Black Mirror’s USS Callister is a Star Trek homage with a twist — it’s a scathing takedown of the toxic fanboy. Support ScreenPrism on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=7792695
Transcript provided by Youtube:
Black Mirror Season 4’s premiere episode is an in-your-face Star Trek homage, but with a twist —
unlike most of today’s endless reboots and remakes and references,
USS Callister isn’t here to appeal to our nostalgia.
Instead it’s a scathing takedown of the toxic fanboy.
It creates a nightmare version of the toxic fandom in the character Robert Daly.
The CTO of the Callister company,
he’s underappreciated and unable to assert himself in his real life.
So he leads a secret virtual life inside a game version he’s made of his favorite TV
show, Space Fleet.
This private virtual world reveals his real self —
a cruel, petty person who bitterly wants other people’s respect
and is determined to punish those who haven’t treated him like the god he thinks he truly
“You’re not just disgraceful.
All of you.”
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We open with a Space Fleet sequence in the bright, camp spirit of the original Star Trek
Daly is doing a riff on Shatner’s very dramatic acting style.
“Mr. Scott — ready to beam up.”
Everyone applauds the Captain for being decisive,
and Daly kisses the women onboard in a clever shout-out
to one of the first interracial kisses on TV —
as well as Kirk’s iconic kiss with a green-skinned alien.
This opening plays on the original Star Trek’s spirit of optimism,
of looking forward boldly toward a progressive future.
But of course, this is a black mirror,
and it’s not really interested in revisiting whatever Star Trek was or wasn’t all about.
It’s interested in what’s driving Robert Daly’s all-consuming obsession with the
and harmful this obsession really is.
It turns out Daly’s fandom is all about possessiveness.
As we know, fans can be incredibly possessive about the shows, movies and franchises they
It’s not uncommon for a Star Wars fan to argue with George Lucas himself,
because these stories have taken on a life of their own;
they don’t belong to the original author anymore;
these days, it seems, they belong to the most passionate fans,
some of whom model themselves as gatekeepers.
But Daly’s not just possessive about Space Fleet —
he uses his Space Fleet fantasy world as a way to possess
and hurt the people he can’t in real life,
by stealing their DNA to make sentient digital copies that he can torture.
USS Callister is such and effective episode because it’s a really interesting reversal
of the story we’re expecting to see when we start watching.
As viewers, we begin by identifying with Robert because we’re following him,
and as we said in our previous Black Mirror video,
point of view is strikingly effective at making us immediately side with someone,
although in Black Mirror we should be ready not to trust our main character.
But we also identify with Robert because, without realizing it,
we’re waiting for that fanboy revenge-of-the-nerds narrative
we’ve gotten so familiar with in recent years.
“The nerd saw me naked!”
We get the whole set-up: nice, repressed guy meets cute, younger girl who finally sees
the real him.
So next we’re expecting to to see the nerd coming into his own,
fighting back against the sleazy-bro-y CEO James Walton who’s taken credit for his
and getting the new girl Nanette as the prize.
“Are all Nerds as good as you?”
As The Telegraph wrote, “It’s not just Daly who’s creating an sexist fantasy: half
of Hollywood is.”
But pretty soon after setting it up, the story abandons this narrative.
The bad guy Walton turns into an over-punished victim.
“But you threw my son out of an airlock, so…”
Nanette becomes the protagonist,
“We’re going to get that [bleep] lollipop.”
and Robert is the villain.
In our second visit to his Space Fleet game, we see that he can be a bit of a bully.
His team seems afraid of him.
Something’s a little off.
What do you want?”
But when the copy of Nanette is brought into the virtual world, we learn his real agenda:
to torture anybody he feels has disrespected him.
Most of the “wrongs” Daly’s avenging are laughably petty —
“I called him out for staring.”
“I reset admin permissions on a test build for 14 minutes.”
“I brought him the wrong sandwich.”
Nanette’s sin is saying that her admiration for Daly is, gasp, not sexual, but professional.
“Do you have a thing for him?”
It’s not like that.
It’s purely professional.”
This detail is so significant because Daly is clearly driven by the lack of respect he
but Nanette didn’t disrespect him.
She’s shown him huge respect and admiration.
It’s just for his work rather than expressing wanting to sleep with him.
There’s a weird cultural assumption we tend to make,
that if a woman thinks highly of a man she must want to sleep with him —
that if she doesn’t, it is somehow an insult to him.
And that’s exactly what we see going on in this episode.
Meanwhile, we can’t help but notice the sexlessness of Robert’s Space Fleet.
As another layer of messed-up, he’s left sex out of his virtual world completely,
which indicates that Daly doesn’t know how to approach sexual relationships
in an appropriate, mature way.
And as a result of his immaturity, this seeming “nice guy” has developed
some very harmful resentments and false assumptions about women.
So it becomes clear that the point of this story isn’t going to be Robert learning
assert himself and get the respect that he deserves.
The point is that if this guy is really so toxic and small-minded
that given the freedom to imagine any possible virtual reality,
he comes up with this sick torture chamber, then we need to turn our backs on him.
Just as Daly is left to die,
and his avatar presumably remains trapped forever alone in that disconnected virtual
The show’s writing is declaring that we should no longer stand for
the subtle, automatic sexism of the “nice guy” fantasies that have been regurgitated
To this end, it critiques Space Fleet’s underlying sexism
“Mini-skirted damsels — huh.
A little cold for that in space.”
“Weird blue alien skin, I know, it’s [bleep] up.
Almost sort of racist.”
In the end, Nanette and the crew pass through the wormhole/update
and end up in a ship that looks a lot like J. J Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek.
They’re in a modern story where the women don’t have to wear miniskirts and Nanette
is the captain.
But on the down side they’re on the internet, interacting with gamers —
as encapsulated by Aaron Paul’s voice cameo:
“So we’re gonna blow each other or we’re gonna trade?”
The Internet is a wide frontier full of possibilities,
but somehow it doesn’t inspire the bright-eyed high hopes of Gene Roddenberry’s future
It’s littered with people expressing the worst parts of themselves,
saying things that would never actually dare to in real life —
like Daly, using an anonymous space to lash out
and avenge both real and imagined slights without repercussion —
and that’s if they’re not looking for porn.
But if the digital world really is that new great frontier,
then this Black Mirror episode raises an important point —
we need to put some more thought into how we act online.
We should create a more respectful, hopeful digital world,
especially if some versions of ourselves could go on to live long, potentially endless lives
“King of space, right here.
King of space.”
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This post was previously published on Youtube.
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