The considerable talents of Charlie Brooker have resulted in some of the funniest, consistently thought-provoking and generally on the button TV in the last decade or more. From his work on various newspaper columns and the brilliant TVGoHome, working with Chris Morris on the excellent hipster skewering Nathan Barley, trying his hand at comedic horror with the amazing Dead Set, putting the world to rights via Screenwipe & Newswipe which he fronted himself along with the yearly rundown which has become somewhat of a New Years tradition (sadly not this year though) through to his creation of Black Mirror, a dark anthology of future-shock drama that has captured the attention of the world, more so with its new home on Netflix last year. With the arrival of Season 4, has the quality expected from Mr Brooker been upheld?
The series employs the same framework as last year, 6 new episodes, USS Calisiter, Arkangel, Crocodile, Hang the DJ, Metalhead and Black Museum all clocking in at varying lengths. It has to be said, the quality and sheer invention in writing has not dissipated in the slightest, if anything, I feel this is possibly the most ambitious season so far in terms of the kinds of story featured. I’ll now go though each story in turn giving my two cents.
Season opener, the feature length USS Calister is a tale of virtual reality going too far with a disturbed software developer creating his own fantasy world based around his favourite sci-fi TV show and populating it in a VERY unorthodox manner. This is without a doubt the most cinematic Black Mirror has been and not for the only time this season, this is one hand a big budget effects extravaganza and in the other a classic Black Mirror future-shock of feasible near-future technology allowed to be abused in terrifying ways. One of the strongest episodes of the season.
The second episode Arkangel has received a lot of attention in the lead up to this season due to its hugely famous director, Jodie Foster, a woman of prodigious talent both on and off screen, the prospect of her working arm in arm with Charlie Brooker being a massive draw to any fan of film & TV. The episode itself focuses on a mother & her daughter who, upon nearly losing her in childbirth, becomes increasingly overprotective to the point of opting for an experimental child monitoring system called Arkangel, think of it as a baby monitor only taken to obsessive levels. This is a remarkably effective episode, particularly for any viewers that are parents themselves, offering a pertinent question on how far do we go to ensure the safety of our offspring without wrapping them in metaphorical cotton wool to the point of damaging them on a psychological & sociological level.
Probably one of this years darkest offerings comes in the form of Crocodile. A young woman and her boyfriend are involved in a road accident in which they kill a cyclist and attempt to hide what they have done. Many years later and now a successful architect, the woman’s past comes to revisit her leading to a spiral of death due to the use of a devise that can read people’s memories. Genuinely unsettling & upsetting at times, this is the story this year that will stay with the viewer long after its finished.
Some much needed levity is required next as we are presented with Hang the DJ. In a time & place where are relationships have a predetermined lifespan for the lovelorn that embark on something referred to as ‘The System’. Those involved are aware of how much time they have left via a dating programme known as Coach who through a series of relationships, points each person to their perfect partner, only problem is, what if you’ve already been with that person? A strangely heartwarming episode delving into the complexities of human interaction and how technology can never really know the depths of the human heart.
Next up we have Metalhead, the first episode of Black Mirror is be completely filmed in black & white and also the shortest of the season running at a brisk 41 minutes. A stripped down, quick paced and fairly gimmick-less affair. We are given very little in the way of story, set in a post-apocalyptic future where human-kind are forced to scavenge through the remnants of the old world to survive, all the while evading the pursuit of ‘The Dog’s’, robotic guard-dogs that protect supplies and relentlessly hunt those that attempt to raid whatever they guard. Three people are on a salvage mission to acquire something to ease the pain of a terminally ill loved one, they are set upon by a Dog and must try to survive. This is very different to anything that has been tried in Black Mirror before for a number of reasons, the choice to film in black & white being a chief masterstroke giving the episode a gritty, grounded feel of an independent movie, a number of people have said it feels like something Ben Wheatley would put out which I wholeheartedly agree with. There also is no overarching warning of technology being misused as with most episodes of Black Mirror, if anything the Dog’s are just McGuffin’s, there purely to drive the story forward, instead it focuses on the lengths we would go to to ease the suffering of those we love, not matter how small the gesture or great the personal cost.
Which brings us to this seasons final episode Black Museum. A young woman traveling through the desert comes across a filling station with an added attraction, The Black Museum, a place that houses various criminological pieces of technology collected by its proprietor who has a tale to tell for each item in his collection. Black Museum goes all meta on us by being an anthology within an anthology comprising of 3 stories linking the episodes overarching narrative. We also get a number of Easter eggs from episodes past that are displayed in the museum, one of the masks from White Bear, a comic-book of Fifteen Million Merits, an ADI from Hated In The Nation as well as artefacts from earlier episodes in this season and multiple allusions are also made to fan favourite San Junipero. These little nods may appear trivial but let us know that all these stories occur in the same universe, not “what if’s”, these are all taking place on the same Earth in a not too distant future. Alongside USS Calister, this is one of my favourites of the season.
Black Mirror has gone from strength to strength with each progressive season, more so in my opinion since it’s jump to Netflix where the added financial backing has afforded greater scope to the stories offered. The quality of writing has never dipped and that is still true to say of this season which could very well be its last as no further announcement of Netflix producing any more has been made at this time and if that is the case, I’m fine with that, the standards have never dipped and the show ended on a consistent high. Of course, if more Black Mirror was announced, I’d be more than a little happy if the standards remain as high as those displayed here.