3. White Christmas
“It’s a job not a jail.”
In some ways, ‘White Christmas’ is like the conclusion of an essay – it takes in many ideas from earlier episodes and serves as an epilogue for the Channel 4 Years. The episode is littered with Easter eggs from the previous six episodes whilst also managing to be an anthology episode within an anthology series.
We open to Wizzard’s classic ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ playing in what looks like a cabin outpost, snow falling outside. Mad Men star Jon Hamm’s Trent complains that in five years he’s not heard more than three sentences from Rafe Spall’s Potter and in an effort to encourage him to talk, he offers tales from his previous jobs.
The first story is of socially awkward Harry (Rasmus Hardiker) gatecrashing an office Christmas party in order to hit on a girl whilst Trent provides “in the field assistance” through an eye-link (think in-built Google glasses) and advising him on what to say and wear. With their target acquired, Jennifer (Natalia Tena) spots him talking to himself and thinking she’s found a kindred spirit, takes him home. Harry had actually been talking to a group of guys watching Harry’s stream and although they think their luck is in it quickly transpires Jennifer is off her meds and given Harry a poisoned drink so that they can commit suicide together.
As Harry lays coughing up blood, Trent advises the group to “wipe everything”. Trent’s wife discovers what he was doing and blocks him – a bit like a Facebook block but with the human form turning into a grey blob and muffled noise.
In the second part, Greta (Oona Chaplin) leads a busy life and has undergone a minor medical procedure whereby an implant lies near her brain for a week before the ‘cookie’ is extracted and placed into what resembles an egg-shaped egg timer. Greta believes she’s woken up in an all-white room and struggles to comprehend that she is merely a copy.
Trent gently tortures her into complying, forcing the Greta copy to live three weeks in the space of the real world’s thirty seconds. She’s a mess but still non-compliant so puts her through ‘six months’ of nothing by which time she is begging for something to do. The Greta copy becomes a drone, completing meaningless tasks, something that Potter sees as barbaric slavery whereas others, Trent points out, would see it as code – “you have empathy, you’re a good man”, Trent tells him.
With his resolve weakened, the final part is handed over to Potter. It starts at his father-in-law’s cottage at Christmas, somewhere he and his wife Beth (Jane Montgomery) go every year. We see short snaps of their relationship – from Potter getting wasted watching karaoke (during which Beth sings Abi’s song from ‘Fifteen Million Merits’) to sharing dinner with Beth’s work colleagues (“I think she’s into him more than he’s into her”). He discovers Beth is pregnant but she’s adamant she doesn’t want it and ‘blocks’ him.
But the block remains and she disappears from his life. Every year he goes to the cottage to see her grey muted form and discovers she has kept the baby but blocks cover offspring too – “seeing something was better than nothing”. It’s only when Beth is killed in a train crash that the block is lifted and he discovers the child is not his but her work colleague’s. He cracks a snowglobe on the head of his father in law and abandons the child, who eventually freezes to death outside the house.
And then another Brooker Rug is pulled – the outpost Trent and Potter have been in is the father-in-law’s cottage, a constructed reality to convince Potter’s cookie copy to confess to murder. The real Potter is locked away in a prison cell refusing to talk but the police have all they need to convict him. Like ‘White Bear’ before it, the notion of punishment ad infinitum is suggested when the cookie is made to live out a thousand years of listening to Wizzard. Trent doesn’t walk away scot-free though – by providing an illegal service for peeping toms, and failing to report a murder, he’s blocked by society and must walk the streets seeing everyone as a muted grey but to them he’s bright red, sticking out like a sore thumb and branded for the world to see.
We could write an entire piece on ‘White Christmas’ alone as it’s packed with Easter eggs and tons of ideas to deconstruct, from the rights of an AI clone to the real world prospects of streaming video from your eyeballs. It’s a heavy watch but very much worth it and although it sometimes plays like a Greatest Hits episode, it’s not quite the best one…
Easter egg: ‘White Christmas’ is one giant Easter egg (or should that be Christmas cracker?) of an episode and we’d recommend reading this summary of all the links to each of the preceding episodes here.