“The National Anthem” is very straightforward and to the point, so much so that it’s boring. Princess Susannah, a member of the royal family, is kidnapped, and the perpetrator threatens to kill her at 4 o’clock that day if Prime Minister Michael Callow, the protagonist, does not comply with his one demand; that Michael has unsimulated sexual intercourse with a pig. The episode follows Michael and his closest aides as they scramble to suppress the spread of information, deceive the kidnapper, and track them down. As they do, they encounter a different opponent, the internet.
The moral of the story lacks shock value, but it is relevant. The writers convey the power of the internet and the power that it holds over people. Although the government has some control over news stations, it cannot control social media. Platforms like TikTok and Twitter give users the power to record, duplicate, and share an image, video, or piece of information with the push of a button. People are quick to jump on social media trends, which is how new viral content is produced every day. The problem with this is that people often spread information without critically thinking about its validity. As such, social media can easily sway public opinion.
Another statement that the writers are trying to make is that people are addicted to mass media. From news reports, we see clips of bustling streets filled with people and cars in the time leading up to the deadline. However, once the clock strikes 4 o’clock, we see that the streets are now empty and everyone is inside their homes, packed in pubs — anywhere with a screen to watch the live broadcast. Even those who told the news reporters that they wouldn’t be tuning in are nowhere to be found. This exemplifies how mass media attracts people in hordes, and even those who are doubtful are swept up in the heat of the moment.
The episode is only 44 minutes long, which doesn’t allow much time for the viewer to become acquainted with the protagonist or for a character to develop depth or a personality. Michael barely gets any screen time as the episode shows various side stories from his Secretary who’s trying to orchestrate a Deepfake, to a journalist who’s trying to get a scoop for the news station, to a bunch of random citizens who are watching the chaos unfold, just to name a few. The little screen time that Michael does get depicts him as an aggressive and selfish man who’d rather protect his public appearance than comply with the kidnapper’s request in spite of the bloodshed. He does, however, care for his wife and child’s safety.
It’s fine for what it is — a 44-minute story about how the government is powerless against the internet. The singular event that transpires in the episode is highly time-sensitive, so there aren’t many possible endings for the writers to work with; thus, the product becomes predictable and unexciting. However, I did enjoy the plot-twist at the end with the kidnapper. That being said, the writers spent too much time on questionable side stories when they should have been fixing some significant plot holes. Another missed opportunity would be making the audience live tweet as they watched the broadcast, now that would’ve been more realistic and satirical.
I typically re-watch episodes of shows because I like the plot and the characters, or because the message was so convoluted that it warrants a re-watch. This episode ticks none of these boxes as there were too many elements that detract from the story and main characters; thus, the episode falls flat. I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch this again. After taking all of these factors into consideration, I rate “The National Anthem” 1.5/5 stars.
After reading this review, consider the following: is technology a problem in and of itself, or is it the people who design and use it, or is it both?
What do you think of “The National Anthem”? Leave a comment below!
Cover Photo: screencap of “The National Anthem”