What does the future look like? Will technology bring humanity together or just drive us further apart? Does it offer us new ways to connect and understand each other, or new ways to exploit, hurt, and destroy? These are only some of the questions that Charlie Brooker attempts to address in his anthology series Black Mirror. Each episode examines a completely different scenario, some set in our modern society, others in bizarre and terrifying future worlds in which characters navigate a world corrupted and molded by technology. The “black mirror” of the title refers to the screens that surround us, that we carry in our pockets. Technology reflects the flaws of human beings and shows us what we are capable of in this rapidly evolving world.
The third season of Black Mirror premiered on Netflix on Oct. 21. The show originally aired on Channel 4, a British station, before Netflix ordered two seasons of six episodes each. Each episode has a unique take and approach, following wholly different storylines. Some are more speculative and intellectual, while others move at a breakneck speed. Like the first two seasons, these six new episodes are horrifying and fascinating, and invite the viewer to question his own assumptions.
The first episode “Nosedive,” starring Bryce Dallas Howard, explores a world in which everyone rates personal interactions with other people based on a five-star system, much like an Uber ride. These ratings determine your worth and status in society. After ordering a morning coffee, Lacie Pound, played by Howard, gives her barista a five-star rating, which he reciprocates. The bright, bubbly episode lures the viewer into a world of manufactured happiness and constant anxiety. Each moment comes with the fear that someone might turn on you and turn your 4.2 rating into a 3.8. As Pound attempts to raise her rating to a 4.5 so she can receive a discount on her new home, she reconnects with an old friend, played by Alice Eve, who has turned her beauty and social graces into a 4.8 rating. When Pound is invited to attend her friend’s wedding to be the maid of honor, she decided to use the occasion to deliver a heartwarming speech that will earn her plenty of 5 star ratings from “quality people.” As the attempt to get to the wedding goes awry, she realizes how fickle and cruel people can be, and her rating slowly begins to plummet. The happy veneer slides off as the episode reveals the pains and constraints that social media place on us, expanding the need for perceived perfection into every moment of life.
This episode is only one example of the themes that Black Mirror investigates to mind-bending and often soul-crushing results. One of the most unpleasant and emotionally affecting episodes of the entire series is “Shut Up and Dance,” the third of this season. A young boy accidentally downloads a virus that films him in a compromising situation. The hackers contact him and, through a series of emotionless text messages, blackmail him into running around the city completing strange and illegal tasks. Facing the possibility that his shameful secrets might be exposed to everyone he knows, etched into the permanence of the internet, the boy, played by The Imitation Game’s Alex Lawther, is a nervous and emotional wreck throughout the course of the episode. As the thrilling and jarring episode rockets toward its conclusion, the faceless blackmailers remain completely in the shadows, lacking any empathy and playing with people for no truly discernible reason. The episode challenges our tendency to judge people and prescribe punishments, while also presenting the terrifying and faceless consequences of internet anonymity. By the end of the episode, viewers are left exhausted and devastated by a conclusion that offers no relief and little hope.
While watching an episode of Black Mirror can be a harrowing experience, it is also remarkably entertaining and even darkly funny. Great performances and engrossing directing ground each episode in a solid believability that allows the show to explore its more mind-bending themes. Fans of films such as Ex Machina and even old anthology series such as The Twilight Zone will find much to enjoy in Black Mirror. Alternate realities, the consequences of internet hatred, biological weaponry, and even survival horror video games find a place in this new season, with each episode leading the viewer down a rabbit hole of twists, turns, and dangerous possibilities.
Out of the dozens of quality TV shows being produced, Black Mirror is a unique and particularly relevant experience. It balances its entertainment value with probing, difficult, and necessary challenges to the viewer that will make you rethink the way you look at not only the technology in your life, from the laptop in your backpack to the phone in your pocket, but the people around you and the way we treat each other.
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