In Review: Black Mirror Series 4
The moment has finally arrived; the return of Black Mirror. For those of you who don’t know, Black Mirror is a Netflix Original anthology series. It’s a jam-packed full of dystopian nightmares only slightly detached from reality. You know that moment where you wake up in the morning and you’re unsure if a farfetched dream actually happened? That’s Black Mirror. This formula made the first 3 seasons so successful; dark, twisted, but not unfathomable. For me, the return of Black Mirror perfectly summarises 2017. Donald Trump’s inauguration, global political unrest, Brexit, fake news, Hollywood scandal and Sophia the Robot are all occurrences that could been explored through a Black Mirror episode. Anyway, here we go, S4: E1.
Episode 1 – USS Callister
Protagonist Robert Daly spends his evenings living in a Star Trek-esque fantasy world so that he can play God and have full control over his subjects. It’s classic Black Mirror. The ‘misunderstood’ genius, corrupted by greed and desire who abuses his authority as Chief Technical Officer for Callister Inc. Episode 1 focuses on how rapidly advancing technology can be utilised for control and to explore one’s lustful desires. A deadly combination which harps back to my earlier point – ‘USS Callister’ is only slightly detached from reality. Once you’ve watched the episode, could you not imagine Donald Trump doing something similar?
‘USS Callister’s’ premise is ‘the revenge of the nerd’ or ‘the bully strikes back’. However, the episode has already drawn comparisons with rape culture and misogynistic male domination which still plagues contemporary society. Making it a relevant commentary on 21st century power relationships. It’s a strong start to the series; a slow builder, occasionally humorous and a truly cinematic experience. ‘USS Callister’ demonstrates that Charlie Brooker and Co. still have their magic touch; it’s an opening episode gleaming with ambition and detail without losing any of its pseudo-realism. After watching it, I kept asking myself the question ‘what do my video game characters do when I’ve paused the game?’.
Episode 2 – Arkangel
Compared with the science-fiction cinematic ‘USS Callister’, ‘Arkangel’ is an episode dripping in relatability. One of the most anticipated episodes according to Twitter, ‘Arkangel’ follows the childhood of Sara Sambrell and her family. This is the first time Black Mirror have used a child as the main character; ‘USS Callister’ briefly touched upon the corruption of childhood innocence whereas ‘Arkangel’ focuses on the protection of it.
The sex, drugs and teenage love are all part and parcel of a coming of age episode which Black Mirror has not addressed yet. When intertwined with a prying, over-protective mother ‘Arkangel’ becomes bitter and sinister. It’s an episode similar to ‘The Entire History of You’ (S1 E:3); whereby, the ability to watch the one you love leads to the breakdown of the relationship that you want to so desperately to preserve. ‘Arkangel’ is at times predictable, but the 52 minute long episode allows the audience to understand the mother-daughter relationship between Sara and Marie before tacking a common question in today’s ‘Big Brother’ society – protecting our children from danger makes them safer, right?
Episode 3 – Crocodile
Unlike the previous two episodes, ‘Crocodile’ does not start off slowly. Moments of action intersect with tension in Black Mirror’s most haunting episode to date. Andrea Riseborough plays the character of Mia Nolan superbly. When we are first introduced to Mia, we expect her to be a fearless party go-er; she is distant, at times sensitive, but certainly not accustomed to being in the spotlight. Death is not simply a snapshot that is easily forgotten about in many other anthological series’. ‘Crocodile’ demonstrates that the guilt of killing another person never leaves you, as an accidental death turns in to something much more wicked, evil and calculated. It’s a graphic, dark Nordic noir episode that isn’t for the faint hearted.
‘Crocodile’ exemplifies what can happen if our memories are used against us. Memory recollection is a dangerous business pursued by Insurance Company Investigator Shazia (Kiran Sonia Sawar), in a parallel story which becomes closer and closer to Mia’s. ‘Crocodile’ exploits one of our deepest fears – technology entering the personal realm. This is a recipe that has made Black Mirror so successful. Complex characters operating in a parallel universe living out our fears in a not to distant reality.
Episode 4 – Hang the DJ
Unfortunately, this episode doesn’t have a lot to do with The Smiths. Although, lead character Frank (Joe Cole), does display the awkwardness usually associated with Morrissey. ‘Hang the DJ’ explores the concept of blind dating with a twist. Each relationship is given an ‘expiry date’. Surely, dating be easier if you knew when your relationship was going to end? In reality, actions linked with machines are more complicated than convenient. ‘Hang the DJ’ encompasses the awkwardness of blind dating through the portrayal of meaningless sex and the dreaded ‘one who got away’ usually associated with the phenomenon.
‘Hang the DJ’ is as romantic as ‘San Junipero’ and the story hinges on an app with real-world applicability much like ‘Nosedive’, two outstanding episodes from series 3. This episode is by far the least dark of series 4 thus far; it’s bittersweet, hopeful and it’s difficult to dislike either of the main characters. ‘Hang the DJ’ frequently feels like an episode from a British sitcom with a dark turn waiting just around the corner to through the lovable protagonists off course.
Episode 5 – Metalhead
Filmed entirely in black and white, ‘Metalhead’ is a Hitchcock thriller set in a dystopian nightmare. Low in dialogue, high in terror; ‘Metalhead’ is a post-apocalyptic 40 minute epic which has the characteristics of a short film. Highly intelligent killer robot dogs are the villain of this episode; the way they clamber to their metal feet once toppled is truly disturbing. The story is centred around Bella (Maxine Peake), an unlikely hero who struggles to fight off the robot dogs. The episode is a ‘cat and mouse’ tale of a robot dog chasing Bella through the bleak wilderness.
‘Metalhead’ is Black Mirror’s most avant-garde and experimental depiction yet. However, the episode lacks purpose and meaning and there are so many questions left unanswered: where is everyone? Who created the dogs? Black Mirror has the ability to end on a cliffhanger but still leave the viewer satisfied; however, on this occasion it falls slightly short.
Episode 6 – Black Museum
The final episode of the series, ‘Black Museum’ tells the story of authentic criminological artefacts through the eyes of proprietor Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge). The episode focuses on three mini-stories, giving it a Simpons-esque ‘Treehouse of Horrors’ style. ‘Dr Dawson’s’ tale explores pain, pleasure and addiction. ‘Jack and Carrie’ is a brutal re-hash of previous episode ‘Be Right Back’ (S2: E1); whereas ‘Clayton Lee’s’ woes highlight the commercialisation of death. Overall, ‘Black Museum’ is sadistic, graphic and one of the finest episodes of the whole franchise.
‘Black Museum’ makes reference to previous Black Mirror episodes such as ‘White Bear’ and ‘San Junipero’ and Nish (Letitia Wright), is one of Charlie Brooker’s finest characters to date. The final episode of the series is satirical, mocking the franchise itself. Visitors felt compelled to visit Haynes’ dungeon of doom, whereas, viewers of Black Mirror find the violent, discomfort and dystopian nature of the series equally as addictive. Perhaps one day, Black Mirror will become so vile and disturbing that visitors no longer pay it a visit either.
It’s a triumphant return for Black Mirror. Boundaries are pushed as we are introduced to a variety of complex and exhilarating characters in dark, twisted worlds just beyond our imagination. Black Mirror has set out its stall as a dystopian commentary of modern society and series 4 only enhances its reputation. This particular series is ambitious, addictive and at times, horrifying. The only thing missing for me was a satirical analysis of current British and American politics. Saying that, it was a thoroughly enjoyable watch and I’d fully recommend it to new viewers and seasoned binge-watchers.