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  • Writer's pictureKaty Craig

"The Entire History of You"

Black Mirror Season 1, Episode 3.

In the future everyone has access to a memory implant that records everything that you see, say, and do. Image taken from Netflix thumbnail.

In the beginning of this episode, Liam, the main character, has a performance review at work that is awkward, stilted, and doesn't really say anything. The assessor mentions that a new area of "retrospective litigation" may be an area where Liam may find himself in the coming year. Liam, when told that retrospective litigation is the case where a person can sue their parents retrospectively (looking back is the key distinction here) for failing to provide care or support and causing ensuing distress, asks if the firm is alright with the ethical and moral aspects of this. It's ironic and foreshadows Liam's own questionable ethics and morals.

Viewers are shown Liam's significant effort to make it to his next appointment, grabbing a taxi and a plane to return home. He tries very hard, as we see, to get to his destination. At the airport, to clear security, he is asked to playback or "redo" the past twenty-four hours at quarter speed. Liam complies by rewinding his Grain, a cyber-implant the size of a grain of rice embedded behind his right ear, using a remote fob. He is able to cast the visual and auditory content onto the screen the officer is viewing. When Liam accesses the Grain, his eyes turn cloudy (see the image) as he is shown the memories being played back. After not seeing anything of concern, the Customs and Borders agent asks him to playback the previous week at 64 times speed, and he is allowed to pass. When Liam finally arrives at the dinner party his wife's friends are hosting, it's late at night. Before approaching the door, Liam scrolls through his Grain content to find the name of the host. The recorded memory reminds him her name is Lucy and they met at a friend's wedding.

This is the first effect I've noticed: does having instant access to immutable data hurt our ability to remember things by heart?

Liam and his wife, Ffion, or Fi, for short, appear awkward and uncomfortable with each other. Maybe it's a self-fulfilling prophecy, in the sense that he seems suspicious of Fi, which makes Fi act suspiciously. When Liam walks into the living room, he can see Fi having a conversation with a man at the end of a hallway. Liam can see by Fi's body language that she is relaxed, comfortable, and having a good time talking to the man. When she notices Liam watching them, she straightens up, her expression tightening, and rushes over to him, almost as if she was just caught in the act. She says that she didn't think he was going to make it. And the way she says it sounds to this viewer like unspoken disappointment that he did make it. This reaction explains why Lucy couldn't remember Liam, asked where Fi had been "hiding" him, and shrank back when he tried to greet her with a peck on the cheek. Liam is not well known to Fi's friends.

When the group tries to get Liam to replay his performance review so they can critique it, Jonas, the man Fi was speaking with, intervenes and says it would be a bad idea. Later, during dinner, a latecomer named Hallam arrives, and unlike everyone else, she's not using a Grain. She shows the scar from an attack a year ago when it was "gouged" from her. Apparently, memories are worth gouging out implants from other people because they can be played back to a voyeur's heart's content. Since the Grain records everything that is said and heard, it's integrated with the eyes and ears. Removing the Grain by gouging could cause someone to lose their sight. There's an unintended consequence, I'm sure.

This is the second effect: increased risks of gouging and the theft of private memories. It's apparent from the episode that using the Grain is still optional. However, there are obvious integrations being used by the federal government (e.g., Customs and Borders). Similarly, the US government is allowing the use of Clear, a biometric identification company that enables faster processing at security checkpoints. It only seems a matter of time before the ease of use of an implant makes it mandatory.

Something about Jonas clearly bothers Liam right away. Perhaps it's his off-color anecdotes about favoring Grain memories of hot trysts with previous girlfriends over real-life people in the next room. When he describes lying to a girlfriend about watching more news but instead masturbating to his Grain redos of past hot flings, Fi cautions, "Easy." It's curious and telling that she would caution him. Is it that it's not suitable dinner talk? Or is she personally concerned he may divulge something too sensitive? More foreshadowing.

At the end of the evening, Liam has enough data points and all his Grain content to pore over, and once he and Fi return to their home, he grabs a bottle of whiskey, a single glass, and sits in front of the large screen TV with his Grain remote. The next morning, the bottle is empty, and Liam has a lot of additional questions to ask Fi about Jonas. Liam is very suspicious of the confident and mysterious Jonas, and he doesn't understand why he hasn't met him before. When Fi wakes up, Liam immediately confronts her about her behavior with Jonas. Rewinding and replaying Grain content of her smiling at Jonas. Why did she stiffen so much when Liam arrived? Why does she look so sweetly at Jonas, then so coldly at Liam?

When Fi begins to haltingly admit that she and Jonas had a relationship in the past for about a month in Marrakesh, that he's actually "Mr. Marrakesh," a nickname that Liam gave him when Fi first described the week-long fling that supposedly meant nothing, Liam immediately latches onto the time discrepancy: was it a week or was it a month? Fi says she never said it was only a week, to which Liam joyfully casts his Grain redo onto the screen, where Fi clearly claims the tryst lasted only a week. "Not everything that isn't true is a lie, Liam!" Liam's facial expression makes it clear he does not agree. As Liam continues to play redos, Fi asks him what he's doing and proclaims that he is insane, but there's a growing sense that Liam is onto something and has reason to be suspicious.

This is the third bad thing: how trust works and how it affects relationships. Is it more important to be right about another's failings or compassionate about their frailties? Do people really need to punish and humiliate each other over mistakes? Liam may prove to be right, but to what end?

The climax results when Liam, in a drunken blackout, decides to criminally assault Jonas. Liam drives over to Jonas’ flat to compel him to delete all content with Fi in it, not privately but on the screen so Liam can confirm the Grain is wiped. This direction resulted in all the clips with associated thumbnails and metadata being shown briefly on the screen before Jonas deleted them all. But they were visible long enough for Liam's Grain to capture their image, so later, as Liam is redoing his whole morning, he notices something in one of the thumbnails.

The distinctive art piece hanging above Liam and Fi's bed is seen in the background of one of the thumbnails. Metadata from the thumbnail shows it was recorded eighteen months previously, but who cares when it happened? It happened in his own bed. When Liam screams at Fi to show him how she asked and ensured Jonas wore a condom during that tryst to prove Jonas could not be the father of Jody, Liam and Fi's 18-month-old daughter, she collapses and complies. She is broken.

The episode concludes with Liam alone with his redos, in a cold, bleak, empty house. Contrasted against the warm, bright redos of Fi and Jody in the same exact rooms, Liam seems to have found cold comfort in being right about Fi and Jonas. Not being able to look at any room in his house without seeing Fi's loving and beautiful face, Liam takes a razor, cuticle snippers, and gouges his Grain from himself. Too little, too late.

Most humans don't have perfect recall or memories. No one is perfect. Being fragile and flawed is inherent in being human. Liam's insistence on being right seems to have been all wrong in the end.

~ k80cb

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