Black Mirror has been the benchmark for cutting edge television since it first aired in 2011.
Writer, Charlie Brooker, uses closed story arcs to depict numerous dystopian scenarios which usually have come about due to technology becoming detrimental to the world we know.
But with the divisive series on it’s fourth season, can Black Mirror maintain its appeal?
This star-trek inspired comedy-thriller was a truly excellent start to season 4. Despite some absolutely shameless netflix plugging within the opening scenes, this ended up being one of the most exciting, and also one of the funniest, Black Mirror episodes to date. The episode was an amplification of the new development of gaming – virtual reality. It would be easy to assume that VR was an obvious choice for a topic by Charlie Brooker, but this was executed in the most satisfying of ways. Cpt. Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons) is portrayed as both a macho and frightening leader in the virtual world, and a nervous tech geek in reality – to equally good effect. The character development was done superbly, complete with backstories and inspiring monologues. USS Callister is the invigorating start that the new series undoubtedly needed.
Being laced with clichés is something that no one would ever dream of associating with Black Mirror, but this came to an end with Arkangel. The generic american high school scenery did not fit with the message that this episode was trying to put across. Aesthetically, this was more like a futuristic episode of 13 Reasons Why than any form of ground-breaking sci-fi. The premise of the episode was the trials of a new development where parents could see through the eyes of their child, somewhat reflecting the idea of a surveillance state but with more focus on the parent-child relationship as opposed to government-public. An interesting idea, for sure, but incessantly mundane direction from Jodie Foster and some cringe-worthy scripting made for challenging viewing.
In a world where police evidence technology has reached new heights, this episode explored the implications for Mia Nolan (Andrea Riseborough) when she gets herself in a spot of bother. Despite the ‘gadget’ in this episode being a little bit familiar (see series 1 episode ‘The Entire History of You’), Crocodile had genuine potential. Brooker really took the wrong route here unfortunately, placing the overwhelming majority of the camera time on the lead character’s mindless killing spree rather going further into the implications of this new technology. If Black Mirror are going to start rehashing previous episodes, they need to execute it much better than this.
Hang the DJ
On face value, this is the episode that we’ve all been waiting for. Online dating was the next logical step in terms of what modern craze Brooker was going to tackle. A genuinely phenomenal acting performance from Joe Cole, of Peaky Blinders fame, made for a very believable relationship dynamic between his character, Frank, and Amy, played by Georgina Campbell. What ended up letting this episode down was the predictability of it. Taking the concept of online dating and exaggerating it to Black Mirror proportions might have been something that we all expected and maybe even desired, but Black Mirror is at it’s best when it delivers curveballs and shocks its audience. This didn’t feel like an innovative, boundary-pushing, idea to come from Charlie Brooker’s brilliant mind, but more like a dramatisation of an outdated opinion of online dating that you’re weird uncle would spout at Christmas dinner.
Yet another example of a series 4 episode which had ample potential but failed to stick the landing. An edge-of-your-seat opening sequence meant that Metalhead was teed up for a perfect shot, but Metalhead deployed the same plot techniques as series 2’s ‘White Bear’, only this time they forgot to add in the shock twist ending that rounded the episode off perfectly. Sole main character, Bella, is on the run from robotic ‘dogs’ which have an unstoppable programming to eradicate human life. The first Black Mirror episode ever to be filmed entirely in black and white, it relies on a sense of minimalism throughout, though this comes across more lazy and bromidic than edgy or avant-garde. This episode views more as a 40 minute snippet from a film, whereas it needed that crucial extra 10 minutes to stop the audience feeling slightly disgruntled when the credits rolled.
Series 4 concluded with a completely different episode structure than we’ve ever seen before. An innocent looking girl is taken into an underground showroom, which is littered with subtle, but appreciated, references to previous episodes, and she is guided by a shady character portrayed by Douglas Hodge. His development continues via flashbacks which paint him perfectly as the classic sleazy american corporate man. An underlying story was in the mix at all times but it had enough ambiguity to keep the audience on their toes. Meanwhile, two sub-stories were taking place which were both good enough for their own episodes. Admittedly, the unorthodox structure did sometimes leave the viewer slightly bewildered but this was often resolved within minutes. Another shock twist ending (though this time, it’s a real twist) rounds off an episode which is a difficult watch but a rewarding one.
For most television series that are lucky enough to receive rave reviews on it’s first series, the second series tends to be the point where real critique begins set in, from professionals and fans alike. Black Mirror managed to dodge this after not just two, but three series. It does seem, however, that series 4 is where Charlie Brooker’s bank of ideas has run dry. Needless to say, this series is not without its highlights, successful delving into light comedy was made on USS Callister, and the seamless casting on Hang the DJ certainly came close to saving it. But prevalent concepts, weak plotlines, and rehashed episodes have made for a cocktail of criticisms which are all too easy to make against the latest installment of Black Mirror.
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