Black Mirror returns for its 4th season, thanks to Netflix and its seemingly infinite, Scrooge McDuck-style money bin. Does it reflect early 21st century in its fully awful glory, though? You’ve probably watched it already – but in any case, here’s the Isles of the Left review…
by Marco Attard
Since 2011 Black Mirror has instituted itself as a sort of The Twilight Zone for the 21st century; TV short stories with, as a general rule, a message against the current prevalence of technology in our current lives. The first two seasons aired on the UK’s Channel 4, before the third season debuted on one of the biggest content distribution platforms in this technology-driven dystopia we call a world, Netflix. And so does the fourth season and its six (count them!) episodes of exceptionally glossy and well produced entertainment. But are these episodes actually, well, worth watching? You’ve surely decided whether that’s actually the case by now – after all, the series dropped in its entirety on the very tail end of 2017 – but it it’s my turn now, right here, right now.
1. USS Callister, or what if virtual world but too much?
USS Callister opens unlike any other Black Mirror before or since – with a Star Trek parody. But this is no send off of the classic Gene Roddenberry show. Instead this is a virtual world run by a nebbish nerd (Jesse Plemons) who vents his frustrations by forcing replicas of his colleagues to play along in his fantasy life as captain of the titular USS Callister. However the latest addition to the crew, feisty new hire Nanette (Cristin Milioti), will have none of that, and leads a daring escape coordinated across virtual and real worlds.
This episode hinges on the assumption digital replicas of people count as, well, people. Also the realisation that, given half the chance, nebbish, self loathing manchildren can be as terrible as anyone else? I’m not sure about the first point, and the second ain’t exactly news, and as such the whole thing kind of falls apart. This is further exacerbated by the fact the episode is overlong at 75 minutes, making it flabby and ultimately kind of toothless.
2. Arkangel, or what if helicopter parenting but too much?
What lengths are you willing to go to protect your children? Would you… implant a surveillance device in their brain providing constant tracking and direct control of what they see and hear? This is what Marie (Rosemarie DeWitt) does to her daughter, and as the child grows one gets to ponder the ethical quandaries of such technology. Children surely should be allowed to experience world in all its awful glory, but some dangers are very real. After all, the guy the teenage Sara (Brenna Harding) dates might be a mere drug dealing dirtbag, but he could have easily been a date rapist, or worse. It’s a heavy theme dealt with a surprising deft touch by director Jodie Foster, and the overall result is a very solid hour of TV.
3. Crocodile, or what if manslaughter but too much?
A bleak Icelandic landscape of ice and stone serves as a backdrop to many an act of violence in Crocodile, a Black Mirror episode whose opening minutes involve a drunken couple, Mia (Andrea Riseborough) and Rob (Andrew Gower), running over a cyclist. With no witnesses in sight, the two proceed to dump the body off a nearby cliff, before they go off on their merry way. Years later, the ghost of the manslaughter continues to haunt Rob, while Mia appears to be shockingly well adjusted despite the fact. So much so that, when Rob suggests he is about to confess to the crime, Mia shuts him by, well, killing him. And this is not even the only murder Mia commits, all in the name of ensuring her position in society remains as it is.
By far this season’s bleakest episode, it is very reminiscent of Fortitude, the murder mystery series with a similar combination of British actors, Icelandic setting and horrible things happening for no good reason. It is also my favourite episode, something I fear tells more about me than this season itself…
4. Hang the DJ, or what if Tinder but too much?
Charlie Brooker can right a solid, humanist love story, should he feel like it. That’s what he did with last season’s San Junipeiro, and likewise with Hang the DJ, a tale of a couple of 20-somethings living in pastel-hued utopia where one’s love life is dictated by The System. The System tells you who to date, and how long your relationship will last. Will it be an hour, a week, a year, or your entire life? Frank (Joe Cole) and Amy (Georgina Campbell) go through the various travails dating and hopping between relationships involve, before they decide to uncover what The System truly is. It feels a bit like a slice of dystopian science fiction from the 70s, only instead of learning about the Bible or the joys of unprotected sex, Frank and Amy simply get to realise they are actually part of the system (ha!) working out which users of a dating app best match each other. This was all rather cute, and thus gets my approval.
5. Metalhead, or what if Aibo but too much?
In the future, a woman is being chased by a robot dog. But this is no good boy – this is an Aibo as designed by mirror universe Apple, all matte black and harsh angles. And that’s all there is to say about Metalhead, really, other than its being shot in stark black and white. Despite a 40 minute runtime it still feels way too long, and ultimately the supposedly terrifying robot dog is, hilariously, the size of a toy poodle. One would certainly be able to run it over with their vehicle, if not just kick it away.
6. Black Museum, or what if Black Mirror but too much?
In the middle of the desert is the Black Museum, a repository of techno-horror stories from the near future. If it all sounds familiar, it should – if this episode is actually about anything it’s Black Mirror the show, down to the various artefacts from previous episodes scattered all across the museum’s showcases (leading to any amount of speculation of how the series actually takes place within a shared universe). The actual episode tells three connected tales dealing with the themes of mind manipulation, digital consciousness and being trapped within a virtual space, before all is tied together through an act of retribution on the self-aggrandising owner (Douglas Hodge).
Black Museum is a season of Black Mirror in itself, and it points out my preferred format for such series – three short stories, each no more than 20 minutes in length. Because anything else is too long, and life in the 21st century already being an inescapable technology-driven nightmare.
This season was alright, even if no episode managed to achieve the sheer vitriol of the very first, 2011’s The National Anthem. It also has to be commended somewhat in at least one aspect – every episode has a woman in the lead, a move that’s still surprising in the supposedly enlightened time that is year of our lord 2018. However, working for Netflix has lead to Charlie Brooker’s inability to make a 2017 Wipe and that, my friends, was truly unforgivable. As a result, I can only hate this show.
Marco Attard, Hated in the Nation, 2018
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