BLACK MIRROR (Netflix) is one of my favorite shows, a British anthology series that examines human nature in the face of technological change, which explains the title. What I love about is is no matter how empowered we become by technology, we are always only human, and this technology can exacerbate human flaws to the point of the grotesque.
Retinal implants allow people to record memories, which leads to man confirming his wife’s infidelity then destroying himself by forcing her to play it for him. A woman lives in a world (coming soon to China) where people are rated based on everyday interactions, with high ratings guaranteeing success and low ratings meaning you could be denied service or lose your job. A man lives in a virtual prison serving his sentence for murder. Robotic bees created to supplement the bee population are hacked by a vengeful activist. An artist kidnaps a princess and as ransom requires the prime minister to have sex with a pig on live TV. Brutal and brilliant stuff.
Season 4 was terrific, with some of the best episodes in the series, though a big uneven in quality. Charlie Brooker, its creator, said he wanted a little more hope in the show given the 2016 election, saying he wasn’t sure people would be in the mood for bleak nihilism on TV as they’d have plenty in their real lives. Still, that bleak nihilism gives the show its brutal edge so season 4, while excellent, missed the mark for me a little.
In season 4, there are two outstanding episodes. In USS Callister, a nerdy, shy, put-down software genius creates a virtual reality game based on a TV show similar to Star Trek, and by taking DNA samples from coworkers he likes or despises, he recreates them inside his world to rule as his starship crew. This is a freakily fun episode with an interesting message about a bullied man becoming a bully himself through a virtual experience.
My favorite was by far Metalhead, a simple story about a woman trying to escape a robot intent on killing her. It was a brilliant cat and mouse episode about the strengths of human versus machine, and is a fantastic example of how a small, personal story can tell a much bigger story, in this case a robot apocalypse. The little robot is incredibly creepy and terrifying, particularly in its single-mindedness in pursuing and killing its prey.
No plans for a season 5 yet, though Brooker is up for it. I’m hoping he keeps the series going. It’s the TWILIGHT ZONE of our time.