There’s something different about Black Mirror this season. No, it’s not its new home, its increase in American accents, or the seeming influx of cash that came with its Netflix nesting (though there’s plenty of that to go around). It’s a sense of hopeful optimism—a first for a show so devastatingly arresting in its takedown of our culture’s technological obsession. Don’t get it twisted: this is not an all-sunshine-and-rainbows season of Charlie Brooker‘s series, there’s still plenty of bruising social commentary and side-eye to make this series the anti-binge you’ve come to know and expect. But unlike in previous seasons, the insightful allegories sometimes eschew a “we’re all doomed, aren’t we?” attitude for a bit of hopeful positivity.
Black Mirror turned our world upside-down when it came to these fine American shores back in 2014. Charlie Brooker’s scorching social commentary has done what few shows have been able to do well, let alone artfully. Same as seasons prior, each of the show’s six episodes (a double order compared to the typical 3-episode season) tackles a different aspect of culture that lives perilously close to the edge of extreme human behavior.
Be it trolling, looking for likes, becoming one with a piece of gaming equipment, Black Mirror continues to show us all the ways in which progress blinds us. Look at anything with an initial flashy debut—social media has taken over our lives, we often get lost in the narratives when playing video games, lose our sense of reality with VR, and are obsessively attached to “the next big thing” and its subsequent upgrades. In this way, Black Mirror continues to do what it always has, using various sorts of genre—from action thriller to horror to character study to love story—to play with our understanding of what darker parts of humanity come alive at the edges of progress.
This isn’t to say all the episodes are perfect: sometimes the themes at play get in their own way a bit, leaving the pay-off in episodes like “Playtest” feeling a bit lackluster in their attempt to shock with twists we’ve not yet seen. “Shut Up and Dance”—which features Game of Thrones‘ Jerome Flynn, a.k.a. Bronn—also feels deeply similar in both theme and construct to another episode in an earlier season (which we won’t name so as to avoid any unintended spoilers). Though some moments fail to have the lasting impact of other, more intimate vignettes, episodes like the stunning “San Junipero” and “Nosedive” stand out especially—the latter of which features a writing credit from Parks and Recreation‘s creator Michael Schur and star Rashida Jones.
Both episodes are, perhaps, most unique in terms of tone and tenor and that “something different” I mentioned above: mainly because they bring hope to a series that’s otherwise bereft of such an uplifted spirit.
In “Nosedive,” Bryce Dallas Howard’s Lacie lives in a world ruled by ratings, resulting in the sort of people pleasing try-hardiness in her character that—as you might expect—drives most people away. Lacie is all of us at our worst online: insecure, desperate for validation, desirous of a life she doesn’t have, living and dying by her own social FOMO. Keeping cool, calm, collected, and in control is the name of the game to achieve a rating that opens doors to a new sort of social media-based class system in this episode’s universe. But how possible is that? And when your life is ruled by the image you curate, are you actually really living at all? For Lacie, that’s a notion undiscovered—until it does, all-too-late, of course. With impressive guest stars, including Cherry Jones and Alice Eve, Lacie’s journey forces anyone who’s ever looked for a bit of validation by muting who they truly are to take pause before the self-edit.
But in its own way, “Nosedive” ends on a hopeful note, as does “San Junipero,” in which Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis actually find solace and hope in their own technical connection as tourists in a new town. We can’t say much by way of specifics on this one, as it truly has more going on in it than meets the eye. Though some may take issue with us seeing either episode as ending on a positive note, the upside-to-technology shown in “Junipero” with Kelly (Mbatha-Raw) and Yorkie (Davis) is new ground for a series many could call blisteringly dour in its outlook on society’s technological advancements. Do Brooker and Annabel Jones concede that running into the woods to live off the grid might not be the only answer? For once, it sure seems that way.
4.5 out of 5 digitally altered burritos:
Black Mirror premieres its latest, 6-episode long season on October 21 on Netflix. Are you going to tune in? Let us know in the comments below!
And here’s the other shows you NEED to watch this fall: