“Shut Up and Dance” is almost impressively straightforward. You can sort of count the developments at the end as twists, but they aren’t the shocking The Sixth Sense “holy shit” sort but more like The Departed‘s “oh wow” kind of turn of events. All it endeavours to do is tell a gripping, pressing story, and it very much does that.
There is not futuristic twist, no farfetched advancement in technology. It might as well be our world today, which perhaps is the only truly terrifying part. It takes the paranoia of Snowden but makes it real as 19-year-old Kenny (Alex Lawther) is blackmailed into following the anonymous orders he is sent on his phone after he is captured in a compromising position through his infected laptop’s webcam.
The threat of sending this footage out to all of his contacts is apparently enough to get him to do anything. It’s pretty much nonsense, requiring a heavy dose of gullibility to think this is at all viable. Not viable in the sense that you can get blackmailed into doing things through illegally garnered material but that something of this low level would compel these people to engage in such dangerous, illicit activity.
Once it starts going, though, and we meet our other main hostage in this game Hector (Jerome Flynn), it starts to become a relentless and exciting ride to the finish. You just keep waiting for the thing to go wrong (whatever that thing is) and it’s both titillating and terrifying as you anticipate the dropping of the shoe. It’s largely thanks to these two main actors making their mostly unstated, amorphous fears extraordinarily tangible, showing the vast chasm between their characters in the most intriguing ways.
You really have to work to not jump the gun on the ending, though, along with each step of the journey. You can very easily predict how it all plays out, but as soon as you start trying to do that, even the brisk and electric ride to the end stops being worthwhile. Stay out of your own head, though, and it actually turns out to be of a riveting sort, especially if you ponder on what shame means to you.
The very literal end manages to capture some of that cold, callous insight into our collective pop psyche, which is a welcome jolt to this otherwise standard, strangely action-oriented affair. It’s the kind of thing to where your heart is still pounding as you just sort of chew on a casual commentary on how the world really, truly, unrelentingly sucks at being fair. It’s a good episode that does some neat things with some great actors, but it doesn’t quite hit the heights of the rest of the season.