Black Mirror has always been a first-rate showcase for sci-fi or as some prefer
to call it speculative fiction television for six years. The show has often come
close to matching the level of quality of the best cinema in the genre.
The show benefits from high production values and science literate scripts full
of up-to-date technological concepts. It’s often better than former sci-fi
anthology shows like Tales of Tomorrow (95-53) The Outer Limits (1963-65 and
1995-2002) or Ray Bradbury Theatre (1985-92) all of which seem crude and primitive in
comparison. But it is rarely as great as Twilight Zone (1959-64) at its peak,
which I consider one of the best shows ever.
Since Black Mirror has been around so long it is not surprising that it has
begun to significantly vary its genre formula. What makes this season a bit
different from previous ones that I saw is that more of the episodes this time
around bleed into horror, which is both good and bad. Also, whereas in the other
seasons many of the episodes were set in the future, this time most are set in
the past. Also, there are more episodes that deal with the issues of racism and
classicism which clearly show the influence of Jordan (Get Out) Peele.
The episodes here are like five good to great little mini sci-fi movies (some are
almost as good as a A24 film), so I will discuss each one separately. A few have
disappointing endings but all of them are worth viewing overall.
(SPOILER WARNING: Further reading will reveal major spoilers,
so proceed with caution.)
The opening episode, “Joan is Awful” is the most like a traditional Black Mirror
episode. Technology in the future has accelerated so much and TV production has
gotten so much faster that with new AI tech that a whole episode can be written
and shot in a day. We are already getting closer to that and AI's can now almost
instantly generate an essay on any topic.
It is a cautionary tale about the possible dangers in increased surveillance and
the erosion of privacy, and its message is very timely. I remember reading how
in real life a school got sued because they turned on cameras and monitored
students remotely without their consent outside of school on the PCs that they
gave student. With the footage they managed to get a student falsely arrested
for drug trafficking based on what was recorded but in this case the footage
recorded without the subject’s knowledge is used to make a TV show.
“Joan is Awful” made me think about a real life situation, but it is also like a
more futuristic variation on The Truman Show. It is enriched by its charming
lead (an almost unrecognizable Annie Murphy from Schitt’s Creek) playing Joan, a
largely unsympathetic character.
In it, a woman is shocked to learn that her whole life is being recorded and
turned into a fictionalized TV show in which her role is played a licensed
version of Salma Hayek in a very exaggerated negative light causing everyone to
think she is a monster (she’s abrasive and uncaring but not totally evil). Hayek
even portrays her flirting with her ex which gets her in trouble with her
current boyfriend. When she tries to sue, she is horrified to learn that in
obscure part of her contract she signed in order to work at Streamberry, she
signed away her digital footprint so that can do what they wish with the info
they record from her. This might be the most hyped episode but the conclusion is
not quite as good as the excellent buildup.
“Loch Henry” is about the dangers of doing autobiographical art, exploiting your
own trauma, and delving too much into one’s family background. A young film
maker named Davis (played by Samuel Blenkin) returns to his ancestral town in
Ireland with his lover/assistant Pia (Myha la Herrold) and starts working on a
film project for the Streamberry Company (connecting it to the first episode)
about the serial killer responsible for the death of his father. But as he
gathers info he finds out things aren’t exactly how they seem to be.
The episode is strengthened by its great setting and fine naturalistic acting.
But it is also gory and might be somewhat guilty of creating what it is
criticizing, torture porn. Interestingly enough the title “Loch Country” is
mentioned in the previous episode as a title of a show that the main character’s
TV executive boyfriend rejects for his network.
“Beyond the Sea” was directed by John Crowley, who also created the Oscar
winning film, Brooklyn which made my top ten films of the year list in 2015. It
takes place in a time where technology is so advanced that people can physically
be in one place and beam their consciousness to an artificial body in another.
It’s like a sci-fi equivalent to astral projection.
In this thought provoking and gut-wrenching episode, a man (Josh Hartnett) who
uses a robot avatar to spend time with his family (kind of like what Dr.
Manhattan did in
Watchmen) while he is in outer- space. But his family
is brutally slain before his eyes by a Manson-like gang along and his robotic
avatar is also destroyed because they think he is modeling an unnatural
lifestyle. His best friend (Aaron Paul who is almost as great here as he was
playing Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad) who is also in outer space graciously
agrees to share his avatar with him, but the lonely, grief-stricken man is
tempted by his friend’s wife and falls for her (played irresistibly by Kate
Mara) which develops into a love triangle. This is the strongest and most
heartfelt episode. Despite some brief slasher elements this is also close to
being pure sci-fi.
“Mazy Day” comes closest to being a straight, flat out supernatural horror film.
The episode is named after a Lindsey Lohan like actress, Mazy (Clara Ruggard)
who abuses drugs and is expelled from a film because of her unreliability. After
she runs someone down while intoxicated (just as Lohan did), Mazy drops out of
society to go to a remote rehab facility-or so the reporters who follow her
believe. A photographer, Bo (Zazie Betz) who is sick of the moral compromises in
the photography world quits her job and becomes a waitress. But when Bo can’t
make ends meet, she reluctantly comes out of retirement.
She gets a tip that where the reclusive Mazy is staying and finds out those pic's
of her are in such high demand that they will earn her a small fortune. Bo
sneaks into the secret place with some other photographers and attempts to
violate the actresses’ privacy. She discovers a horrifying secret about Mazy and
ends up in a life-threatening situation. Both the setting and some plot elements
reminded me of The Howling and this was by far the most chilling and brutally
“Demon 79” was co-written by Kisha K. Ali who wrote the Marvel U’s Ms. Marvel,
and this story also revolves around a South Asian character. Nida (Anjana Vasan)
is an immigrant worker who experiences discrimination everyday (for instance
because a co-worker doesn’t like the smell of her Middle Eastern lunch the
manager orders her to eat in the basement). Despite her demure appearance in her
mind, she gruesomely kills all the people who make her angry which shows her
sublimated potential for brutality. When she accidentally spills blood on a
magical talisman she summons a demon or jinn named Gapp (Paapa Essieudu from I
May Destroy You) with a thick British accent that looks kind of like
blaxploitation film pimp. He tells her she must choose three people to
sacrifice or the world will end. The segment has a delightful ending that is
completely unexpected and totally satisfying.
The series is justly known for using music effectively and cleverly. Last season
an episode that starred Miley Cyrus featured her interesting cover of a Nine
Inch Nails song which was an integral part of the episode. This season when a
demon talks about a man who got aroused from killing his wife, the soundtrack
blares out Ian Dury and the Blockhead’s mostly forgotten classic, “Hit me with
Your Rhythm Stick.” The soundtrack also features other classics by such new wave
(big in England but obscure in America) era performers such as Lene Lovich and
As I mentioned earlier this season has more horror/sci-fi hybrid episodes than
usual. Most of it works well, but the show is most distinctive when it sticks
closer to pure sci-fi and focuses more closely on how the newest technology or
contemporary trends might change daily living (”Joan is Awful” and “Loch Henry”
do this the most). Although the show is still entertaining and imaginative, if
this trend continues the show will be in danger of losing its focus.
There are many pure horror shows like American Horror or Del Toro’s Cabinet of
Curiosities , but there are very few sci-fi anthologies (or shows in any genre)
that are as thought provoking as Black Mirror at its best. Although this is
still one of the strongest sci-fi oriented shows, in trying to vary its genre
color-palate Black Mirror risk's losing a part of what
makes it so unique.