With its limited run, caustic humour and scathingly precise take on modern culture, Charlie Brooker’s BLACK MIRROR met with critical acclaim. The second season was as long ago as 2013; featuring just three episodes packed with TWILIGHT ZONE goodness. The Christmas special followed in 2014, but since then all has been quiet. Amid much anxiety, the series has recently moved to Netflix.
Season 3 of BLACK MIRROR is not only longer than any season that has come before, but it’s also bolshier, and covers a wider range of topics. The network move seems to have increased the budget somewhat, both in terms of the effects and the breadth of styles now covered in the six episode-format.
The season kicks off with “Nosedive”. Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, this is classic Brooker and perhaps the closest that BLACK MIRROR has come to comedy. Modern society is becoming increasingly obsessed with “rating” and “reviewing” everything: from books, to movies, to restaurants. So why not rate each other? Brooker takes the principle that one step further, with chilling consequences: the story is predicated on the idea that this unnamed rating application has become so ingrained into future society, that access to goods and services depend on retaining a decent average. The scene in the airport where Howard’s character receives a “double damage” penalty is both chilling and hilarious…
In “Playtest”, a traveller tests an advanced VR system with frightening consequences. A more straight-up horror piece, this episode provides a nice contrast to “Nosedive” but didn’t feel as strong to me. The horror element could’ve been emphasised to a greater degree.
And talking of horror, that’s exactly what we get with “Shut Up and Dance”. A boy is blackmailed by an anonymous source: sent instructions to carry out increasingly bizarre and dangerous acts in order to keep a secret safe. Brooker skilfully manipulates the viewer’s sense of empathy, encouraging belief in Kenny as a victim. Alex Lawther’s twitchy main character is excellent; this episode feels like classic BLACK MIRROR, down to the setting and production values. The final twist is a real gutpunch.
Next up is a total change of pace with “San Junipero”. A proto-romance, “San Junipero” features deep immersion technology that allows the terminally ill to lead a second, digital life. It feels very American, and the setting and style are a real shift from “Shut Up and Dance”. This episode felt slightly over-long to me, and as a result the weakest of the series.
“Men Against Fire”, on the other hand, might well be the strongest. Malachi Kirby’s Stripe is a newbie soldier, equipped with direct-to-mind implants. He’s engaged in a war against the “Roaches”; an army of diseased mutant insurgents. But an encounter with the Roaches leads Stripe to question his loyalties… This episode plays with so many modern-day issues surrounding the application of future tech to the military, as well as the perception of “the enemy”. This was the stand out episode for me; a real “Brooker does military SF” piece, with a very bitter ending.
Finally, “Hated in the Nation” is a piece about online hate. Someone is killing public figures who have become the subject of online abuse. A police detective and her new partner are tasked with investigating the deaths; but what link do they have to the newly-deployed mechanical wasps? It came as something of a surprise to me (albeit a good one) that this was a feature length episode. It toys with many powerful issues (the autonomous drone insects – the episode’s wasps – could have taken an episode all of their own!), and the runtime is definitely justified. Another powerful episode, “Hated in the Nation” is a worthy end to season 3.
Overall, those of us who were anxious that the move from Channel 4 to Netflix might lead to a different BLACK MIRROR can be rest assured that the series is as excellent as ever. It’s better even, and I can’t wait to see where Netflix takes this series.