If you thought the last episode of Season 3 - Hated In the Nation - was bad, you definitely won’t like the majority of Season 4 of Black Mirror. Well, at least I didn’t. Season 3 wasn’t that bad, Shut Up and Dance and San Junipero were really intriguing and seemed to have the same spirit as the first two seasons, which aired on Channel 4. However, as we can see with Season 4 - save for a few exceptions - Netflix just doesn’t get it. The first two and a half seasons asked the important question, “What would happen if this technology was invented?” And rather than answering it with a lazy predictable answer, they answered it with an out of the box solution. Rather than saying, “This will definitely happen,” they always left it open ended enough to keep you guessing and excited. The show made you think. In Season 4, Black Mirror doesn’t let the audience explore the possibilities of the new technology they invent, rather they tell you what will happen step by step. One of the best parts of Black Mirror was that it didn’t blame the technology, but human folly. This season, and the last half of season 3, stops asking “What if?” and starts telling us, “This will.”
Though I know it’s difficult to compare the Black Mirror episodes on Netflix to their Channel 4 counterparts, I think we should. Netflix says they are Black Mirror and therefore, they should stick to the original points of the show. They try to do that, but as we see in the more recent episodes, they fail. Not only because they make the audience lazy by now spoon-feeding us the answers to these big moral questions, the technology they use is recycled, and most of the Netflix series is all shock value and violence, and no heart.
Let’s start with episode 5 of Season 3, Men Against Fire. This episode really peaked my interest because it’s about genocide and military technology - all very relevant things. The episode has great commentary about how far hatred can go, how the military controls its subjects, and how most of us would choose ignorance. It also goes to all the places you think it’s going to go - commentary about violence, video games, and what it means to be human. It wasn’t a bad episode, but definitely didn’t live up to my expectations. Not to mention, it’s all very predictable. I don’t even think his choice at the end is that surprising or sad. He did what he had to do, what most of us would do. This was the beginning of the end for Season 3. It didn’t totally spoon feed us, but it also didn’t make us question anything either.
Hated In the Nation to some is known as the worst episode of Black Mirror (before Season 4 came out). Basically, Black Mirror tries its hand at being a detective crime drama. It’s very boring and predictable. Mainly because the technology or murders doesn’t interfere with the main characters’ beliefs in anyway. The mains are just there to solve the mystery and once its solved it’s really devastating, but really? Another online vigilante story?
Now let’s talk about Season 4. The USS Callister starts the season on a strong note. I really liked this episode. It’s something that we haven’t seen before, and actually has a twist ending I wasn’t expecting at all. We’ve seen this immersive virtual reality before, but this one takes it to a whole new level. Not to mention all the actors do their best and it’s all totally believable. They don't show any violence, gore, or sex, it’s just a small story with extraordinary adventures. This episode is truly a Black Mirror episode because it doesn’t tell us what would happen with this sort of technology, it shows us. It shows us that virtual reality is not necessarily evil, hell it could even be fun, but that when put in the wrong hands, it can be used for evil purposes. It asks us, would we do this if we had the chance? Can sentient code die? Can sentient code feel pain? Should sentient code have rights? The best episodes are the ones that ask more questions than they answer, and this episode sure does that, and more.
Arkangel I’m going to do my own separate review for, so be on the look for that, but know that I hated this episode with a passion. It was a great idea, but so unexplored and the most lazy episode I’ve ever seen (next to Nosedive).
Some of the technology in Season 4 isn’t even new - such as in Crocodile, the third episode of the season. It’s another detective story, but this time from the point of view of the perpetrator/witness. It’s about a ruthless woman who would do anything to be seen as innocent, but of course kills everyone in her path that could jeopardize her freedom. It’s lame and uses shock value killing to make it seem deep.
Hang the DJ was a pretty good episode. Not as good as the USS Callister, but it gave us a break from killing. It’s a love story between two people who don’t know they’re in the matrix. It’s a simple plot, but really well executed, especially at the end. It asks the same question as USS Callister - should sentient code have the same rights as their living “real” counter parts? In addition, it asks, What is real anyway?
I have no idea what Metalhead was about. Teddy Bears, “dogs,” apocalyptic future, seen it before. Pass.
Black Museum isn’t a bad episode for a Black Mirror episode. It’s bad the same way National Anthem is bad. Mainly because it’s all shock value with no heart. Channel 4 Black Mirror wasn’t perfect, but it had a lot more provoking episodes than the Netflix series. Black Museum also doesn’t let the audience think, we know all the technology is evil because we’ve seen it already and the owner of the museum is evil. It just tells its murderous stories, and then we have more violence, and then it ends with a “hipster” song. Pass.
When I talk about my feelings for Black Mirror I look back to my favorite episode, Be Right Back. It was perfect because it was so subtle yet so emotional. The technology becomes one with the episode and it makes us wonder what we would do, it doesn’t tell us what we would do. In addition, there’s nothing gimmicky about it. It’s honest and heartbreaking, but also gives us a weird sense of hope. None of the new Black Mirror episodes have made me feel the same way, San Junipero comes close, but it’s just not the same.
In the future, I hope Netflix changes its formula for the show. I feel like because of the success with San Junipero all Black Mirror episodes will play to the wannabe “hipster” demographic and not care about giving the audience some real food for thought. Not all episodes have to have technology and sex be the center point anymore, just like not all episodes of The Twilight Zone centered around shock value exploits. Some were just little stories or just had one thing off about them, and that one little thing could carry the whole episode. Rather than being a psychological thriller, Black Mirror has turned into a horror series. Netflix needs to realize that people don’t watch it for the wacky ideas, or the sex, or the darkest spaces of the human mind, we watch it to be challenged, to look into ourselves, and ask, “What if?”
23 year old English major and ESL Teacher. Currently living in Fortaleza, Brazil. Feminist and kill joy with a cause.