Comment Editor Kat Smith reviews the latest season of Charlie Brooker’s much-anticipated dystopian sci-fi anthology series, Black Mirror
When the fourth series of Black Mirror dropped, writing a review was the perfect reason, or excuse, to binge-watch the latest collection of twisted tales of how technology is going to ruin the world. Having been a fan of Black Mirror since its second series on Channel 4, its change to Netflix initially filled me with disappointment. I was worried Brooker’s darkness would be illuminated a bit for an international audience but I can now safely say that things have got a whole lot more twisted since the days of televised bestiality and bringing back dead loved ones in the form of robots, in spite of the occasional fleck of hope in some storylines (telling you which ones have a happy ending would be a massive spoiler).
Upon finishing the 6 episodes, I was particularly pleased to see the sheer quantity of female protagonists, from heroes to villains and all that’s in-between. Certainly, women stole the show in this series. I wonder when, and if, Brooker’s creativity will run out. The fourth collection of standalone episodes is possibly the best yet, with the pressure of the show’s popularity clearly not having a negative impact on Brooker’s genius. In spite of some episodes mirroring previous ones, the series is just as diverse and mesmerising as when it started in 2011. Parallels between episodes, sparking discussion over a shared Black Mirror universe, have only increased my awe of this show.
Season 4 kicks off with ‘USS Callister’, opening with a clip reminiscent of vintage Star Trek and other cringe 60s TV shows. I had my doubts about this episode when I first saw the stills – did I really want to watch an hour and sixteen minutes of scantily clad women and melodramatically misogynistic men? Turns out, I really did. The episode follows Robert Daley, a coder at a gaming company who creates his own personal virtual reality experience based around his favourite TV show. His real-life persona is reserved, nerdy and regularly overpowered by other members of the office. He uses his space-themed game to trap virtual versions of these people and others who have ‘wronged him’, such as the receptionist who doesn’t smile enough and the new employee who admires his code but doesn’t want to sleep with him… she soon becomes the protagonist of the episode. It ended up being one of my favourite episodes, with its commentary on abuse of power through popular culture, virtual reality and regular humour making this one of the best episodes of not only the season, but the entire show.
The following episode, ‘Arkangel’ sees a mother momentarily misplace her young daughter, Sara, subsequently getting a chip implanted in her so she can watch the world through her daughter’s eyes, have the brutal and the sexual blurred out and keep tabs on her location. It stops her from seeing tears, blood and sex, with the mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) finally ceasing to watch her. However, the implant remains. When she turns 15 the surveillance starts again when Sara isn’t where she said she is. It’s reminiscent of ‘An Entire History of You’, which I have to say I preferred. ‘Arkangel’ didn’t quite capture the paranoia that comes with filming your life and the episode comes to a climax all too quickly. It’s weak in comparison to the usual quality of Black Mirror, yet still worth a watch. After all, anything directed by Jodie Foster has to be decent.
‘Crocodile’ was similar, with memories being used to piece together an insurance claim. It’s not as dull as it sounds, but it definitely comes close. The similarity in the technology explored in both of these episodes is the only thing that makes me question if Brooker is running out of ideas to play with. I just hope he doesn’t exhaust his options and then carry on with repetitive storylines to milk the series until it’s dry, a problem with so many major TV shows these days.
‘Hang the DJ’ follows two people who meet through a dating app which sets an expiry date on your relationship. Peaky Blinders’ Joe Cole and Georgina Campbell (Broadchurch, Murdered by my Boyfriend) fantastically portray the millennial struggle of dating apps and the eternal pressure to meet ‘the one’. I loved this episode; it was a change from the creepiness of ‘Arkangel’, ‘Metalhead’ and ‘Crocodile’ and had me feeling somewhat happy by the end (a rare feeling whilst watching Black Mirror). It’s haunting yet also sweet and probably the most relatable out of all the episodes, which is something I believe Black Mirror should always be.
In stark contrast with the remainder of the series, the entirely black-and-white ‘Metalhead’ is probably the closest to a horror film out of them all. Imagine a metal bot that wants to kill you and has just killed two of your mates. No thanks. It’s a dystopian nightmare and as the sole actress for the majority of the episode, Maxine Peake carries the terror and tension expertly despite the sparse dialogue and relatively predictable storyline. If you weren’t already terrified about the future of robots, you will be after this. It’s simple yet effective and the monochrome filming is not just for a novelty effect; it really suits the episode and marks it as the standout piece it should be acknowledged as.
The final episode sees a British tourist, Nish, stumble across a ‘Black Museum’ while her car is charging. It is owned by white male Rolo Haynes who has displayed technologies that have allowed human consciousness and sensation to be shared. Most of the artefacts come from his days working at St Juniper hospital (yes, the English translation of San Junipero). The collection of mini stories, similar to ‘White Christmas’, accumulates in a satisfying yet dark end to the season. In spite of criticism from other reviewers, I enjoyed the creativity of this episode and the focus on the tech in relation to human life was Black Mirror at its finest. The commentary on institutionalised racism and abuse of power was hard-hitting, making it one of the few hard-to-watch episodes of this season. The ideas explored made this episode far better than the likes of the relatively shallow ‘Crocodile’ and repetitive ‘Arkangel’. Furthermore, technologies displayed by museum owner Rolo Haynes from previous episodes (you can even see the artist from ‘The National Anthem’ in season 1 hanging himself, showing that this is truly a Black Mirror museum). I wonder if this will have any bearing on future episodes.
For anyone who has never seen the series, I envy you. Despite the likes of ‘Metalhead’ being somewhat predictable, for the most part the stories are never quite how they seem to be and you’ll want to savour every episode yet won’t be able to stop watching it. Brooker has firmly outdone himself and I implore you to renew your Netflix subscription, start your free trial or beg your housemate for their password. When this show is recommended, it is for a good reason.
My Episode Ranking