***Spoiler free review
Charlie Brooker’s dark and eminently bleak speculative fiction series Black Mirror, gets the more polished Netflix treatment, with some mixed results.
The first two seasons of Black Mirror contain some of the most uncomfortable and difficult stories I’ve ever seen on television, both in the good and the not-so-good way. In a similar vein to the legendary The Twlight Zone, the show takes a rather ruthless look at modern society, through the lense of unforeseen consequences of our modern technology. Each episode is a stand-alone chapter, with a new story and new actors, and while each of the topics examined here is pure fiction, they leave just enough connection to our current reality to make you feel a little creeped out by it. Or sometimes, a great deal creeped out by it.
After the success of the first two seasons airing on UK Channel 4, which saw story lines that included the British Prime Minister having sexual relations with a pig on national television in order to save a popular princess, and a world in which every single memory and interaction we have is recorded and can be downloaded and replayed by others, Netflix decided to get in on the act. They commissioned two 6-part series, the first of which started streaming in late October.
I’ll say straight off the bat that the new episodes have a different feel to them, call it the ‘Netflix-polish.’ It’s not that the work is any less credible, or that the topics have been toned down, it just seems to lack the painfully bleak and gritty feel the first two seasons have. They are, to repeat myself, just a bit more polished than previous offerings. In saying that, this is not necessarily a bad thing, because there are moments from the original two series which still haunt my conscious and – more alarmingly – my subconscious to this very day. But enough about the first two seasons, let’s review Season 3.
The opening chapter titled Nosedive is a fitting way to be reintroduced into this fictitious universe, and also demonstrates once again that the tone here is just a little more colourful. The overall message here is that Social Media is horrible, and it presents some pretty valid points. The future of mankind is reduced to ‘star-ratings’ like you’d give to an Uber driver, or a menulog restaurant, except here we give them to everybody with every single interaction we have. The consequences of having a low star rating are sometimes catastrophic, and at the very least it can cost you a job or even your friends. The story takes a long time to setup and eventually it kind of runs out of steam, but you can’t discuss this without mentioning the incredible performance by Bryce Dallas Howard. She is simply phenomenal here, and has a screen presence that really has to be seen to be believed.
Chapter two, Playtest, is also a little lacking in the darkness, even though it’s a horror film set in the world of augmented reality. It tries to throw forward the trademark Black Mirror twists at the end, but it all just kind of falls apart. It’s certainly not a bad offering by any stretch, but it’s not great, and it doesn’t really deliver on it’s promise. In fact, by this stage, you are left wondering if the dark type of moments that sneak into your Psyche and take a shit in there for life, are going to eventuate in this series. That is, of course, until you see episode 3.
Shut Up and Dance is by far the most macabre of the new series, and it ticks every box of what you’d expect from Black Mirror. It’s hard to review this without giving too much away, other than to say that you should be very careful what you do in front of your computer with your webcam still activated. It also co-stars Game of Thrones favourite Jerome Flynn (or, Tryion’s mate Bronn), and no matter where you think this is going, it’s impossible to see the twisted twist at the end. This is a cracking episode that – rightly or wrongly – you wont forget in a hurry.
Chapter 4 San Junipero is a real change of pace for both this series, and Black Mirror overall, and I probably enjoyed it as much as any other episode here. Again, this is difficult to review without spoiling, other than to say that it’s a delightfully thoughtful love story about two women who meet up in the most 80’s bar you’ll ever see, which leads them to form a lifelong bond. Don’t expect a horrendously dark twist here, because this time it doesn’t come, which in itself is almost a twist.
Men Against Fire examines similar themes to Playtest, yet this time it isn’t ‘just a game.’ Instead, this is the possible future of warfare we are looking at, and it’s a terrifying look at how far state-sponsored murder could go when the human impluse to resist killing is modified. This episode is solid, not the weakest but also far from the strongest, but it is great to see House of Cards’ own Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) playing yet another creepy role.
Series three concludes with the almost movie-length Hated By The Nation, which clocks in at over 90 minutes. It probably didn’t need that long to set itself up, but in saying that, it could be patted out a bit further and turned into a very interesting stand alone film. It covers Brooker’s two favourite topics; how much social media sucks, and the paranoia of technical advancement. Although a little long, it closes out the new series quite well.
Overall, this is one of the most refreshingly unique and interesting programs on television, and while the series does have some flat spots, the high points more than make up for them. If you’ve loved Black Mirror in the past, you’ll still love these (albeit, maybe for different reasons) and if you are new to the Black Mirror universe… well, enjoy the ride, because it is very far from a boring one.