I have been a fan of Black Mirror since it was released in 2011. I was attracted to the prospect of having a sci-fi TV show that is not in the distance, but a viable, potential future. In previous seasons, Black Mirror did an impressive job in scripting believable and emotionally-charged scenarios that lie in the margins of our techno-culture. I was always particularly fascinated with Black Mirror’s capacity to imagine a “what if” question and take it to its limits. Dealing with larger issues of memory, identity, consciousness, and virtuality, Black Mirror is a source of refined terror, entertainment, and contemporary fiction. While the show is still remarkable and worth watching, the new season was disappointing to me. The acting and production are still spot on, but the writing was a step down; new episodes reenact ideas from past episodes and extensively play with bleak cinematic clichés.
If we look at digital technologies today, it becomes clear why Black Mirror is critically suspenseful. Research in virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and bio-nanotechnology are on track to change how many of us understand our lives. However, as the tracks of progress seem everyday more elusive, the word ‘change’ cannot be seen as a synonym for improvement. Mimicking the unpredictability of contemporary technology and politics, Black Mirror shows a world that has the potential to be disembodied, dominated by robots, judgmental, fluid, and disconnected. That is a crucial element of Black Mirror, running throughout all of its seasons. But there was something more that made it special and engaging: the characters were believable enough to have me imagining my own life in a few years or decades. The show is particularly good at demonstrating how technology may soon impact how we date, investigate crimes, or engage in leisure activities.
Season 4 still has the signatures of Black Mirror: technological distress, excellent production, and good acting. However, only a couple of episodes really stand out. The characters have appeared to me less and less believable. In a few of the episodes from the new season, such as “Crocodile” and “Metalhead,” the characters struggle with underwhelming emotional clichés that made me question the technological anxiety that makes Black Mirror so conceptually interesting. The fake characters have me craving previous seasons’ episodes (“San Junipero” and “Be Right Back” come to mind). Even though Charlie Brooker wrote all the episodes, the excessive drama of Season 4 radically changes how the show looks, and a few critics have started wondering if this may be the beginning of the end for the show.
Luckily, “USS Callister” and “Hang the DJ” still portray the refined moral dilemmas that emerge along with technology. Maddy Smith ’20 mentioned “Hang the DJ” as one of the episodes from this season that marked them. “I really liked the plot in this one. It’s hard to tell if the characters are going along or rebelling against the system,” Smith told me. Sydney Anderson ’20 said that there was a good balance between uplifting and catastrophic episodes for the new season. “It was also cool how the new episodes referenced past seasons,” Anderson pointed out.
Black Mirror is a show worth watching. The new season is overly dramatic, but still entertaining and engaging, especially for people who are thrilled but frightened by the future of technology.