For you Twilight Zone lovers, good news: there’s a 21st century version of it. The only catch is you have to be willing to buy into the sci-fi twist that the series “Black Mirror” puts on the narrative about human nature, technology and the relationship between the two.
For those of you unfamiliar with the series, “Black Mirror” is a British anthology television series that began airing in 2011 that focuses on humans’ reliance on technology and whether it is going too far.
Some of the more famous episodes include “San Junipero” which focused on the question, “If an elderly person dies, would they want to risk the gamble of an afterlife or live in a post-mortem virtual reality world?” There’s also “Nosedive” in which a woman is living in a world where people constantly rate each other on their phones based on their daily interactions which then affects the ability to book a flight, rent an apartment, etc. and “Hated in the Nation” which points out real-life consequences of seemingly harmless Twitter threats.
Just a few weeks ago, the fourth season of Black Mirror was released on Netflix and while it certainly isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, it fails to live up to its predecessors. The fourth season fails to deliver the same emotional punch and shock value previous seasons have thrived on.
Ironically, the season kicks off with one of the best episodes in the series with “USS McAlister,” which explores the theme of revenge and jealously and the dark path it can lead down. The Star Trek parody not only wonderfully spoofs the famous sci-fi series but also delivers the dark twists that have become a trademark of the “Black Mirror” series and grounds the plot in a question of just how far technological advancement can go and be abused.
Unfortunately, the rest of the season falls flat after its primary high point. The second episode of the season titled “Arkangel” is a story about a mother who has a chip implanted in her daughter’s head that allows her to see what her child does and blur out anything that may traumatize her. The mother eventually shuts it down but when the child grows into a teenager and the chip becomes an obstacle in their relationship. While it poses some interesting points about sheltering children and just how much security we should have over our loved ones, the big twist of the episode comes far too quickly and is extremely brutal with very little basis behind it leaving a hollow feeling at the end of an otherwise solid episode.
The next two episodes are undoubtedly the weakest of the season. “Crocodile” focuses on the length a mother will go to cover up a past mistake she made even if it tears apart another family. While it is certainly dark, it feels as if the technology portion was shoe-horned in so it could count as a “Black Mirror” episode and the mother’s actions escalate too quickly without any of the dramatic punch to increase the shock factor along with it. Not to mention one of the final twists is unnecessary and was so rushed it elicited the first eye roll from me with this series.
The subsequent “Hang the DJ” was a wannabe “San Junipero” that while certainly not an hour wasted, just didn’t quite feel like an hour well spent either. The sci-fi love story painted an interesting picture of the future of online dating apps and just how compatible of partners they can find us but ultimately the message is a common one of “true love always prevails” which is disappointing given the series’ past abilities to stray away from the norm.
“Metalhead” was a similarly clear rip off of past work but this one came from outside the “Black Mirror” sphere and instead took a page right out of “The Terminator.” In a dystopian future, a woman is hunted down by a killer robot and is forced to use her wits and will to survive. Sound cliché? That’s because most of the episode was.
While its brutality and realistic violence along with a heart wrenching final twist did manage to pull the episode from a bad grade to an okay one, the episode really didn’t deliver much of a message other than “machines are dangerous and could one day take us over,” because that apparently hasn’t run its course over the last few decades.
Luckily the season ends on a high note with its finale “Black Museum.” Not only is the set of the episode littered with Easter eggs from past episodes of the season and series as a whole but the episode returns the dark and thought provoking twists that made the series so great in the past.
Delving into discussion about human depravity, privacy in a relationship and the dark side of every day human beings while also being able to brush on issues of human consciousness and racism all rolled into a theoretical piece on the role technology plays in all of it is nothing short of a masterpiece. So while the finale doesn’t quite live up to the premier of season four, it finishes not far behind.
While this may seem like an overall negative review on the season, that’s only because the season pales in comparison to the previous ones which speaks volumes to the series’ past. Season four provided just enough violence, drama and twists to keep “Black Mirror” atop the mountain of best shows in early 2018 but leaves a little bit to be desired given we know just how good it can be.