black-mirror-logoThese days I find most TV shows cringeworthy rather than bingeworthy. Black Mirror is the exception that proves the rule.

Charlie Brooker’s brilliant techie-themed tales of the unexpected continue to enthrall and entertain.

The six diverse new episodes in season 4 were released by Netflix on December 29th and I consumed them all eagerly in just a couple of days.

A recurring premise of these stories is that no matter what benefits we derive from new technology, they always come at a cost. For example, the advantages of greater online connectivity raise major issues of privacy and autonomy. Brooker revels in delving into such wormholes to produce moments of dark comedy and, more frequently, to induce feelings of discomfort and/or anxiety.

females of black mirror

The women of Black Mirror – Season 4; Left to Right: Letitia Wright (Black Museum) , Cristin Milioti (USS Callister) , Maxine Peake (Metalhead), Rosemarie Dewitt (Arkangel), Andrea Riseborough (Crocodile) and Georgina Campbell (Hang The DJ)

In half of the episodes devices are used to literally get inside the head of the characters.

In ‘Archangel’, this allows a mother to monitor her daughter’s every move; in ‘Crocodile’, unfiltered memories can be transferred into visual images and in ‘Black Museum’ the whole contents of a subject’s brain can be downloaded.

Neuro-technological possibilities of this kind are, as yet, in the realm of fiction but the speed of 21st century advances have been so rapid that these kind of fantasy elements no longer seems so outlandish.

‘Hang The DJ’ is for me one of the best of the new season because, as with ‘Nosedive’ in Season 3, it accurately (and humorously) reflects the massive impact social networks have had on personal relationships. This episode takes us into the kind of territory that was also explored in two movies starring Jim Carey – The Truman Show & The Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. It takes the principles and practices behind online dating apps to a logical, albeit surreal, conclusion. Prospective partners are selected and participants in ‘the system’ have the option of finding out the duration of the relationship which ranges from just a few hours to years. The ultimate objective is to arrive at the perfect life partner. When one of the main characters wonders aloud whether he is actually existing in an entirely simulated world, the woman thumps in on the arm to prove it’s no dream and he cries out in pain. But he’s still sceptical : “Maybe I was programmed to say ‘ow!'” he says.

Never taking things at face value is a good rule of thumb when watching Black Mirror. The twists in the tales are cleverly devised and the variety of filmmaking styles means that they don’t follow one standardised look or adhere to any predictable pattern.

Metalhead, directed by David Slade, is set in a dystopian future within a desolate landscape and shot in stark black and white. This contrasts with the day-glo colors of ‘USS Callister’ which mostly take place within a video game that spoofs the sci-fi world of Star Trek.

I thought of ranking the six episodes but abandoned the idea because all have their individual merits and, in any case, star ratings are so passé.

Suffice to say that my mini binge was time well spent and a good way to end 2017.

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