Black Mirror’s fourth season is the strongest yet

Molly Ashford, Staff Writer

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Black Mirror, the sci-fi anthology capturing the hearts and tearing apart the brains of high school students and adults alike, released a long-awaited fourth season in mid-December. Although the series has always been relatively popular, it seems that season four generated a plethora of feedback across social media. Each episode tells a different story, ranging from a tale about a post-apocalyptic society overtaken by robot dogs (“Metalhead”) to a love story forbidden by a dating culture overshadowed by faulty technology (“Hang the DJ”). Even with the differing storylines, Black Mirror manages to touch on the frailty of human beings as well as the potential terrors of evolving technology.
Admittedly, I am late to hop on the bandwagon of Black Mirror fans. I tend to stay away from science fiction because I find it to be painfully predictable, but by binge-watching all four seasons in the timespan of a week or so, it became increasingly obvious that there is so much to set this series apart from other hyper-technological films or shows. By utilizing slight political and social commentary, constant plays upon the viewers empathy, and undetectable plot twists, Black Mirror is not only entertaining, but also an in-depth analysis of human nature and a warning of what terrors could be looming in the near future.
As I dive into analysis of the episodes in the season, I will try to avoid major spoilers. However, if you intend to watch this season and prefer to not have any background knowledge of the plot, I would advise against reading any further.
The first mini-movie of the season, “USS Callister”, is destined to be remembered as the Star Trek episode. Stylistically, it is without a doubt the strongest of the season and arguably the strongest of the entire anthology.
Content-wise, the episode centers around a socially awkward, middle-aged white man who feels cheated by everyone at the business that he helped create. Instead of utilizing some basic anger management skills, he uses a sort of futuristic virtual reality to transport every coworker who wronged him into a warped world where he is in complete control.
It sounds dorky, honestly. And maybe in some ways, it is. But camouflaged by a plot that is anxiety-producing and darkly funny, the episode tackles the inherent sexism in sci-fi fanbases and STEM industries. In true Black Mirror fashion, it kicks off the season with the best of both worlds: a story of technology-gone-wrong and a brilliantly hidden social commentary.
Hands down, the episode with the most viable commentary is “Black Museum”. Set in a world that is futuristic enough to set it apart from modern society but unrelentingly familiar to our current surroundings, a British tourist enters an unsettling crime museum with an equally unsettling owner.
The episode is pieced together by different storylines that somehow manage to seamlessly lead up to the ‘grand finale’ that is anticipated for the entire episode. Through these haphazard storylines, the episode comments on slacktivism, racism, ethics in medicine, and the brokenness of the prison system that was made to hurt rather than serve black men and their families.
In an effort to live up to episode four of season three “San Junipero,” “Hang the DJ” has a typical star-crossed-lovers plot; it is an overall heartwarming story about futuristic dating and a lovable pair who rebel against the system. It is one of the less hard-hitting episodes of the season, however, it’s undeniably captivating and does speak to what the future of dating could look like if we continue to let technology dictate our love lives.
Each of these three episodes combine socio-political critique and stories of technology gone awry. The next episode, “Arkangel,” had the rough outline of both factors but failed to pack the punch that the others did. The episode centers around a mother who implants a futuristic device in her daughter’s head, giving her the ability to see everything that her daughter sees as well as censor real world events that cause pain, stress, or sadness. It’s basically a one-step program to raising a sociopath.
A good idea in theory, the implant obviously goes horribly wrong and ends up creating an endless cycle of distrust and misuse in the hands of the parents. While the episode was interesting and offered some insight into the future of so-called ‘helicopter parenting’, it lacked any sort of call to action or real conclusion.
This brings me to the two episodes in the anthology that I found to be most disappointing: “Crocodile” and “Metalhead.” “Metalhead” was stylistically beautiful and intricate but lacked any real point or cohesive plot. A robot-dog relentlessly chases around the main character, and as The Verge said, the only real takeaway is that “The future is coming, and it will not stop. Ever. Until we are dead.”
“Crocodile,” on the other hand, is just painfully bleak and sad. A never-ending series of tragedies and murders, the commentary on human nature is barely there and I found the episode to be depressing without any real point. It lacks the relevance that makes Black Mirror such an interesting show.
The hype surrounding Black Mirror has become impossible to ignore in the current political climate, and in my opinion, it is well deserved. While some episodes are lacking much excitement, the premise of the show is so interestingly different than anything else on the market and makes the viewer think long and hard about what they watched. In a society so obsessed with mindless entertainment, Black Mirror offers a hard-hitting look at what the world could come to be and requires the viewer to engage, hypothesize, and reflect.

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