With every season of “Black Mirror”, there’s always one episode that seems to stand out more than any other.
This time around, it’s probably “USS Callister”, a “Star Trek” parody with, as you’d expect from this particular show, a dark twist at its center.
“USS Callister” may feel awfully familiar to anyone who’s been disappointed by “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, as a piece from Entertainment Weekly points out – to a certain extent, both stories focus around the same core concept of hero worship often being misplaced.
Without going too far into spoilers, let’s just say that “USS Callister” uses “Star Trek” tropes as a shorthand to talk about a lot of things, not least, the dangers of living in a nostalgic bubble, and of trusting people who are considered brilliant or genius to also be nice guys.
It’s a message that really seems to resonate at this particular point in time, as Hollywood is hemorrhaging stars who’ve all turned out to be more than a little creepy, and as we all take stock of our collective cultural assumptions that the people we idolize are actually worthy of our attention and devotion.
Similarly (again without spoilers), “The Last Jedi” is about how you can’t trust your childhood icons to actually be as pure and noble, or even as influential, as you want them to be – whether you’re idolizing Luke Skywalker, or the new would-be Emperor, Han Solo, or Darth Vader.
This is a movie which takes delight in making all the archetypal “heroes” look arrogant, jerky, or downright dangerous, while the villains are shown as ineffectual, petty, and utterly unable to do anything useful to further their own cause.
Meanwhile, both “USS Callister” and “The Last Jedi” make a point of showing that the true heroes are the plucky underdogs; the newcomers, the downtrodden, the ethnically and gender diverse group of put-upon rebels who fight without a hope for reward or recognition.
Basically, both of these science fiction stories revolve around the idea that you can’t trust an authority figure to be anything other than callous, mean, and ultimately, entirely ineffectual.
What could possibly have been in the air during 2017 that would make such stories feel pertinent and relevant? Why would our collective popular culture suddenly have such a desperate desire to portray traditional ideas of heroism and masculinity as neither powerful, nor particularly helpful?
We’ll never know, although the TIME people of the year might be able to give us a clue.