For my first screenplay analysis, I’ll be breaking down the episode “Nosedive” from the third season of the Netflix show Black Mirror, teleplay by Michael Schur and Rashida Jones, based on a story by Charlie Brooker. For a quick summary of the episode, I’ve pulled a logline from Wikipedia:
Set in an alternative reality where people can rate one another using their phones, and where your ratings can impact your entire life, it tells the story of Lacie, a young woman overly obsessed with her ratings who, after being chosen by her popular childhood friend, as the maid of honor for her wedding, sees it as an opportunity to improve her ratings and achieve her dreams.
I will begin my analysis with a scene-by- scene breakdown, which I will group into sequences and demarcate by structural characteristics. Then, I will discuss the major themes and characters in terms of how they function in the structure of story. Lastly, I will discuss the episode informally.
Sequence 1 – Exposition and Introduction of Main Characters
0-2:27 OPENING IMAGE
Lacie takes her morning run, rating people she passes. In the mirror, she practices behaviors that she believes will make others rate her highly.
Lacie tells her brother, Ryan, that prospective renters are coming over to look at the apartment
While purchasing lunch, Lacie looks at other people’s social media posts and continually rates others, as they do her. She makes a post of a cookie and coffee on social media.
Lacie rides the elevator up to work with her coworker Bets, a highly rated person with a new job (we learn that Lacie is still at her old job) . Lacie tries to impress her with outward niceness.
Lacie is prompted to look at the social feed of a highly rated woman named Naomi (Protagonist’s Object of Desire). A man named Chester approaches her with a smoothie, and she accepts. Another coworker tells Lacie that no one’s talking to Ches now because he broke up with a boyfriend. If Chester drops below a 2.5 rating, he’ll be fired. Lacie gets worried as she receives a few anonymous negative reviews.
Sequence 2 – Inciting Incident of Central Conflict: Need a higher rating to qualify for Pelican Cove.
8:20-10:00 – INCITING INCIDENT
Lacie shops for an apartment in Pelican Cove, an expensive lifestyle community. In it, she pictures her ideal life. She can’t afford it, but will get a 20% discount if she has a 4.5 rating.
At home, Lacie continues to look at pictures of Naomi’s life. Ryan questions Lacie’s decision to look at Pelican cove and questions whether she’d even qualify.
Lacie visits a social media consultant, who tells her that she needs to interact with more highly influential, highly-rated people to boost her rating.
Sequence 3 – Complications ensue as Lacie tries to get up-ratings
The next day at work, Lacie refuses to give stars to Ches, whose rating is now so low that he can’t get in the building. She gives Bets a croissant in the elevator, hoping for more starts, but Bets gives her only two.
The social media consultant tells her that she shouldn’t try so hard and should make authentic gestures. To get Naomi’s attention, Lacie posts a picture of Mr. Rags, a rag doll of significance to the two of them.
Sequence 4 – Act I Climax and Major Positive Reversal: Lacie now has an opportunity to boost her ratings.
16:48-21:30 – ACT I CLIMAX
At home, Lacie makes tapenade in an effort to do it up. Ryan makes fun of her. Naomi calls and tells her that she’s getting married and asks Lacie to be her maid of honor. Ryan ridicules Lacie for talking with Naomi, reminding her of all the bad things that Naomi has done to her.
The social media consultant tells Lacie that giving her maid of honor speech at the wedding should be able to boost her rating quick enough to qualify for the apartment. Lacie calls Pelican Cove to put down the deposit on her apartment.
Sequence 5 – Complications ensue when Lacie travels to the wedding on the plane, pushing Lacie further into rating jeopardy.
At home, Lacie practices her wedding speech, which seems slightly overdone and overshare-y. Ryan tells her that speech is pathetic and she’s not likely to get points. Ryan tells Lacie that he misses the old her. Lacie tells Ryan that she hasn’t enjoyed living with him and was embarrassed to bring guys back because of his video game playing and low rating. They both down-rate each other.
On the street getting to her taxi, Lacie bumps into a woman and is down-rated. In the taxi, Lacie gets a call from Naomi, asks her if she’ll be there in time for the rehearsal dinner and tells her to take the eating disorder part out of the speech. Lacie’s taxi driver downrates her.
At the airport counter, Lacie’s flight is delayed. She makes a scene in the airport, causing a slew of downratings, plus a 24-hour full point downrating.
Sequence 6 – More ensue when Lacie rents a car and faces discrimination because of her low rating.
At a rental car place, Lacie is told that she doesn’t qualify for a high-quality car. Nevertheless, she gets on the road.
In the car, Lacie calls Naomi to tell her that she won’t be able to make the rehearsal dinner. Naomi tells her that she can find a replacement if everything isn’t ok.
Lacie runs out of car charge on the road. A seedy station attendant tells her that there isn’t a charge adapter for her car, so she’ll have to wait and borrow one. Lacie asks other people at the station for a charge adapter, but they don’t give her one. She tries to hitchhike, but people don’t pick her up because of her low rating.
Sequence 7 – ACT II Midpoint Positive Reversal: Lacie is picked up by Susan, things seem to be looking up.
A low-rated trucker, Susan, stops to pick Lacie up. Despite initial hesitation, Lacie gets in the truck. While driving, Susan tells Lacie that she used to have a high rating, but grew disillusioned with the system after her husband died because of rating favoritism. Then, Susan started saying anything that came to mind, which felt good, but people didn’t like that. Lacie says that that attitude is fine for Susan because she has nothing less to lose, but not for Lacie–she doesn’t have anything to lose yet. Thirty miles away from the wedding, Susan drops off Lacie, with a parting gift.
In a bathroom, Lacie overhears that groupies for a space-themed TV show are going to a convention in the same town as the wedding. She pretends to be a groupie to get a ride.
Sequence 8 – Act II Climax and Major Negative Reversal: Naomi tells Lacie not to come to the wedding, reveals herself to be a false friend
46:08-47:43 ACT II CLIMAX
On the bus, Naomi calls her and tells her not to come to the wedding. She reveals that it was all a ploy for more points anyway, and now that Lacie’s rating is so low, she can’t risk it.
Crisis: Will Lacie choose to go to the wedding anyway?
Sequence 9: Lacie gets to the wedding
Lacie tries to hitchhike again, this time eventually getting a ride from someone on an ATV. She sneaks into Naomi’s wedding.
Sequence 10: Climax
At Naomi’s wedding reception, Lacie steals the microphone and gives a speech about Naomi, this time being perfectly honest for once about how Naomi used to her make herself look better by comparison. She is dragged out by security guards.
Sequence 10: Resolution
In prison, Lacie has her ratings contact lenses removed. She exchanges insults with another prisoner, and the two feel free to have uninhibited, meaningful interactions for the first time.
Analysis of Major Themes & Characters
“Nosedive” follows a three-act structure and revolves around a central protagonist, Lacie.
Protagonist & Central Theme
The Protagonist: Lacie Pound
As the protagonist of the story, Lacie embodies the inherent conflict of a society that judges every interaction. She’s exactly the kind of person that this system wreaks havoc upon: the average person who wants to be “great” by society’s standard’s, but doesn’t quite get there. We sense that she has an earnest desire to be a good person, even if she’s misdirected. We feel sorry for her as we see people make snap judgments about her. Lacie is a complex and compelling protagonist.
Lacie has clear inner and external desires that drive the story:
Internal desire: to be well-liked, to live a perfect life
External desire: to qualify to live in Pelican Grove
Better to be honest than to be well-liked.
This theme is stated strongly in the climax of the episode, where Lacie forfeits her ratings by speaking the truth. The climax of the plot is positive, but ironic. Lacie does not get what she wanted originally, because Susan’s story and the revelation of Naomi’s true nature opens her eyes to what it is she really wants: to live an honest life.
Supporting characters add dimension to the protagonist and advance the story in the following ways:
Ryan forces Lacie to confront the negative aspects of her lifestyle. However, he isn’t perfect: his gamer lifestyle and neglect of Lacie reveal a certain kind of hypocrisy that makes him flawed and believable.
Naomi’s lifestyle. Naomi is a Shapeshifter–we’re not sure whether to trust her, although we have evidence for both positions. Throughout the story, she seems to want to help her friend Lacie. But as Ryan says and Naomi eventually reveals, she is just as fake as Ryan says.
Susan serves as a Mentor to Lacie, showing her the illusory nature of her quest for high ratings. It is implied that Susan has multiple dimensions–given her past popularity–but we don’t necessarily need to see them, since she functions mainly to wake Lacie up.
Though he doesn’t play a large role in the episode, Chester serves as a foil by which we can see one of Lacie’s (and society’s) negative characteristics–her desire for self-aggrandizement at the cost of others.
“Nosedive” is an exceptional episode due to many elements, not least of which its impressive production design and compelling lead performance by Bryce Dallas Howard. Fundamental to all of these was the well-crafted teleplay by Michael Schur and Rashida Jones, based on a story by Charlie Brooker. “Nosedive” begins with a strong concept and develops its implications through a sound narrative. Beyond this structure, the extra details really make it sparkle. For example, characters’ tendency to downrate each other at the end of interactions as a form of retribution makes for a funny and sharp way to end each scene. The clever use of holograms in selective advertisement is another amusing touch. The tone of the dialogue—stilted, but consistently so–was crucial in setting up a coherent, unified world that allowed for great performances.