Full Circle: SF8 White Crow

SF8‘s sixth story is an enigmatic and disturbing tale of bullying and suicide in a world where reputation means more than life

He was once a bird with silver-white plumage, equal to the spotless doves, not inferior to the geese, those saviours of the Capitol with their watchful cries, or the swan, the lover of rivers. His speech condemned him. Because of his ready speech he, who was once snow white, was now white’s opposite.

Ovid Metamorphoses Bk2

There’s something deeply compelling about how enigmatic White Crow is. After a number of enjoyable but straightforward episodes, SF8 tantalises us with a minimalist and oblique story about bullying that may be about a malfunctioning VR system – or may not.

It’s true that in many ways White Crow feels like a bottle episode. The story has a lingering horror vibe and is told with only a few actors, one or two simple sets and minimal special effects. It’s possible the episode is a result of the anthology’s budget going on bigger, flashier episodes. But White Crow’s cut-rate starkness works perfectly with the story it’s telling – assuming we can know for sure what that story is.

A classroom. A woman is on the ground crawling back towards the camera. Looming over is another student with the head of a giant black crow.

The Plot

When we meet Juno (Ahn Hee-yeon) at the beginning of White Crow, we see her in a claustrophobic virtual world of her own making. As she moves around her space broadcasting every minute, she seems almost boxed in by her online persona.

When Juno is accused of fabricating her past, she loses her reputation and with it everything else. An apparent victim of destructive online bullying, she agrees to participate in a live broadcast of a new psychology-based VR game called IOM2 in an attempt to reclaim her brand and prove she never lied about her past.

Juno sits in a small close room with glass doors and windows while the words "Pathological liar. Pathological liar" echo in her head.
The scene is filmed from the floor giving it a sense of a world upended

The game is designed to tap into your deepest fears and force you to confront them. The person playing has to confront their greatest trauma and overcome it to win. But as Juno finds herself thrown back into her highschool days, the game malfunctions and she is trapped in the game – or is she?

Black Crow, White Crow

According to Greek mythology, Apollo sent his white crow to guard one of his lovers, Coronis. But the white crow saw Coronis with another man and flew straight to Apollo to tell him the news. Apollo was so enraged that the white crow chose to deliver the news rather than punish the lover, that he scorched the crow, turning it black.

The stark white chair used for the VR in White Crow. It looks like a half pod.

There’s an important point here to be made about the original story on which this episode is based. The white crow was punished despite telling the truth. And yet the virtual teacher in this episode who recounts the story gives us a slightly different version. The crow was late delivering a message to Apollo and made up a lie – that Coronis was having an affair – to cover up his laxness. Apollo kills Coronis in a jealous rage and then burns the crow to death when he discovers the truth.

It is these elements of the updated version of the story that resonate throughout the episode. The white crow told a harmful lie to benefit itself with no consideration of the consequences. An innocent person was killed as a result. The crow is stained with the tar of that lie forever.

A student in a creepy virtual world with a blurred face

Regardless of anything else, White Crow is a story about bullying, ostracism and lies. But mostly it’s about the face we want the world to see warring with the truth of who we are.

“Why do you think the crow lied to him? Didn’t it know a higher power such as Apollo would find out the truth? The crow simply didn’t want to be hated. But as a result an innocent woman got killed”.

The Juno we meet at the beginning of the episode is seemingly a victim of online bullying, of so-called cancel culture. As we walk with her through her highschool days we see a Juno who’s also a victim of another kind of bullying; the daily torturous Chinese water torture of exclusion, harassment and vicious gossip.

But who is the victim and who is the perpetrator? What is the truth and what is a lie? Which is the white crow and which is the black crow? And which story is the show telling? The original tale of being punished despite telling the truth. Or the in-game version of telling a lie to be liked?

There are shades of other stories in White Crow. The idea of being trapped in a virtual world and needing to resolve a trauma is not a new one. And the episode shares elements with another enigmatic and compelling story about not knowing what’s real and what’s not – Life on Mars.

Is Juno the victim of a technical malfunction? Stuck in a game that’s operating perfectly? Or hallucinating before her real-world death? We don’t know for sure and that’s ultimately what makes White Crow such a powerful story.

A dead human with the head of a giant white crow; wings splayed out on the ground

Is fame a malfunction?

From the moment we meet Juno, we can see a woman with an intense desire to be liked and admired by millions. A woman whose entire identity is framed around the public persona that is Juno.

Juno is a star gamer, one who thrives on winning and being publicly adored. And ultimately IOM2 is just a game; one that plays with the basis of her identity.

Maybe the VR malfunctioned. Or maybe it’s working exactly as intended. Maybe Juno’s trauma is not what she did to an innocent person in highschool. Maybe it’s being trapped in a game she cannot win; audience levels dropping, her popularity fading, and the world finding out the truth about who she is.

Because there is a truth here. Despite Juno’s constant refrain that she ‘never lies’, everything about her is in fact a lie; one that the crucible of the game burns away.

If this is the case, then Juno’s greatest fear is one that can never be resolved while she chooses to live and die by her public image.

By playing the game, Juno has exposed herself and the truth of her past. Her real face has been seen. Winning the game means living her life as herself, the facade she’s built up over the years ripped away. If that is in fact her greatest trauma and her greatest fear then there is no path out of the game. For Juno, her greatest fear is now waking up.

She would rather die as a white crow than live as one tarred black with the knowledge of what she’s done. And so she remains trapped in a hell of her own making, unable to free herself.


The Internet as Apollo

And yet the question remains: why tell such a lie to an all-knowing creature such as the internet? Did she really believe that it would not discover the truth? Did she believe she could live a convenient lie without consequence?

One of the most interesting things about White Crow was the way in which Juno herself seems convinced of her own lie. She has lived it so long that she has conveniently forgotten her own inconvenient truth. And so the lies we tell to the Great God that is the internet become more understandable, even if it is a capricious God waiting to burn us alive.

In the end, we all just want to be liked.


4 thoughts on “Full Circle: SF8 White Crow

  1. Thanks for the recap , it was an interesting disturbing episode.
    But I enjoyed it immensely

  2. I think that the story being “told with only a few actors, one or two simple sets and minimal special effects” is one of its strongest elements , sometimes being simple is much powerful because it’s raw and bare

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