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|“||What is Space Fleet? I'll tell you what it is: it is a belief system, founded on the very best of human nature. It is a goal for us to strive towards... for the betterment of the universe - for the betterment of life itself. And you... assholes... ARE FUCKING IT UP!||„|
|~ Daly throwing a temper tantrum|
Robert Daly is the main antagonist of the Black Mirror Season 4 episode "USS Callister". The unassuming Chief Technical Officer of the wildly successful gaming company of the same name, he lives an extensive fantasy life as the captain of a starship in his custom-made virtual reality playground; though at first this appears to merely be a harmless way of escaping from the stresses of real life, it's soon revealed that his creation and use of the game has actually been driven by something much more unpleasant.
He is portrayed by Jesse Plemmons, who also plays Todd Alquist in the 5th season of Breaking Bad. For his performance in this episode, Jesse was nominated for an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, but he lost the award to Darren Criss for his performance as Andrew Cunanan in American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace.
In real life, Robert Daly is emotionally repressed and socially inept, making him subject to regular humiliation by his coworkers — some of it deliberate, some of it purely accidental. For good measure, his growing obsession with indulging his fantasies has left him increasingly unfocused on his job, which only results in more friction with his coworkers — especially company CEO James Walton.
The treatment Daly receives on a daily basis carries into his private life, where he is shown to be an unabashedly vindictive, egotistical, and thoroughly megalomaniacal sociopath: using a modded developer build of the virtual-reality online game Infinity (his magnum opus in the non-virtual world), he is able to live out a fantasy based on his favorite TV show Space Fleet, in which he commands a spaceship and is all but worshipped by a crew of enslaved digital clones — all of whom were copied directly from the DNA of coworkers that slighted Daly in some way.
In many cases, these individuals were selected for immensely petty reasons: Kabir Dudani reset admin permissions on a test build for 14 minutes, Nate Packer brought him the wrong sandwich by mistake, and in a particularly ridiculous case, Elena Tulaska the receptionist was copied for "insufficient smiling" in his presence — all the more ludicrous considering that Elena never smiles at all around anyone. Even Nanette, who actually admired Daly for his gifts as a coder, ended up being targeted because he overheard her sheepishly denying that she was in love with him.
As the digital clones carry the memories and personalities of their real-life counterparts, they are still completely sapient. Daly derives considerable pleasure from physically and psychologically torturing them: on top of more commonplace tortures like strangling and shooting his playthings, he is also prepared to use his control over the simulation to warp their bodies beyond all recognition, transforming Lowry into a hideous monster and erasing Nanette's face—taking great delight in the fact that she can't die from asphyxiation unless he wills it. In one notorious case, he set out to break Walton's spirit by making a digital clone of the CEO's son and ejecting the child into space, just so his ex-boss could watch him die of explosive decompression. Any clones who continues to defy him are simply transformed into alien creatures and abandoned on desolate planets throughout the game world, where they are condemned to live out the rest of their lives alone — until such time as Daly chooses to get them involved in the game again.
Profoundly narcissistic, Daly has modified his copy of Infinity not only to serve as a tool for indulging his violent fantasies, but also as a means of massaging his ego: the clones are required to cheer for Daly whenever he achieves some victory over an in-game opponent and humiliate themselves in order to make their "captain" seem more competent; for similar reasons, villains are to act as stupidly as possible, affording Daly easy victories. For good measure, his developer build is skewed ridiculously in his favor in order to make him the lone hero of the game, and though he doesn't use his reality-warping powers within the scenarios he creates, he still likes to rig the game by ensuring that he is the only member of the crew given a working firearm — forcing the clones to pose dramatically with useless guns while he takes down the villain singlehandedly.
One of the few things that Robert Daly carries over into his private life is his discomfort with anything relating to sexual activity, despite the implied desire for a romance with the real-life Nanette. He feels awkward when Nanette’s clone tries to distract him by flirting. Daly insists on making the Space Fleet mod as "wholesome" as possible by kissing his female crewmates only on the lips and by removing all of the clones’ genitals. The clones thus cannot feel sexual pleasure or even excrete. Over time, this has become its own form of torture for the clones, all of whom spend their free time drinking heavily and banging their heads against the furniture out of sheer boredom.
Overall, despite his seemingly sympathetic introduction, Daly is a thoroughly unpleasant individual both in reality and in his virtual playground: even at work, where he seems the most benign, he is still willing to stalk and spy on coworkers. If he feels like incorporating them into the game, he is also more than comfortable with stealing DNA samples from virtually anything they touched, including the office bathrooms. Even his love of Space Fleet is tainted by his childish psychopathy, in that he enjoys the series not for its plot, its setting or even the sense of nostalgia, but simply for the fact that it provides him with a setting in which to indulge his twisted power fantasies.
Robert Daly's background is largely unknown. However, what is known is that he is a massive fan of the vintage sci-fi TV show Space Fleet, owning every episode on VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray, along with several merchandising tie-ins; fascinated by the adventures of the USS Callister, his love of science fiction eventually became a part of his career when he asked his business partner James Walton to name their new gaming company after the fictional spaceship. Despite not getting the reference, Walton agreed and christened their new business venture "Callister Inc.".
A brilliant but socially awkward coder, Daly naturally took the role of Chief Technical Officer, while Walton - the more exuberant and outgoing of the two - proved a perfect fit for the Chief Executive Officer. With his partner keeping the business stable, Daly was able to funnel his technical genius and love of sci-fi into the virtual reality online multiplayer game Infinity: granting players the experience of exploring a procedurally-generated universe from their own starship, the game proved immensely popular, its revolutionary design winning Callister fame and fortune worldwide.
Despite successes such as these, the relationship between Daly and Walton did not remain harmonious for long. Over time, their wildly differing personalities began to grate on one another: in particular, Daly's unwillingness to take charge of his own department regularly frustrated the aggressive CEO, leading to several disagreements which descended to the level of outright bullying on Walton's part. As the company continued channeling its resources into expanding the Infinity franchise, Daly's former partner had no problems with exploiting his CTO's gifts while hogging most of the profits for himself, with little appreciation shown for the source of the company's accolades.
Unable or unwilling to confront Walton in person, Daly dealt with his troubles at the workplace in a novel way: some years prior to the events of the episode, he was able to either invent or obtain a machine that would allow him to create digital clones from human DNA samples, and incorporate the device into his home computer. As CTO, Daly also had access to a developer build of Infinity, which he also kept at home: having extensively modified it to resemble Space Fleet, he kept it offline in order to prevent it from being deleted by online servers. With these creations at his disposal, he had everything he needed in order to make his fantasies a reality. Taking advantage of Walton's predilection for smoothies, Daly stole the lid off one such drink and brought it home, where he converted the DNA obtained from it into a brand-new virtual clone of his boss - who he then incorporated into his copy of Infinity.
By all accounts, Daly made his expectations of the duplicate known immediately: in keeping with the Space Fleet-themed reskin, the CTO was to play the captain of a starship, and the CEO was to play his first officer. Naturally, Walton refused to play along, but with developer privileges at his command, Daly was able to torture him in any way he pleased if it would make his plaything cooperate. However, even in the face of continuous pain, the clone proved every bit as stubborn as his real self, and for some time, the two of them were at impasse. Then, out in the real world, Walton's son Tommy payed a visit to Callister's offices, and while he was being shown around by the CEO's real self, Daly saw an opportunity for greater torture: stealing a lollipop that Tommy had left on a desk, he cloned the child and brought him into the game, where he gave virtual Walton just enough time to rejoice at seeing his son again before throwing him out an airlock - ensuring that Walton got to see every detail of virtual Tommy's gruesome death. For good measure, Daly threatened to re-clone Tommy into the game and kill him again if his plaything continued to resist.
The experience broke Walton's spirit: left with no hope of escaping or seeing his son again except under the worst possible circumstances, he complied with every demand made of him, remaking himself into a fawning lackey for the self-styled Captain Daly. Worse still, Daly's pet project soon demanded further participants, and he began cloning other colleagues from work to play other supporting roles in his fantasy, usually taking revenge for petty slights against him in the process. These duplicates were regularly tortured for every embarrassment Daly suffered at work, and those who persisted in disobeying his orders were permanently transformed into monsters. It's still not known how many people he cloned and incorporated, but by the beginning of the episode, he had acquired a bridge crew consisting of Walton, Shania Lowry, Kabir Dudani, Nate Packer and Elena Tulaska, with Valdack and assorted transformed individuals serving as the villains of the game.
In order to guarantee his continued enjoyment, Daly kept his collection of DNA samples (including Tommy's lollipop) in a mini-fridge by his desk, ensuring that even if the clones were somehow able to kill themselves, he could simply clone them back into the game all over again.
Events of the Episode
Shortly after winning another in-game victory over Valdack, the episode begins with Daly arriving at work, where he is introduced to new employee Nanette Cole, a fellow coder with a great admiration for the CTO's abilities. However, when the real Lowry cheekily teases her over her apparent infatuation, Daly happens to hear Nanette denying that she has a crush on him, immediately drawing his ire. After hours, he steals Cole's DNA off of a coffee cup and uploads it into Infinity: once he is finished forcing her into line by temporarily erasing her face, he begins a new game against Valdack with Nanette playing the science officer.
Having lost all admiration for Daly by the end of this particular game, Nanette uses the game's invite system to contact her real self in an attempt to call for help; unfortunately, the real Nanette is merely confused by the message, and happens to ask the company CTO for advice on the subject. Enraged by clear evidence of a mutiny among his crew, Daly returns to the game in a bad mood, and though Lowry is able to convince him not to take out his frustrations on digital Nanette, he decides to shake up the clones by transforming Lowry herself into a monster - to be dumped on a deserted planet and left to rot.
Though it seems as though Nanette's spirit has been broken by this incident, the sight of a wormhole opening in the game spurs her into action: the virtual sign of an update patch within the game, the wormhole would theoretically allow the clones access to the system firewall, where their illegal code would immediately result in their deletion - their best chance for freedom.
However, they also have to ensure that Daly can't make any more clones from their DNA, so Nanette keeps him distracted down on a planetside adventure while the rest of the crew uses their temporary internet connection to access the real Nanette's photo-sharing account; using a number of explicit photos she forgot to delete, Walton is able to blackmail real Nanette into stealing the DNA samples, then ordering Daly a pizza - forcing him to exit the game just long enough to answer the door, allowing the clones to make a break for the wormhole before it closes.
Unfortunately, Daly soon returns to the game: despite being stranded back on the planet, he is able to salvage an abandoned ship and chase after them; with the clones being forced to fly through an asteroid belt to reach the wormhole in time, their own ship is effectively disabled in a collision, and Daly is almost able to catch up - fully intent on exacting a brutal revenge on the mutineers as soon as he boards. Fortunately, Walton sacrifices his virtual existence to restart the engines, allowing them to finally escape through the wormhole - though instead of deleting them, this leads to them being incorporated into the default version of Infinity, granting the clones a new life in a procedurally-generated universe.
Back in his own copy, the update's firewall detects the modded game's code and disables Daly's controls, leaving him trapped inside the game, unable to log out before he ends up being deleted along with his developer build. As a result, Robert Daly's consciousness likely ceases to exist, rendering him comatose in the real world. For good measure, the Do Not Disturb notice on his door results in his body being left to slowly die of thirst, guaranteeing his death in both the virtual world and reality.
- In much the same way that Space Fleet is based on the real world TV series Star Trek, Daly's virtual persona is clearly based on Captain James T Kirk; along with the womanizing, adventurous personality, his accent and diction are recognizably modeled on those of William Shatner. Reportedly, Jesse Plemmons was actually assigned a vocal coach to help capture the mannerisms of Shatner's performance.
- Daly's erasure of Nanette's face was most likely inspired by the Star Trek episode "Charlie X," in which a godlike alien removed a woman's facial features in a similar fashion.
- As a villain, Daly bears close similarities to AM of I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream and Stanislaus Braun of Fallout 3. All three villains take great delight in forcing innocent people into constructed worlds and making them suffer for all eternity, all possess a gift for manipulating reality (virtual or otherwise), and all three do their best to psychologically destroy their captives over the course of their torment; for good measure, Daly possesses a childish streak very similar to Braun's. Ultimately, all three are defeated by the deaths of their prisoners, condemning them to spend the rest of their lives alone in a hell of their own making.
- In the later episode "Black Museum", Daly's cloning machine appears in the museum as an exhibit along with Tommy's stolen lollipop, indicating that his crimes were eventually discovered by the authorities and revealed to the general public some time following his death. The machine also appears with other objects related to other villains from the series, such as an ADI bee used by cyber-terrorist Garrett Scholes in the episode "Hated in the Nation", a bathtub stained with blood were Mia Nolan killed her second victim in the episode "Crocodile", all of them now owned and exhibited in Rolo Haynes' Black Museum.