Everything You Need To Think After Watching Black Mirror: Season 4
You put off watching it until now. I did, too. In my case, I make it a point to watch the episodes in order, so I'm not tempted to skip one because I'm afraid of the concept. But, this season of Black Mirror seemed to benefit in that way, like an album, more so than previous ones. So, let's go through each episode, with the calm, cool academic composure fans of speculative fiction are known to keep.
SPOILER ALERT!! EVERYONE DIES. BUT, BY THAT, I MEAN, WE ALL DO. IT'S THE CIRCLE OF LIFE. ALSO, THIS TO KEEP FROM SPOILING WHAT HAPPENS IN THE FOURTH SEASON OF BLACK MIRROR, WHICH I ASSUME YOU CONSIDERED FROM THE TITLE ABOVE. BUT, STILL, IN THE END, DEATH COMES FOR US ALL. SPOILER ALERT.
To start off, stand-up comedy, and specifically The Daily Show, helped me call out my own beliefs, with scalding hot comedy, that made me question why I had them in the first place. Having said that, USS Callister burns so damn hot that I love it. To keep it simple, I have enough in common with Robert Daly to relate to him (…to a degree) who’s probably also had him as a friend (but, none of you, of course…). I, too, thought the episode would be the usual "guy gets girl from jock" scenario, perhaps with a Back To The Future-like uppercut, or a riffing on it of some kind. But, instead, Daly turns into Billy Mumy in It's a Good Life and gets called out on his control issues. When it turns out the characters in the game were live-avatars (is that what we're calling them?), I was worried we'd get a retread of the "White Christmas" episode.
But, really, it just used a concept. That seems lazy at first. And, the more episodes Black Mirror has, the more it’ll tend to stretch their concepts. But, seeing as it's already an anthology show, and one that's earned its stripes, let's not ding it when other writers want to play with the toys, too. What sold it and brought out the originality was how lived-in the concept was: gameplaying aside, what else do people do with genetic-memory-scanners? Do people save their deceased souls in the cloud and talk to them? Can you save multiple copies of them to sell or hand out? Can police use this to interview murdered victims from the dead? Haven’t these all already been episodes?
But, specifically, how the episodes rifted on Star Trek until the end. I thought the “cloud of code” was a bit shoehorned in, but it worked. Also, making Cristin Milioti’s real-life counterpart steal the extra DNA needed an ending of some kind, too. The subplot was too good not leave out, but did it really have an end? Did she stay and watch Robert die? Can the live-avatars still contact her, or her them? Did anyone see her leave Robert’s place, seeing as how she’s the last one to see him alive? But, to wrap up, the nihilist in me loved the fact that victory for the little people in the computer was the sweet release of death (“I really hope we die”), and the Star Trek fan in me loved that they flew into a reboot (and finding Aaron Paul).
Black Mirror has a tendency to ride some of their concepts too long in an episode, spending too much time establishing or reestablishing it. Usually at about the 15 minute to halfway point, you know what the story is and you just want to get it going. In this case, it felt like they kept starting different stories that just introduced new concepts: the girl goes missing, she gets a tracker implanted, she gets violence censored to her, her grandpa has a heart attack, but it’s not fatal, then it flashes forward to when he does pass away, and so on…
They’re all well-written scenes, but the story keeps stopping once a new concept is introduced to start on another. Plus, I’ve always thought Black Mirror’s idea of “blocking” people is weird, where you’d just see a hazy pixilation and muted sounds. Wouldn’t that also be terrifying, especially to a child? Can't they still hurt you? I like that the effects it had on the daughter once the parental blockers were removed, but I couldn’t tell how that really effected her as a teenager (angsty, yes, but not too much more than a normal teenager).
I also really liked the scenes of Rosemarie Dewitt looking through her daughter’s eyes, like Being John Malkovich, and I like everything she did here (and, just her in general). And, slipping contraception into a shake is plenty reason to get your face beaten in. But, much like “Shut Up And Dance”, that other episode where everything turns out to be a game show, and the one where the husband yells at his cheating wife for an hour, this one was well done, but needed to fill in a lot of gaps.
The more I think about this episode, the more I find what I think it was trying to do, and then realize it didn’t do that. What the episode did right was start off on a great murder scene and subsequent disposal. I have a personal affinity to scenes where characters have to get rid of bodies, and it’s shown as realistically as possible. I’m going to assume I’ve just watched too many super-hero and action movies, where thugs and henchmen are thrown about, but I find it hilarious when the time, weight, and reality of cleaning up your own murder is depicted. Make it as boring and inconvenient as possible. I love it. Even once it became clear that the episode was going to be about a series of murders, I got into it.
And, I like a story where our protagonist spirals deeper and deeper into evil, or misfortune, and never gets out in the end. Or, I love stories where the killer gets away. Just the fact that it’s unexpected can be enjoyable. However, this never seemed to achieve it’s goals. It never really became a series of causes and effects, because there were too many coincidences with memory readers and pizza-vans (and a blind baby). It never really became a showcase for technology because it’s too specific (or are you a successful developer who’s 2 murders could be discovered after a car accident 3 stories down and perfect mind-reading?). Even when they tried to show Mia in a dark hood under back-lighting, resembling the Angel of Death, it felt underwhelming.
It never became a story of a killer getting away, because she’s about to get caught at the end. Plus, we never really got to know Mia very well in the first place. And, while the scenes with the investigator are well directed, and the devices are fun to see in action (the investigator carries around beer!), the fact that you only get a weird flash of a person leading out if they’re trying not to think of murder undercuts that technology as well. In fact, aside from being well shot, can anyone think of anything this episode achieved?
Hang the DJ
This was another perfect balance of story-telling and concept, and another example of the show upending that concept halfway instead of riding it. The whole thing starts off with a familiar date, but with armed guards, and then sleeping over in a house neither of you own (did anyone else think those houses looked like the bathrooms you see at parks?). The whole thing felt natural, but raised questions from the beginning. Specifically, were these people on a dating website? Or a part of some social club? Or part of a closed community?
I loved how it became a streamlined romantic comedy, with “The System” playing matchmaker, best friend counsel, and by the end, the controlling parents the kids have to run away from before the arranged wedding. In this case, though, you start to wonder what else these people do, and why they are never talking to their friends. I assume we all realized it was a simulation once Amy noticed the rocks always skipped “no more or less than 4 times”.
But, that didn’t diminish how I identified with the characters (although, I’m going to assume they are also live avatars, because that’s how this show rolls). Their ruminations on love kept things going to the point that by the time Amy wants to get the hell out, I was on board with them pulling a Logan’s Run and booking it.
Probably the most original episode this season, and the one each Black Mirror season seems to have where they throw off the ties to the rest of the episodes (I’ll get to whether it’s an anthology or a shared universe below). This is a pure cat and mouse chase with any semblance of background or world-building getting run over by a either a survivor or a Terminator-Dalek.
First off, anyone who isn’t scared of an unstoppable killer robot has apparently never had a nightmare, ran for their life, or done both. I’ve read/heard some people complain about the black and white, or how that’s just used to make it seem original. But, it makes the light pop and helps with the fact that, yes, the “dog” wasn’t great CGI. And, while I feel like too many times lately we’re expecting our action movies to be more and more streamlined, this episode earned the right to leave out exposition so we can imagine why they’re risking lives to get one, or a box of, teddy bears.
Overall, “White Christmas” was better. But, it also had the advantage of being first (and Jon Hamm). In both cases, it’s great for the show to have place where it can dump a few ideas together that won’t all fill around an hour, even though the narration of Rolo Hanes took away from scenes that could have really stood on their own. But, we all jumped up when we saw the red sucker in that display case (…there’s a sentence).
So, this brings us to the well-suited cigarette-smoking narrator in the room. Black Mirror tends to get referred to as “the new Twilight Zone”, and while it very much holds up to that title, most people tend to just use that as short-hand for “anthology”. However, the Twilight Zone tended to also lean towards the supernatural and science-fantasy, whereas Black Mirror is all about technology’s affect on us. So, is Black Mirror a shared universe like some people are starting to think? Charlie Booker officially said “No” to that… and done.
What Black Museum did was not show us a world where all the other episodes are intertwined, but, I think, showed us a world where those particular events happened. If the universe is part of a multiverse and everything that can happen will happen, this is one where the Black Mirror episodes happened together. Thus, if you’re watching any other episode, that is in it’s own universe. It just so happens something similar ended up in the Black Museum (also, there’s a universe where Hitler got the atomic bomb first, so maybe let’s not jump into multiverse travel when we get to it). The reason I bring up the connections/lack thereof, is because at the end of it, after Charlie Booker is done playing “Night Gallery”, the new kid burns it all down.
I hope this is the show acknowledging where it’s gotten repetitious, making this it’s version of a cliffhanger episode. They know it’s the last one most people will watch. So, even though I do love the live-avatars (really), I hope this is the show promising to shake things up going forward. Or, even if it doesn’t, it’s still an amazing show. I barely even mentioned the music.
Rankings, best to worst:
Hang The DJ