Screenshot of Liam (Toby Kebbell) from the “Black Mirror” episode “The Entire History of You.” Credit:

‘The Entire History of You’ Turns 10: Are We Living in a Version of Grain Culture Right Now?

Once understood to be a critique of society’s overreliance on smart technology, this “Black Mirror” classic turns out to have much more to say about our current fixation with cultural reckonings.

Kimberly Joyner
5 min readJun 19, 2021


In the third episode of “Black Mirror,” Netflix’s futuristic anthology series about the dangers and unintended consequences of new technology, humans are implanted with a chip that records everything they see, hear, and do. The chip, known as a grain, allows humans to access their recorded memories anytime they wish; and in this episode, “The Entire History of You,” a young man named Liam (Toby Kebbell), is slowly done in by paranoia over his wife Ffion’s (Jodie Whittaker) past relationship with their friend Jonas (Tom Cullen). Liam is ultimately vindicated—after berating her hours, Liam gets Ffion to show him grain footage of her having sex with Jonas around the time she became pregnant with their only child — but he has lost so much in the process of getting to the truth that in the end he decides to remove the grain from his neck.

Back in 2011 when the first season of “Black Mirror” debuted on British television (the show moved to Netflix at the beginning of the third season), the show’s primary focus on the dark side of emerging technologies meant viewers were likely to see the grain in “The Entire History of You” as symbolizing the ways in which smartphones were beginning to take the place of real life connections with other people. But today, Liam’s overuse of the grain to access the past is not as remarkable to me as the reasons for his and friends’ apparent discontent with the present.

In one of the more harrowing scenes from “The Entire History of You,” Liam and Ffion decide to have sex after a fight, but the two are unable to enjoy each other in the moment without watching grain footage from their past sexual encounters. Similarly playboy Jonas (Tom Cullen), Ffion’s ex-lover who quickly becomes Liam’s nemesis, admits during a dinner party with Liam, Ffion, and their mutual friends that he would rather watch grain footage of his past sexual conquests than have sex with his fiancée, with whom he has recently separated, in the present.

There are other hints that the young, upwardly mobile implanted class are miserable in grain culture. Jeff (Rashan Stone), another guest at the dinner party, has just purchased a new condo but spends most of the party complaining about the ugly frayed rugs in his new home, which he has plenty of grain footage to bore everyone with. For entertainment during dinner, the only thing the hosts can offer their friends is grain footage of themselves partying in their younger days. They even try to pressure Liam to show his grain-recorded memories of the job performance review he had earlier in the day so that they can judge how well or poorly he did. But Liam, suspecting the review was a disaster, resists until Jonas finally gets everyone to stop asking him to show it.

Liam and his friends aren’t simply denizens of a near future in which grain-watching parties have replaced TikTok videos as real life passes them by. What makes grain culture so terrifying in “The Entire History of You” is that young people are defined almost entirely by the contents of their recorded pasts.

In the years since this episode’s debut, it’s not hard to see similarities between grain culture in Liam’s universe and millennial addiction to the past — whether it’s rebooting old TV shows and movie franchises from their formative years or millennials’ own reckoning through op-eds and podcasts with the public’s past treatment of female pop stars and athletes of color. One major reason for this trend, according to Ashley Fetters of the Washington Post, is a desire among socially conscious millennials to “reexamine as adults what they remember absorbing in fragments during childhood.” But Liam’s descent from depressed lawyer in a sputtering marriage and legal career to restless vigilante offers another reason for young people’s predilection for the past: unlike the outmoded political processes of the present, technology has given young people greater narrative-making power over the past. And with this power the aggrieved (like Liam, like any indebted, underemployed 30-something who has witnessed two financial recessions in the prime of their lives) get to decide what justice for them looks like.

Liam’s justice-seeking begins at the dinner party he was not expected to be able to attend with his wife Ffion because of the performance review at his law firm. Sensing the review did not go well, Liam spends most of his time on the cab ride to the party analyzing grain footage of the review, paying close attention to the facial expressions of the firm’s partners. But to viewers, it’s suggested that Liam’s ethical compass likely cost him a promotion, as the tone of the review changed when he questioned the firm’s desire to represent children in dubious lawsuits against their parents. In essence, Liam is established early on as a familiar figure to millennials — a principled young professional struggling to get ahead in a world run by sleazy people.

People like Jonas.

Jonas is the archetypical ladies man — instantly charming and attractive to everyone he meets until he’s gotten what he’s wanted from them, at which point he reveals his true selfish and hedonistic ways. But of all the guests with grains, Jonas is probably the most present-minded person at the dinner party. As he entertains the others with jokes and anecdotes from his dating life, Ffion can’t stop smiling and chuckling in his direction at the dinner table. Liam takes notice and with the aid of the grain slowly uncovers the truth about their relationship.

The episode ends with Liam wandering alone around an empty house, randomly clicking through grain footage of his life with Ffion and their daughter, before deciding to cut the grain out of his neck for good. It seems getting to the truth about the past cost him far more than he has gained. The lesson is straightforward: Knowing the truth about something doesn’t always make us feel better about it. And if the constant churn of myth-making about ourselves and our world is what it takes for people to be happy, what “justice” is there in stopping it?

The meliorist among us may be reluctant to admit this question crops up in every instance of cultural reckoning. But for every queer character injected into a 90s TV show reboot, for every male celebrity brought to his knees by social media rediscovering his past mistreatment of women, for every new film documenting America’s racial terror against Black people — there is also the gutting realization that our present political process offers very little in the way of permanent change.

In a made-up future in which everyone’s addiction to the past channels their discontent with the present, the world looks eerily similar to the one we live in now: A generation of highly educated and politically conscious young adults seek justice in reimagining what once was long after their degrees and their votes have failed to deliver the lives they were promised since they were kids.



Kimberly Joyner

I write about American politics, current events, and gender/feminism in TV and film. Based in Atlanta, GA. Email: