could only communicate with our relatives in another country through operator-assisted phone calls or letters, but now we can connect with a circle of friends wherever you want from the comfort of our own homes and even virtually visit the kitchen of a woman in a far corner of South America. Naturally, as the communication network has expanded so much, our social lives and daily routines have changed. It feels strange to be expected to get closer to my neighbor while I can reach any person in the Netherlands with just a click. Likewise, technology and social media have made us all popular. We follow or are followed by dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people. The fact that we can reach the masses makes us believe that our daily activities hold value. In the past, we would cook a meal at home and simply eat it. Now, we can simultaneously showcase the meals we prepare to thousands of people. To many, this is seen as a personality issue. In my opinion, it’s a form of socialization. However, this form of socialization also has its drawbacks. Chris experiences one of those drawbacks.

Chris loses the woman he loves because he looks at a notification while driving. Unable to accept this reality, Chris waits for months outside Smithereen, hoping to encounter someone who can help him reach Billy Bauer. But… I think we need to understand something. Chris blames Billy Bauer and Smithereen for designing their platforms in an addictive manner. I don’t know what you think about this, but it delves into the realm of the advantages and disadvantages of technology. Yes, as Billy explains, social media companies are designed to be addictive. However, the responsibility lies not with them but with us. It is Chris’s fault for looking at his phone while in traffic, not Smithereen’s. In fact, Smithereen is not the real issue here. Blaming Billy Bauer for not ignoring the phone while driving is an act of helplessness and paradox.

Consequently, in the episode where we expect Chris to be proven right, we actually learn that he is unjustified. It’s a disadvantage. Unfortunately, Chris is a victim of his own negligence, like many of us. We have yet to reach the consciousness where we realize how ridiculous “Social Media is Fake” posts are. Social media is not a living entity; it is merely a tool that resides in our hands, controlled by our fingertips.


Billy Bauer’s story and actions in this context are also extremely valuable. Before he speaks, he is portrayed as someone difficult to reach and quite problematic. However, once we get to know him, we learn that he is a delightful person. But behind his pleasant demeanor, Billy harbors something sinister. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Google… it doesn’t really matter. The people behind them can intrude into our private lives whenever they want. What Billy refers to as “God Mod” is a reality. They can locate us anytime, listen to our phone conversations, and spy on us through our cameras. And do you know what’s most interesting? We give them permission to do so. By blindly accepting agreements without reading them, we open up our private lives to them. Even funnier, what happens if we refuse? If we want to be a part of the platforms, we have to sign these contracts. Do you want to be famous? You will let Tiktok reach your everything. There’s nothing that can be done.

The reality of losing ourselves in social media, the fact that these companies know us better than we know ourselves, and the fact that they can reach us at any moment aside, another aspect that caught my attention in the episode was the consultants. The founders of big companies, party leaders, organization presidents, and more—they all have consultants. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the business world, it’s that the consultants are responsible for everything that happens to us. Even if the actual owners of the businesses are well-intentioned individuals, they all succumb to the influence of their consultants. Billy, too, is just another boss who has fallen under the influence of his consultants. By sheer luck, a platform he invented or put into production gained popularity, and as things grew, he needed someone to guide him. I deliberately used the phrase “by sheer luck” because all the platforms we use today gained fame by chance. However, as things grow, there is a need for people who understand the business to provide guidance. And these consultants become sycophants, more dangerous predators than vultures.

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“Smithereens” does not offer anything “new” within the episode. It is all a reflection of present-day reality. But most of you are not aware of it. How many of you have witnessed this process or have knowledge of how you are being listened to? Perhaps none of you. We only know what they do but don’t see how they do it. They know us better than we know ourselves with our consent. They can reach us whenever they want. They can follow us, and listen to us. They analyze us and use it for their own interests. Anyone closely following Brexit or the 2016 American elections knows well how social media has been used as a weapon against us.

So, what happened in the end of Smithereens? Did Chris die? Why didn’t they show us? Because it didn’t matter. Whether Chris lives or dies, no one cares. Chris was just a notification, something that people on the street glance at and then forget. He will be forgotten tomorrow. Everyone will continue with their lives where they left off. That’s it.


Ukrainian Creative Director | Motion Picture Writer | Horror Freak

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