If you’ve never seen an episode of Black Mirror before, please don’t binge watch all six hours of the latest series from the mind of writer Charlie Brooker in one session. Whatever you do, just don’t.
This is by no means to say that Black Mirror is bad, quite the contrary actually, but to indulge in this mind-bending world of technology and its impact upon human beings in often close, dystopian settings in one sitting wouldn’t be the best idea. For those uninitiated, Black Mirror is an anthology series, with each episode totally seperate from the last – new characters, new setting, new technology (for the most part). The hook is that in most episodes, the tech involved starts to divert from its proper intention, creating some juicy plots, and one or two twists in there for good measure.
Released over Christmas, the recent offering serves up potentially the most divisive series yet, with episodes exploring virtual reality, apocalyptic robots and dating apps of the near future. It’s an intense, often terrifying ride, there were moments to savour and moments to endure, but Black Mirror is surely the most original, unusual piece of work out there today.
Let’s start with ‘USS Callister’, what at first appears to be an innocent Star Trek knock-off, quickly descends into layers of intrigue and farce, ‘goodies’ become ‘baddies’, and you’re going to have a few conflictions among the impeccable cast.
Jesse Plemons, perhaps best known as a villain in the later stages of Breaking Bad, is fantastic as the loner, yet genius coder Robert Daly, who escapes his humdrum worklife to become the hero of his own space opera virtual reality game. To reveal any more, would be a shame, but what follows is classic Black Mirror, as you may just find your jaw dropping on more than one occasion.
One chapter of the latest series I found a tough watch, was Black Museum. Intended as almost a retrospective of the past four seasons, with easter eggs from past episodes thrown in for fans to look out for within the titular museum of ‘crime’, the anthology trio of stories within the hour-long tale were pretty terrifying!
The episode had been described by Brooker as “similar to a Simpsons ‘Treehouse of Horror'”, and I can see why. Museum proprietor Rolo Haynes, played with exquisite sleaziness by Douglas Hodge, gives traveller Nish (Letitia Wright) a private tour of the facility, filling her in on some of the details behind the exhibitions. I found the tales, including a doctor who is able to feel his patient’s pain, a mixed bag, with the single plotline weaving its way throughout the episode overall pretty messy. Still a rare, satisfying conclusion to a Black Mirror story made up for some of the shortcomings the episode had.
Another less enthralling episode was Metalhead. Shot completely in black and white, a band of human survivors are after a mystery item for one of their camp, while being pursued by packs of robotic dogs. It’s as crazy as it sounds, and while the cinematography of the episode was beautiful, desolate landscapes look even better in black and white, and the frantic acting of the lead, Maxine Peake was excellent, I actually found myself wishing for it to end!
Arkangel gives us the Jodie Foster-directed tale of a mother who won’t let go of her daughter, a tale of surveillance gone wrong, that impresses, if it isn’t wholly impressionable – you might not remember it a week or two after you’ve digested it. While Crocodile is an episode that escalates and escalates, pushing its lead character to do incredibly terrible things, in order for her name to be clear. An enthralling watch, it really highlighted the decline of a human being from normal to wickedly bad.
But my favourite episode of the latest half-dozen, is, by far, Hang the DJ. Hang the DJ, perhaps a distant relative of season three’s standout, San Junipero, focuses on a world in which singletons obey ‘The System’, and upon meeting another can instantly find out the tantalising detail of when their relationship will end. If that sounds like typical downbeat Black Mirror, it’s really not!
Actors Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole, are electric as Amy and Frank, their fantastic chemistry allows them to bounce off one another, as we follow their character’s fraught storylines in this most Black Mirror of concepts that’s an obvious commentary on the dating apps so many use today. Throw in a fantastic original score by Icelandic indie band Sigur Rós and composer Alex Somers, and you’ve got a brilliant piece of TV – with several ‘goosebumps’ moments.
What’s next for Black Mirror? At the time of writing, there’s been no formal announcement of a series five, but an anthology collection (how else?!) of short stories will be released in book form – yes the first Black Mirror book is coming – in February 2018, with a further two collections coming in late 2018 and early 2019. Black Mirror may be predicting the future for years to come, just yet!