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Black Mirror Playtest Explanation and Walkthrough
Black Mirror Testplay episode is a head job of wonder and brilliance that just pummels you into submission until it's done with you. IMDB
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OOooOOoh. Stop what you are doing. Right now. Stop. Listen to me. And listen very very closely.

Are. You. Listening?

if you have never seen the Black Mirror show playtest…


Oh my heavens, was this a Thor’s Hammer of an episode. It was great in practically every possible way. Character setup. CHECK! Acting. CHECK! Screenplay. CHECK! The idea. And oh my gosh that ending. Just, I don’t even care if you read anymore of this page. Just go find episode 2 and watch it.  Here, here is a link that will take you directly to it. (assuming you have a Netflix account.) Go. Now. Click play. You are  welcome.

The rest of this post is going to delve into the details of the episode and see if we can’t walk this cat back – and learn more about the ins and outs of the goals and the point of this episode. So if you haven’t seen the episode – you are about to spoil all the fun by reading further. Go. Shoo. Watch it. It’s amazing.

Black Mirror Playtest Setup

More than half of this episode of Black Mirror is really important backstory setup. I even found myself wondering what this episode was really about as the setup continued to let out line more and more and more. Normally Black Mirror episodes show their hand extremely early on. For example, season 3, episode 1 was obvious what it was all about around 30 seconds in. But Playtest? No. Even once we see the technology at hand, we still don’t know exactly which direction the episode is going or who it plans to castigate.

But regardless, we begin the episode with with Cooper, a thrill seeker that is intent on running from the problems at home, and seeing the world. We don’t really know what these problems at home are all about, but we know that Cooper is definitely not coping well with them. He’s avoiding them… actively. On the last leg of his trip, while in London, he meets up with a gal and they hit it off. So much so that Sonja begins pushing Cooper to tell her what this mental baggage is all about. And then, eventually, she begins trying to convince Cooper to call his mother back.

And eventually we start to learn that Cooper had stayed home to care for his father who eventually died of some form of dimentia. A tragic story between a father and a son. And Cooper considered his father his best friend. But that he wasn’t able to talk to his mother. So he fled the house, and began traveling around the world in a way to avoid the pain of the past.


Black Mirror Playtest Level Two

We have a character that we care about. We have a tragic story, and an obvious enormous stressor and a very realistic situation that defines Cooper’s character. And then the episode transitions into a different full frontal assault of our senses. Cooper needs money – and so he goes and volunteers as a tester for a software development company. Except that this company is apparently special, in that they keep a cloak of secrecy around everything that they do. But soon Cooper realizes that their new software has to do with Virtual Reality that is realized via an implant at the base of the neck. The implant allows the software to interact directly with the brain and simulate reality unlike anything achieved before.

And as the testing progresses, Cooper starts to see the real brilliance and possibilities here. We go from playing a stupid game of Bop-the-Mole, to realism unparalled in Virtual Reality. The real magic happens when they take Cooper to a mansion and lock him in and tell him his safe word, and then let him know that it’s going to get freaky real fast. But quickly Cooper is actually bored. Until spiders and a childhood friend enters the scene. And yet, he sees through all that. He sees that the CG is unable to touch him and unable to harm him in anyway… and so Cooper continues to proceed through the simulation without much worry or concern.

Until Sonja arrives at the door that is. And she is full of conspiracy theories and Cooper really is now starting to get stressed out.

Black Mirror Playtest Ending Explained

After really grappling with the possibility that this test could really harm him, Cooper begins freaking out. Totally coming unhinged. The spiders get bigger the chaos gets better. And then, Cooper is stabbed in the back. He feels the pain. And when he is told to step into a specific room to allow him to exit – all hell breaks loose and eventually intervention comes. But then we realize that they are all in his head. But then they extract him out of the dream – or supposedly extract him. We all are certain that we have left with Cooper and that he is now safe. The game designers ask his forgiveness and allow him to head out. Cooper then flies to the United States to go see his mother. But there is nothing ok about Cooper’s mother. She is completely gone – totally off the deep end.

But that turns out to be just another layer of the layered dolls of the inner-workings of the game.

And we learn when Cooper’s cellphone goes off that he had only been in the game for a total of .04 seconds. The cell signal completely interrupted the game and fritzed Cooper’s brain completely. And now he had died. To show you a little more clearly what had happened, I’ve drawn out a map of the layers. In order to read it chronologically read it from the bottom to the top.


Which sort of begs the question. In my discussion of Inception I argue that there are actually seven layers of Inception not the 4 layers that the movie purports are there. (Reality and three dream layers). I came to this conclusion because I believe that the wife was still alive after ‘committing suicide’ to jump to the real reality layer. Which, could be argued here as well… that we never actually reached the final layer of reality. And that the last layer that we are shown isn’t actual reality but instead one shy of reality. To be clear, I am not arguing that here. We have no reason to believe in this case that we didn’t reach back to reality again.

I absolutely adored this episode of Black Mirror. Just such goodness in such a tight little package. No, it doesn’t take aim at an area of society that is killing us, like we saw in Episode 1 of Season 3. But we do see a level of complete insensitivity to human life for the expense of profits. We saw big business completely overrunning the perspectives of the individual for the hopes of profit. Which, in that regard, sort of reminded me of Ex Machina, in a way. Regardless it was definitely an enjoyable hour of television that kept me guessing all the way to the end.

What did you think of the episode?

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29 Responses

  1. Olivia Laura

    The map is wrong, the scene where he is in the office with Katie and the game designer isn’t reality, he never left the white room. The layers are: White Room=Reality, Office=Layer One, the creepy House = Layer Two Game 1, and Home = Layer Three Game 2. He slips into layer one first and then goes into layer two to play the first game and then comes back out into layer one, slips into layer 3 for game 2 and then dies in reality.

    • Kunal More

      I agree… but one must also give importance to the scene (in reality) where he takes a picture of whats in the suitcase and WhatsApp it to Sonja. This happens when Katie goes to fetch the signature page of the NDA. His mother probably calls him then…. Post that its all augmented reality.

    • Diana

      I think like you, the visit to the videogame director’s office wasn’t reality anymore

  2. Judy

    I agree with you, Taylor – this episode was amazing. I’m pretty darn jaded – I haven’t been scared/rattled by any movie or TV show since the 1980s, but this one freaked me out. LOVED IT! Just viewing stills of it gives me chills.

  3. Cliff

    What I don’t understand is if the reality is just .04 seconds how did so many events happen in his head tha fast?

    • Hollie

      I think they mention specifically why in the episode, but if you think about how long dreams seem even though REM sleep is only 20 minutes long, it’s not that surprising that his mind could create that many scenarios in only 0.4 seconds.

      Narratively speaking the reality needed to be that short, because if it took longer than that they would have noticed something was wrong and stopped the test before the effects got so severe.

      Thematically speaking it has you thinking about the interconnection between plausibility, reality and narrative. Which is appropriate, given the episode is about virtual reality and it’s plausible application in gaming narratives.

    • Diana

      Think about it as if it was a dream. Normally our dreams last 20 minutes… but it also feels like much more time has been spent in that dream

      • Daniel

        Under normal circumstances, dreams don’t happen that fast. Lucid dreaming is realtime 1:1, and other types of dreaming isn’t that far off from that speed. If it seems like it’s much faster in a dream, it’s because your mind skips events and fills in the memories afterward, making it seem like more happened than actually did.

        My guess is that this new tech causes the brain to speed up so much, that it fries everything, since there is no cooling system, nor is the brain normally ever overclocked like that. I think he would’ve lasted longer if the phone didn’t interfere. I think the speed boost could’ve been caused by cellular interference.

  4. Chris Jones

    I believe he was just on a low carb diet the whole time. No bread makes your mind wicked clear!

  5. Peter

    My first thought was that Cooper caused the phone to ring. They tell him that it’s all VR, but really they are trying to unlock a part of his mind for some form of telekinesis. He envisions “Mom” calling, and it happens in reality. In the show they are timed together, so I linked them together as if they were one thought. However reading this page and the comments, the death by phone interference makes more sense now.

    • Tiffany

      Peter. I think your view is rather agreeable because it happens just like you have explained. His mom calls him since he envisions it exactly.

  6. Alan

    Personally, I think this “augmented reality” is exactly what it says. He was actually seeing his mother calling him, like his mind was being transported to a different part of his real world. I agree as well that it was a death by phone interference, but seeing his mother wasn’t another layer of the game, it was another layer of reality, so to say.

  7. Ricky

    What if the the story line of “he died in 0.04 seconds” was another layer of the game? If he never left the white room then how did he know what Shou looked like ( i dont recall him meeting/knowing Shou before seeing him in his office)? He dreams meeting him and playing the 2nd game in Shou’s office. We see Shou at the end when he has died after 0.04 seconds which is supposed to be reality so we know that Shou exists and looks like that. But again — how did Cooper know what Shou looked like to interact with him in game world. So I think it’s possible that this ‘reality’ is a fear of his and its another layer to the game. It’s possible that he made it to Shou’s office and is imagining that he died right at the beginning.

    • Eva

      He saw him on a paper or some kind of print in Sonja’s apartment in the beginning of the episode.

      • Ricky

        Oh wow! Great point. I didn’t realize that. There goes that theory!

      • Ally

        The meeting with shou still is a big problem of the episode for me. what about the fact that he hears other characters speak proper Japanese when we have no reason to think he speaks it and that he gets some vocabulary explained, and that he has such a clear idea of the way the whack a mole game works?
        Given how the character is presented (a little stupid) I don’t buy that he would imagine those things so accurately from a glimpse of what is in the suitcase… this episode is incoherent to me. Even with explanations and timelines exposed.

  8. Omar

    Totally disagree.. I think that his death is only a part of the game..
    The whole game is about the ascending layers of fear: starting with simple spiders phobia, to the bullying of a friend during childhood, to loosing his identity (Alzheimer’s) like his late father, to loosing his connection (the disturbed relation) with his mother, until the ultimate fear of all which is DEATH (especially without saying goodbyes).
    The way of his presumable death was referenced during the episode when the hostess asked him to turn off his phone during the airplane take off..
    And the 0.04 seconds thing is to say that our whole life is in fact a blink of an eye..

    • Taylor Holmes

      ooooh. I really like the way you are thinking. Not just in the game of the game… but also the life metaphor of our lives being but a blink of an eye…. hrmmm. Digging your idea there Omar. Interesting.


    • Diana

      Yeah, I was never able to be sure about that. I pnserved that Shou’s clothes changes in the last scene. With that I assume that the Shou using casual clothings is the “game” one and the “formal” Shou is the real one… But your point is also strong… guess we’ll never know

  9. Nodira

    Finally, a person that sees how i saw. Thank you omar.
    Btw follow me IG its instanodira

  10. Tony

    Omar – he is actually dead. He never left the white room.
    .04 seconds can be forever in your mind (just like in previous black mirror episodes)

    My question is, did his mother have alzheimers and he’s running from the pain and responsibility? Thus the repeated phone calls and the scene where she’s incoherent?

    And he’s been lying to his fling about the reason he’s avoiding her calls.

  11. MARK

    I think the game has the ability to generate whatever his mind needs to comprehend it as reality. He wouldn’t need to have met Shou to have an interaction with him.

  12. Jeremy

    Imo, we don’t actually see the true ending–and personally I don’t think that he ended up actually being injured, but learned a lot through the experience. I think that we can safely assume that when Katie leaves the room for “a new form” and the room is locked and airlocked that the game has begun. I don’t know how they trigger it, but here is the biggest proof (and Black Mirror is way to pinpoint to miss a glaring issue like this). The clock. This is the ONLY reason we know that he is still in the game, in fact, and I believe that the director meant to do this. (plus I can’t see this as being a shooting mistake, because everything from the time he enters the white room is about time). When Katie leaves the room it is 5:35….when Cooper picks up his phone it’s 5:38…..when Katie reenters the room it is 5:35….and the test begins (and apparently ends) at 5:38. Every camera angle in this episode is pinpoint, especially in the white room, down to covering up the battery life on his cellphone whenever possible.

  13. Michael

    Brilliant. Disturbing. Mesmorizing. Such a likeable guy expendable in the face of dark technology for corporate gain. Hard to process now he continued on through all the events we saw, to the point of a missed call that lead to his demise. After rewatching, which is not easy, I still don’t quite see the connection. We were given the visual of .04 seconds, but processing mentally is a challenge. Black Mirror thrives in mind messing with us all.

  14. Kevin

    I think another cool thing about the ending was how it touched on the Mother-offspring connection. Was Cooper’s mother calling because she sensed he was in danger? Does Cooper’s fear of harm coming to his mother tap in to the same neural networks of people calling for their mother’s in a death scenario?

    “Make a note of it”
    “Called out Mom” …

  15. David

    How did the main characters mind imagine someone he never met? The “boss” the japanese man was never actually introduced if he never left the white room. So how did his mind create him? The same japanese boss was in the last scene when the main guy was dead, so either we never got back to reality or there is a large plot hole here.

  16. Hossein

    I’m sure he’s still alive. See what the game designer says when they are preparing the game for him:
    “afterwards you feel good, you glow, why?
    …because you’re still alive”

  17. marius

    he died at 5:38..and guess what time was when he put that vr thing on his head when his mom called?? 5:38 🙂


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