Black Mirror season four premiered last week and brought with it the usual thrills, chills, and terrifying concerns about where our technology dependant society is heading. Allow me to give you my thoughts on each of the six episodes. I’ll try to be brief, but I make no promises, so buckle in for a long one kids.
!!WARNING: MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!!
(I MEAN THEY’RE NOT REALLY SPOILERS BUT I’M PRETTY VAGUE ON PLOT DETAILS SO YOU’RE PROBABLY NOT GOING TO UNDERSTAND PROPERLY IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THEM JUST GO WATCH THANK ME LATER)
Starting off on a high note, with one of my favourites of the season, USS Callister. Booker didn’t waste any time getting it cracking, dealing with themes like abuse of power, workplace harassment, male emotional expression and institutionalised gender roles in entertainment and media – just right off the bat. I felt that these sort of topics might have been slightly uncomfortable or confronting for many fans, as a lot of them found themselves reflected in Jesse Plemons’ Robert Daly. This show always does a fantastic job of making you really empathise with a character and then completely flipping the script as they take on a villainous role (White Bear, S2EP2) and this episode did it brilliantly. Even me, with my inherent distrust of old white men, did not expect the protagonist to be such a… well, such a dick. I think it highlighted an important set of problems that not many people acknowledge when considering social justice or gender bias – even self acclaimed “nice guys” tend to contribute to every day instances of oppression and are often only perceived as “nice guys” because they release their aggression in covert and unhealthy ways.
Enhancing the deeper message was a technically well executed episode. The dialogue was snappy and well delivered across the board, particularly by Christin Milioti and Jimmi Simpson, in the roles of Nanette and Walton, respectively. It was also surprisingly funny, even laugh out loud hilarious in moments, which helped keep the episode from becoming too dark in the face of the more somber plot points. Something I particularly loved was the overall aesthetic (I hate that word but it really is the only way to describe it) of the Space Fleet universe. The set, costumes and cinematography really empathised that this was the perfect world for Daly – clean, bright, shiny, and removed from reality. Cinematography was a real highlight for me in this episode. It took a re-watch to notice the way the camera work played with the story – when Daly appeared during Space Fleet, Stephen Pehrsson (DP) stuck to wide, still shots, reminiscent of the style of classic sci-fi tv shows. However when the captain was gone, or a moment that didn’t “follow script” occurred in that world, the frame moved in closer, incorporating shaky-cam and more diverse angles. It’s details like this that bring together an episode and help deliver it’s core themes in a seamless, yet still entertaining way. USS Clatter taught us (like many episodes of this season, and indeed the entire show), that the physical technology itself is not the problem we face, but the way humans abuse it.
Next up was one that was something of a disappointment to me. It had all the right ingredients – Jodie Foster, mother/daughter dynamics, and a trailer with callbacks to Men Against Fire (one of my favourite and I think more underrated episodes of S3). Whilst I I found Foster’s direction to be delightful – her experience played out nicely in the tone of the main relationship – I thought the overall story and writing lacked consistency. As a teenage girl myself, I expected to be able to relate to the protagonist (I usually do adore my teen girl mains), but I honestly found her too annoying to sympathise with. She was bland, weird-looking, dressed like a milk maid and was apparently naive enough to believe that some dark haired semi-stranger bad boy wanted to be in a committed relationship after just one hookup? Girl. And I know that the age thing is an unoriginal qualm with this episode but 15 years old? No way. 17 or 18 I could have bought but 15?! I was honestly starting to warm to her a little bit in the face of the mother’s… controlling decisions, (An abortion pill? Hells no.) but once her age was revealed I found the level of protectiveness shown to be more understandable (if a little misguided).
Basically, I wasn’t invested in either side of the conflict, which meant the emotional impact fell flat. I might be reading to far into it, but I got to wondering whether this was the intent? Not to butcher the character development, but to create a more nuanced picture of a mother/daughter relationship, with fault on both sides. Maybe you were supposed to understand the perspective of both parties – or not know who to support and believe – because that is the reality of most family arguments. But, if this was the case… it was still kinda boring.
However, the episode still had an interesting integration and introduction of technology, which is always a must watching this show. Although it still seems strange to me that a mother so desperate to protect her daughter from any potential external threats would sign her up for a trial based, clearly sketchy injection directly into her skull that is obviously going to harm her future development and thus cause her more danger than before. But whatever.
Now to Crocodile, by far the darkest of all the episodes. This one was a sucker punch to the gut, man. Good lord. Black Mirror episodes don’t typically end with a happy-go-lucky ride off into the sunset ending – often a sort of middle ground compromise, almost closure but also not really – but this was just… so sad. I loved the shared themes with The Entire History Of You (S1EP3), probably my favourite episode of the series going into this season (Black Museum and USS Callister are giving it a run for its money though).
The setting of Iceland was well chosen, it really heightened the sense of darkness through the whole episode. The endless grey sky and rocky terrain just felt incredibly BLEAK and isolating… you got the sense that no one would discover the body of Shazia for ages and you could really understand why Mia felt so alone – she was literally cut off from the rest of the world. Aesthetically (ugh), the palette was monochromatic and washed out, really just shoving that despair down your throat. If you wanted anything else dark to dwell on, you realise in the last ten minutes that all the deaths were, essentially in vain and/or meaningless. Mia killed all those people to protect her secret, but because of the freaking hamster, her secret is out anyway. They didn’t even have to die. A stab in the heart to realise the child is literally blind, so his memories couldn’t have revealed her anyway, and thus didn’t have to die. The knife twists further in the final shots to realise that there was still a witness, and thus none of them had to die. They truly nailed the pacing with this episode, building up the tension the whole way through (that CAR scene holy man!), as you realise Mia will murder again, and again, and again, as the episode seems to reach its climax again, and again, and again, right down to the final shot. A quick (but no less well-deserved) mention must go to the actresses here – Andrea Riseborough and Kiran Sawar. Riseborough in particular delivered a seamless performance.
I loved the progression of Mia’s character throughout the episode, getting gradually more twisted as it went on. You could sympathise with her character up until about halfway through the episode – as soon as she grabs the bat to Shazia’s car it’s all over. This idea that she had worked herself into a frenzy and couldn’t stop when she was this far in, so she had to go all out was very disturbing but also made for a terrifically entertaining (albeit grim) watch. The killing of the child delivered the perfect emotional impact, the final nail in the coffin, erasing any doubt in your mind that she was redeemable. It reminded me a little of Shut Up And Dance (S3EP3), exploring how far humans will go to protect their private memories and thoughts – particularly those they are ashamed of – to preserve their image or reputation.
Hang The DJ
Another more solid stand out of the season was Hang The DJ, a sweet and sentimental love story that proved a refreshing break from then relatively dark tone thus far. Let me begin by saying that I am probably the least sentimental person ever, but DAMN. This was pretty adorable.
This episode was like the straight younger sibling of San Junipero (S3EP4). Both were phenomenal love stories about two people who just keep finding their way back to each other, threaded with a mystery that revealed itself in a stunning conclusion. The latter half of that sentence is very important, because whilst the episode was sweet and emotional, there was still some sinister moments. Any time a security guard appeared in the shot it was a subtle, dark reminder that these couples really couldn’t escape the system they had put their faith in – that these relationships were enforced and not simply suggested. As an outsider it was easy to question why on earth they would go along with this, (I mean, the two main characters’ intense chemistry had me screaming “JUST LET THEM BE TOGETHER” at my laptop for at least half the run time) but it got a lot more interesting when you realised that they didn’t know any better or different. I was surprised when out of all of the episodes this was the one that sent me into a head spin for the longest time, as it seemed to be the least “deep” of the season. But my typical post-Black-Mirror-episode reflection period lasted for a solid ten minutes, just me processing the idea of all these simulations inside of simulations. There was no shortage of gut-wrenching, emotional moments either – stand outs including pretty much any time Amy *tried* to skip a rock and Frank’s anonymous hookup becoming all the more passionate once he and his lover started thinking about the past flames that they couldn’t get over.
The episode was a witty little insight into modern dating – how most people put all of their trust into a system that can have questionable results, and how we try to classify and restrict human connection with something as simple and calculating as an app. This episode showed the many ways people engage with modern dating technology – Amy’s experience with mindless flings reflected how most use it for meaningless hookups, Frank’s relationship early on showed how many can get trapped in situations that they don’t enjoy, simply because they haven’t taken the time to know a person in real life. Aside from the this there was no intense underlying theme, rather the story was enhanced by some really well executed moments and performances. I can’t praise the two leads highly enough – their chemistry was truly stunning, and a whole lot of fun as well – which is a phrase I feel like I might be repeating a lot this review. This show does a wonderful job of casting smaller, unknown or just generally more diverse actors than a lot of tv at the moment, and it seems that they all do the job really, really well. I also loved the visuals of this episode, which reminded me a lot of Nosedive (S3EP1). They were very pastel and minimalist and cute, Georgina Campbell’s 50’s style skirts and cardigans matched with Joe Cole’s classic blazer/tee combo and I know it sounds like I’m reading way too far into this but it just enhanced the cutesy-ness of the whole story and to be honest there isn’t a whole lot to unpack here, it’s just a very lovely tale with very lovely little kick at the end there, okay? Okay.
Second to last was an episode that fell a little lower on the list. Metalhead was a post-apocalyptic wild dog hunt – literally. It followed one woman on her journey across the now devastated world, attempting to out-run unknown, ominous pieces of technology, referred to simply as “dogs”.
This one was mildly enjoyable – but that’s kind of it. It was well constructed, but I wasn’t crazy about it, and I honestly think that’s because it was a bit too mysterious. Obviously the story was intended to be minimal to a certain extent, but I was left with a few too many questions at the end to properly enjoy it. I kept expecting a final sequence, seen before in many previous episodes, that would reveal what these creatures were, how the world went into such a state of disarray and slap you with a message that resonates and connects the themes of the episode. This sounds like a wild ask, but Black Mirror has delivered on the promise before (White Bear, Black Museum). Without some background, it just felt a little empty, essentially following the same chase sequence for the whole (shortest of the season) episode.
Stylistically however, this episode was a nice change in the season. The black and white was stunning, and did a great job of enhancing the post apocalyptic and tension-filled atmosphere. The main performance was (as always) awesome and coupled with some great editing and sound design choices, did a heck of a job of creating suspense that continued almost throughout the entire episode – which is a pretty tough thing to achieve. I did like the idea of human reliance on creature comforts – this trio went through some immense struggle, essentially losing their lives just for some freaking teddy bears. I thought the box might contain medicine or similar, something that would actually assist the anonymous sister, but no. That final shot was a nice commentary on materialism, and what people will go through just to have access to familiar or sentimental objects. It was a cool concept – but it wasn’t quite enough.
Season Four’s last hurrah, Black Museum, was probably my favourite of the season (maybe closely tied with USS Callister). I loved the theme of a seperate consciousness, and how that introduced some moral and rights dilemmas – it played with ideas of human suffering and really, what constitutes a life. This had some callbacks to one of my favourite episodes of S2, White Christmas, an hour and a half festive special. Much like White Christmas, you barely felt length, as the story was so intriguing. I loved all the little Easter eggs and nods to previous episodes sprinkled throughout the museum – and the seperate stories were all good enough that I could’ve had full episodes on them, even if the characters were a little naive, and the issues a little preventable. It was a bit of a classic case of the protagonist that makes literally every wrong decision possible. I mean, how could these people not see that these technologies were clearly not going to be all sunshine and rainbows? Your dead ex-wife stuck in your head infinitely with no control over her actions? How could that possibly go wrong, you ask?
I love how the episode really kept you on your toes – going into it I was sure Rolo was going to be some kind of villain, or at least a lot more malicious than he seemed. But as the episode went on, I wasn’t as sure, because he seemed to be fine enough – and then BOOM! I was right again. It was highly entertaining, and above all a great episode of television, Black Mirror or nay. Lena Waithe was absolutely brilliant, even better than the usual high calibre of actors and actresses in this show. She was highly likeable, really carried the episode, and I am beyond excited to see her in Black Panther and Ready Player One – releases that are at the top of my 2018 must-see list.
Again, it was an excellent choice for the last episode, really tied the whole season together and – for me, at least – ended it on the highest of notes. The last ten minutes were riveting, just amazing and awesome and totally badass – as she hangs the pendant from her rearview mirror, delivers a killer line to her mom and then the camera pans out as she drives away – I JUST: YES!!! I think maybe some of the nuance of that final sequence was perhaps lost on me – I believe it was trying to challenge the “eye for an eye” revenge plot a little, make you wonder whether despite his sins, did Rolo really deserve to suffer for all of eternity – but I was completely one sided. Maybe I’m just a sucker for young black girls sticking it to twisted old white men. Idk.