Black Mirror's USS Callister is a bigger homage to Star Trek than you thought

Contributed by
Dec 30, 2017

Black Mirror's fourth season opens with "USS Callister," an episode that isn't just a fantastic takedown of toxic masculinity in nerd culture (guys, seriously, it is so good), not only full of surprising cameos, but it also contains a surprising number of nods to Star Trek. In fact, despite the evisceration, "USS Callister" is, in many ways, a love song to Star Trek.

And whether you are a Trek fanatic or not, you might not have caught every reference. Having watched it a few times, here are some of the nods I noticed. If some of them seem obvious, remember that lots of people who watch Black Mirror do not know Star Trek front to back. This article is for them, too.

And some of these are me maybe grasping at something that maybe isn't there. But part of the fun of looking for easter eggs is taking chances and hoping you catch something really obscure, right?

Warning! SPOILERS ahead for this episode, so abort this mission if you haven't watched yet.

DEFINITELY A REFERENCE

All of these are 100% a shout-out to Star Trek. I would wager my best phaser-you-can-use-as-a-TV-remote on it.

Jesse Plemons, who plays both Robert Daly, game coder, and Robert Daly, captain of the USS Callister, spends his real life with thinning hair and his virtual life with a full head of luscious locks. That's not accident. It is pretty well known that William Shatner, who plays Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek, eventually started wearing a hairpiece because he was losing his hair.

And the comparisons betwen Kirk and Daly don't stop there. If you don't know any better, you might think it's very strange that Plemons speaks completely differently when he is in-game. That is also a reference to Shatner's very particular acting style, often referred to as the "dramatic ... pause."

Daly also makes out with the women on the ship. One, Shania, is a woman of color acting as communications officer, a clear nod to Nichelle Nichols' performance as Uhura on the original Star Trek. And, in fact, Kirk kisses Uhura in a TOS episode called "Plato's Stepchildren," which was the first interracial kiss on TV. Daly also kisses Elena, who, in-game, has blue, alien skin. That is a reference to when Kirk kisses a character named Marta, a green-skinned alien, in the TOS episode "Whom Gods Destroy."

And before we transition away from Daly, did you notice his uniform is different from everyone else's? He wears a red jacket with a gray undershirt? That's a reference, too! It's an homage to the uniform Captain Picard wears on Star Trek: The Next Generation during the later seasons.

Everyone else's costumes aboard the USS Callister are strictly a reference to the original Star Trek. The bold, block colors, the miniskirts, and the '60s hair are all very much in keeping with the style of TOS. And, when it comes to those bare midriffs, that is also a reference, most likely to the episode "Mirror, Mirror," where we discover an alternate universe of Star Trek that's the same, BUT EVIL.

ALMOST DEFINITELY A REFERENCE

If I'm incorrect about any of these, you can have one of my Star Trek: The Next Generation Playmates Guinan figures. I have several. Don't ask.

Daly, when facing off against his nemesis, Valdack, says, "Killing in cold blood is against Space Fleet code." In Star Trek, there are rules and regulations in Starfleet that amount to basically the same. There are countless times when Kirk, Picard, and other Starfleet captains could but don't kill their adversaries. Of course, Daly won't kill Valdack, both for that reason but also because, you know, then he has one less person to torture. Hi. Black Mirror is a dark show that likes to subvert nice things and make them dark and horrible.

The ship's navigator, Packer, mentions toward the end of "USS Callister" that the captain is supposed to say "engage" or "increase thrust" before the ship gets under way. That is a reference to Captain Picard from TNG, who says "engage" at least once per episode. At least.

The USS Callister, while going through an asteroid field, experiences turbulence and the crew bounces around the bridge. This is a reference to all Star Trek shows. There's a lot of turbulence in Trek space, and the camera always shakes and the actors always throw themselves around. The cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation even developed a numbered system so they knew how much turbulence they should pretend they are in.

And related to classic trek visuals, when the Callister goes through the wormhole to escape Daly's game, they utilize a stretch effect (it looks exactly like it sounds) that was used, not only on Star Trek, but on most sci-fi TV series (including Doctor Who) in the '60s and '70s.

Finally, before we move on to the "you sure about that, my dude" section, Walton sacrifices himself in order to reboot the USS Callister's engines so they can escape. This is a direct reference to when Spock sacrifices himself in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan so that the Enterprise and her crew can escape Khan and the Mutara Nebula before the Genesis device can activate and kill everyone.

OBSCURE, MAYBE REFERENCES

Okay, I'm confident at least some of these are definitely right, but, just in case, I'm leaving these in the " obscure reference" section, because I read Star Trek into A LOT OF THINGS (don't judge me). I'll put these references in order from most-to-least likely to actually be references. I bet nothing on these, but you can laugh at me on the street if I'm incorrect, assuming you're a meanie who likes doing that sort of thing.

The crew of the USS Callister escapes Daly through a wormhole. Wormholes play a major role in Star Trek, but most notably in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. So I'm confident in saying that the reason the games update takes the form of a wormhole is  a DS9 shout-out.

Daly owns Space Fleet (the Star Trek knock-off show from "USS Callister") on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray, but sighs about it also being available on Netflix. First of all, yes, all of Star Trek is available on Netflix. But, also, this could be a reference to the fact that the current Star Trek series, Discovery, is only available on streaming. This could also be a reference to the impact that streaming had on the purchase of Star Trek in physical media. Because most people did not buy TNG or TOS on Blu-ray, CBS decided not to go through the process of restoring Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Star Trek: Voyager on Blu-ray.

But, also, sometimes nerds are gatekeepers who don't like it when just anybody can get into their special TV show that they love. So ... shout-out?

Speaking of Daly, he has a number of action figures from Space Fleet throughout his office and home. One is a large brain, which I think is probably a reference to the infamous TOS Season 3 episode "Spock's Brain" in which Spock is separated from, you guessed it, his brain.

Inverse Entertainment pointed out similarities between a Harlan Ellison short story, "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream," and "USS Callister." In both, there is a small group of humans who cannot die and are being tormented by a godlike entity as they try to find a means to reach sweet oblivion. Harlan Ellison is also notable for being the writer of one of Star Trek's most famous and popular episodes, "The City on the Edge of Forever." Not sure if that was an intentional reference, but it's a cool one if it is.

ALMOST DEFINITELY ONLY A REFERENCE IN MY OWN HEAD

And finally, here is my crazy, outlandish theory, which the writers of Black Mirror may feel free to either confirm or debunk. If I am right about this, though, I will ABSOLUTELY laugh at every stranger on the street forever because I am 100% a meanie who likes doing that sort of thing. Here we go:

In real life, Daly lives in Apartment 402. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Science Station 402 is the station the Enterprise D is headed toward when Lietuenant Reginald Barclay gets godlike intelligence from a Cytherian probe which he uses to control everyone on the ship.

Barclay, like Daly, is a nervous person who seeks out to control other people on the Enterprise through photonic versions of them on the holodeck.

Of course, Daly's behavior could also be a shout out to any of the many god-like entities of Star Trek, like Q or Trelane. But I'm staking my claim here, folks. Daly is a reference to Reginald Barclay, specifically from the TNG episode "The Nth Degree."

And that's it! What Star Trek references did you catch? Are any of yours as outlandish as mine? Write them down in the comments and maybe the crew of Black Mirror will smile down upon us for being so smart and for catching their super-obscure Star Trek easter eggs. Hey. You want to curry favor with these people, otherwise you might wind up in an episode of Black Mirror, and ain't nobody wants that.