Black Mirror Returns, Almost as Good as Ever


Photo Courtesy of Variety.

British television series Black Mirror has returned with new episodes for the first time in about two years, all thanks to being picked up by Netflix. Often, and accurately, described as a modern Twilight Zone about technology, this dark anthology series has a bleak outlook on humanity as we continue to rely on appliances. Netflix has allowed for longer run times, so what was once a roughly 40-minute show now lasts anywhere between an hour to to 90 minutes. As a result, some of the episodes drag, but when it’s a top notch story, you don’t even notice the time.

What makes Black Mirror so fascinating is how the stories about advanced technology bring about a universal theme. In the past, the show illustrated why you shouldn’t bring back the dead, even when it’s possible. It showed the danger of public shaming, even if it’s a monster being targeted. It showed how easily you can lose your soul when you try to become a star. Luckily, the incredible parables continue.

The first episode, starring Bryce Dallas Howard [Jurassic World] and Alice Eve [Star Trek], is a comment on what we lose in our identity when we start rating each other on social media. In a world where everything hinges on how close to a Five you are, you can’t truly be happy. The second episode, starring Wyatt Russell [Everybody Wants Some!!], is about the trauma induced in the Virtual Reality [VR] world.

Episodes also contain messages about the danger of internet culture in general. In the third episode, hackers use their findings to blackmail victims [often very bad people] into doing dangerous tasks, without ever showing an endgame. In the moments of panic, the victims show that they are humans too and, despite their sins, are being treated cruelly.

This is similar to theme in episode four, in which soldiers have something downloaded in their minds to assist with their duty. What’s really happening is they’re being blocked from seeing the humanity of the people they’re after. They’re compromising some of their humanity so they can live with what they’ve done. They would’ve had no idea of their altered state, if the technology worked perfectly. But, we all know technology will let you down at some point.

The highlight of the new season, and highlights of the series in general, come in the form of episodes four and six. Episode four waits a long while to show the technological aspect; it’s mostly about two incredibly lonely people falling in love. Starring Mackenzie Davis [Halt and Catch Fire] and Gugu Mbatha-Raw [Beyond the Lights], the episode ends up being about how technology can be used to create some sort of digital heaven. But, what was truly surprising about this episode was that it had a pretty happy ending. Finding optimism in Black Mirror can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. It was a pleasant surprise and the performance of both actresses showed ease and chemistry. This was the best episode of the season.

A close second is episode six, which is essentially a feature film. Kelly MacDonald [Gosford Park, No Country For Old Men] plays a weary detective investigating the mysterious murders of figures who are hated on the internet. In a world where a post can ruin someone’s life, this episode is alarming. It’s a comment on the danger of vigilant collectives who say things online about an individual they don’t really mean. As hardware evolves, one person can look at this consensus and take action. This episode keeps you on the edge of your seat more than any of the others. While this ends on a very slight high note, the body count ends up being huge, and you’ll end the new season feeling deflated.

However, that’s what Black Mirror sets out to do. You aren’t supposed to leave feeling great about your fellow man. It shows that everyone has darkness and now there are more tools to help you embrace it. If you’re looking for something to relax to, look elsewhere, because this series will chill you to the bone. But, it is also a very intelligent series that raises more questions than it can probably answer––which isn’t actually a bad thing. There isn’t a dud in this new bunch, even if some episodes try one’s patience. Black Mirror hasn’t lost its touch, really; it just has more freedom now. There are only 13 episodes in the whole series, so dig in and let yourself feel the tension.

3.5 out of 4 dolphins.