Sometimes when Netflix purchases a show and continues it on its platform after it’s been canceled by a network, the show suffers from the change and something that originally made the show great is lost (::cough cough:: Arrested Development ::cough cough::). Luckily for us Black Mirror super fans, that did not happen this time around. Sure, the show has been slightly americanized, but it’s still the amazing show we know, love, fear, and blame for our all-too-realistic nightmares of the near future. One of the reasons the show still works is undoubtably due to its format, for there is no recurring cast, no story to follow from episode to episode, nothing to connect it all other than the theme: stories set in the very near future that bring us face to face with technology and the myriad of ways it has the potential to destroy us. The first season was spectacular, starting off with a bang (no pun intended… well, maybe a little) and not letting up for a moment of its three episode season. Same goes for the second season, which was equally superior to so many other shows out there. The Christmas episode was unfortunate (I’ve since met so many that actually really love it), and when I’d heard that it would serve as the series finale I was heartbroken. Then Netflix announced it had acquired the series and would also double the usual season episodes from three to six and I was ecstatic. Sure, I was worried but more Black Mirror is always a great thing. Because I cannot discuss the series as a whole in a meaningful way, I want to do something a little different and talk a little about each episode. No worries, I will not disclose any important twists and won’t spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it yet.
Bryce Dallas Howard plays Lacie, a woman like any other who is obsessed with how other people perceive her. Why is she so obsessed? Because she lives in a world where your status in society is constantly rated after every interaction you have (think Uber but on a global scale). Rank, though, doesn’t only come with perks, it also determines where one can work, live, etc. Sitting comfortably at a 4.2, Lacie sets her sights on a swankier living location, and thus must figure out how to raise her social standing. A former frenemy’s wedding which will be attended by the cream of the 5 star crop could be just the solution. What could possibly go wrong? If you don’t know the answer to that question, you clearly haven’t seen this show. Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) beautifully directs the episode and gives the entire world a dreamlike pastel-infused aura of pleasantness. Watch out for a pretty fun Cherry Jones cameo.
What is the future of gaming like? That’s what this episode attempts to explore. We already live in a world where VR has become a reality, so to what lengths will gamers go in order to have the immersive experience they crave? “Playtest” believes that gamers will be willing to receive an implant that will make it so their experience will be fully sensory and they will be able to see manifestations from their own imagination that are not really there. The test subject for the experimental console is an American tourist/backpacker who finds himself short on cash and unable to afford his trip back stateside. The episode easily falls into the horror genre, including jump scares and gory imagery. It fits nicely into the genre, while also sending it up. Not the strongest of the episodes (in fact it was my least favorite), but still interesting and attention-keeping.
SHUT UP AND DANCE
This episode, much like the first episode of season 1, is set in modern day and is something that could easily happen right now – which makes it all the more scary. A quiet and introverted British kid lives a rather boring life: crappy job at a fast food restaurant, a younger sister who steals his stuff, nothing really important or consequential. One night, after spanking the monkey, he receives an email from an unknown sender letting him know that his deed has been seen and recorded, and if he doesn’t want every one of his contacts to know and see what he has done, then he must do what he is told. What would you do? That is the question the viewer must answer as we watch in horror the snowball slowly turning into an avalanche. The final scenes are as chilling as they are ultimately inevitable.
This is a hard episode to talk about without spoiling anything. It is one of my favorite episodes of the series, and the most hopeful and “happy” of the bunch, as happy as an episode of this series can be. Set in 1987 and the first episode to focus on queer characters, the episode is a breath of fresh air in so many ways. It doesn’t hurt that Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle, Beyond the Lights) is excellent, and gives her character Kelly so much personality, joie de vivre, and perfectly fits into the eighties setting (that hair! those clothes! Madonna would be so jealous!). The love story at the center is lovely and dealt with in the way every story centered on LGBT+ people should: no fanfare, no excessive drama, just perfect. You’ll wanna visit San Junipero by the end of the episode yourself.
MEN AGAINST FIRE
War sucks. Too much humanity. We fight, we kill, wouldn’t it be easier if we were fighting monsters, zombies, aliens? Luckily for the soldiers in this episode, they are fighting monsters. Humanoid like scary creatures referred to as Roaches, to be exact. How does one become a Roach? Can you be infected? We know it has to do with their blood. Luckily for humans, the military is at work fighting for our safety, freedom, and all that star spangled banner paranoia and propaganda. Lucky us. I guess it just depends on what side of the us vs. them you find yourself…
HATED IN THE NATION
Inspired by Scandinavian procedurals and a Jon Ronson book, this episode really raises a “mirror” onto us and our public shaming ways. Cinematic in length, this episode is an investigation into a series of killings that seem to somehow line up with a problematic and frightening twitter-like hashtag trend, in which people who have been perceived to have done something wrong and shame-worthy are targeted for their poor-behavior. It’s policing, punishing, and executing all from behind a screen. Sound familiar? This last episode really does indict anyone who has participated in someone’s undoing and downfall by screaming into the abyss that is Twitter based on “facts” that may or may not be true. Are you innocent? Are you sure? Look into the black mirror of your phone or computer and see if the person looking back is truly faultless. Are you looking at a grotesque monster? Aren’t we all?