Tag Archives: Black Mirror series

Black Mirror, Season 3 (2016)

(Netflix Streaming, November 2017) If this third season of Black Mirror has a subtitle, it would be something along the lines of “bigger budget, growing up, branching out.”  After two seasons of almost unrelenting bleakness, Black Mirror uses this third season not just to keep doing what it’s done so far (i.e.: bleak near-future scenarios with horrifying twists) with better production values, but also branches out in dark comedy (“Nosedive,” scathing in its extrapolation of social media culture) and even a honest-to-goodness uplifting romance (“San Junipero”). Once again, the premises may be familiar to seasoned SF fans, but their execution is usually competent, and the final twists usually go far beyond expectations. Once again, the anthology format works well—there are a few Easter eggs that reference other episodes, but nothing to link them in cumbersome ways. The bigger budgets of this third season mean bigger talent names (including Joe Wright and Dan Trachtenberg as directors, plus actors such as Dallas Bryce Howard, Michael Kelly and Gugu Mbatha-Raw), longer running times (“Hated in the Nation,” at 89 minutes, is easily feature-film length) and more ambitious production values. Not all of the episodes work (“Playtest” and “Men Against Fire” are fairly standard, although their closing moments are very effective), but the series does reach a few high notes with “Nosedive” and the exceptional “San Junipero.”  Once again, the strength of the series is in its pure science-fictional approach in exploring the human failings exposed by high technology. Some episodes are relatively mundane (“Shut up and Dance” is barely five minutes in the future), while others really dig into a futuristic but plausible premise. Considering that these six episodes are merely the first half of what Netflix commissioned from series creator Charlie Booker, let’s keep our hope up that the fourth season will be just as good. One recommendation: switch the episode order so that you end up with “Nosedive” and “San Junipero” as a way to keep your spirits up and gain a better appreciation of what Brooker is trying to do now that he’s established Black Mirror’s reputation as nightmarish SF.

Black Mirror, Season 2 (2013)

(Netflix Streaming, November 2017) Well, if you’re feeling too optimistic about your life, the world or what humans are capable of doing to each other with a little bit of technological help, have fun with this second season of Black Mirror (including the unusually bleak “White Christmas” special). If the first season left you with nightmares, this one won’t be any easier to stomach, with “White Bear” and “White Christmas,” in particular, being particularly able to give you fits of guilt at being part of the human species. “White Bear” talks about our capacity for righteous indignation and how rage can become an entertainment experience (hilariously enough, the credit sequence plays like a hideous making-of), while “White Christmas” simply points out how eager we are to enslave even ourselves. But I summarize too much: part of the pleasure of Black Mirror’s twisted effectiveness is finding out that what we think we see on-screen isn’t what’s really happening. Better production values and bigger names (such as Jon Hamm and Oona Chaplin in “White Christmas”) help make the show even better. Still, there’s more to Black Mirror than simple bleakness. Episodes such as “Be Right Back” show that series creator Charlie Brooker is also able to touch upon more complex emotions than simple revulsion. But then, of course, you have “The Waldo Moment” which, in its critique of cheap populism, rather depressingly anticipates that a buffoon could in fact be elected in a position of power. After the way the first season’s “The National Anthem” proved stomach-churningly prescient, maybe someone should keep tabs on what Charlie Brooker has in store for Black Mirror’s third season…

Black Mirror, Season 1 (2011)

(Netflix Streaming, October 2017) The Black Mirror series has been on my radar as a must-see for years … but considering the nature of its acclaim as a modern-day Twilight Zone, it took a while for me to muster up the right frame of mind to tackle it. It really doesn’t help that the first episode is basically a hazing ritual. Here’s one of the best SF shows of the past decade … and its first episode (“The National Anthem”) asks its audience to consider a scenario in which the British prime minister is coerced to have sex with a pig … live-streamed to a population ghoulishly eager to see it all. And rather proved prescient years later when a related story emerged about British PM David Cameron. Yup, there’s Black Mirror all right: a blend of technological speculation and old-fashioned horror at what humans are capable of doing. The horror is that the worst monsters are us. It doesn’t really get any better in the brilliant second episode (“Fifteen Million Merits”) in which the grind of daily work and the lure of celebrity are literalized in a satirical portrait of society. Fortunately, the third episode (“The Entire History of You”) is more humanistic but no less terrifying as a technological innovation exposes very human foibles. Again: no need for monsters when humans do such a good job at self-destructing and being so evil to each other. Black Mirror is not a series to watch lightly. It can be stomach-turning, eerily prescient, and implacable in its extrapolations. The quality of the scripts is high, and the production values are more than adequate. Best of all, this first season is a mere prelude to (so far) two seasons and ten other episodes of similar material. Show-runner/writer Charlie Brooker has managed to capture current anxieties about technology and give them further life is terrifying imaginative scenarios. Don’t miss Black Mirror … but be ready to feel depressed for a while after watching them all.