Matilda Singer reviews the fourth season of Black Mirror
Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s dystopic Netflix series that explores the impact of ever-advancing technology, returned for a fourth series at the beginning of this year. While some die-hard fans were disappointed by this series, for me the six episodes were as intelligent and as horrifying as ever.
The series begins on a high note with USS Callister, a Star-Trek inspired tale of a miserable tech geek. Making use of his impressive coding abilities, Robert Daly constructs a virtual world based on his favourite TV show into which he is able to escape each evening. Not only does he cast himself as the hero in this microcosm, he creates copies of people that have hurt him in real life, forever subjecting them to his vengeful and punishing scenarios.
Brooker’s exploration of the twisted human psyche continues in Ark Angel, an episode that takes parental anxiety to the extreme. He imagines a world in which we are able to implant tracking devices into our children to follow not only their location but anything they can see and feel. While the episode is certainly less cinematically extravagant than USS Callister, the story is an insightful commentary on the way technology can easily invade our privacy and personal boundaries. Indeed, finding out your mother has watched you lose your virginity is enough to scar anyone.
Series four is also not short on the morose aspects of Brooker’s storytelling that we have seen previously in episodes like White Bear. In this sense, episode three (Crocodile) is easily the most harrowing. The story centres on a technology that allows us to extract and visualise other people’s memories. It is used to help solve crimes as the police are able to watch an event take place rather than just relying on witness accounts. But unlocking the memories of one particular witness unleashes a horrifying train of events. While certainly memorable, I felt there was an unnecessary amount of violence in this episode just for the sake of it.
As a complete contrast, Hang the DJ – described by some as an attempt to evoke the same mood as San Junipero in the previous series – was a brief respite from the bleakness of the rest of the series. Perhaps inspired by our current obsession with Tinder, we see relationships played out using algorithms to determine who exactly is your perfect match, bringing together a touching young couple. However the following episode, Metalhead, is a return to the nightmarish. The unfailingly good Maxine Peake plays a woman on the run from robot dogs, creatures that have turned on humanity and left our civilisation ravaged. Shot in black and white, the scenes are visually haunting and leave the viewer with important and timely questions, despite being a rather slow paced plot.
For me, the final episode matched the quality of the first which nicely frames the series. In Black Museum we meet a curator with a history in neurological research and his collection of criminal artefacts, each with a chilling story behind it. The episode reminded me what it is that makes this TV show so brilliant. Most obviously, Black Mirror is at once speculating on the future of humanity and commenting on issues in our current society – but on a deeper level, Brooker’s writing goes beyond questioning our relationship with technology and, at it’s best, makes us question ourselves.