There are two parallel storylines running in “Crocodile.” The first is a frightening psychological thriller with the atmosphere of a Nordic noir, following Mia (Andrea Riseborough), an architect who keeps finding herself in harrowing situations. First, in the episode’s prologue, she kills someone in a hit-and-run accident while driving down a snowy path with a man (Andrew Gower). They dispose of the body and forget about it, but as with any I Know What You Did Last Summer scenario, the guilt eventually catches up to them, or to him, at least: He tells her years later that he’s going to confess as an act of repentance. So Mia ends up killing him too, to protect herself.
Riseborough is a wonderful actress—she was so great as Billie Jean King’s girlfriend Marilyn Barnett in Battle of the Sexes this year—and she almost sold me on Mia’s abrupt descent into darkness early on in this episode. Covering up the hit-and-run death is an act of desperation, but the second murder is a more calculated piece of self-preservation. Riseborough excels at suggesting hidden depths to her characters, but even then I struggled to believe Mia would make this ghastly decision just to save her own skin. That’s a problem, because before the episode is over, she has to repeat that choice again—and again.
Any hint of lingering humanity is quickly erased as Mia turns into a rampaging monster. Soon, she’s only killing people to set up further plot points in an episode that turns into a strange sort of treatise on body cameras and crime surveillance. It all takes place in a cold, snowy world that only serves to make the mood even more grim. After dominating the first part of “Crocodile,” Mia disappears from the action until the final act, but her one-dimensional heartlessness looms over the whole thing.
The other storyline is far more engaging, almost by default, and much more focused on process in a way that many tech-centered Black Mirror episodes are. I’ve always liked Brooker’s skill with worldbuilding, and explaining how each episode’s fanciful technology works, be it the transactional universe of “Fifteen Million Merits” or the augmented reality of “Men Against Fire.” In “Crocodile,” the new tech is a sort of memory reader, a receiver that someone can pop onto your forehead to visualize what’s going on in your noggin on a dinky little television. It isn’t exact, and it involves triggering your recollections via specific sensations (like sounds or smells), but it’s a way to reconstruct a crime scene by consulting the viewpoints of every possible witness.
In “Crocodile,” the police aren’t trying to solve a murder; rather, an insurance agent, Shazia (Kiran Sonia Sawar), is trying to see whether a claim can pay out after an automated pizza truck runs someone over in the street. I did enjoy watching Shazia put things together, methodically but with empathy and care; her character was a fundamentally decent person despite having truly powerful technology at her disposal, which is a rarity in the world of Black Mirror.