When Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi horrorshow Black Mirror first hit screens from BBC back in 2011, he had no idea that 6 years later it would be an international phenomenon. The anthology series often called the modern Twilight Zone managed to break grounds in the television industry when it moved to Netflix, becoming an instant sensation, especially with the millennial generation. As it turns out, young people addicted to technology love watching the potential ways in which that technology can be used to destroy personal freedoms and relationships. I don’t mean that sarcastically at all — I’m one of those young people and I love Black Mirror.
And in actuality season 4 has turned out far happier endings than its predecessors. In the three previous seasons of Black Mirror, the Emmy winning “San Junipero” was the only episode that didn’t end in some sort of metaphysical disaster. In season 4 half the episodes ended well for the protagonists — “USS Calister,” “Hang the DJ,” and “Black Museum.” Of course, two out of these three episodes featured a main antagonist (again unusual for the series), so things did fare worse for someone. Perhaps it was because of the massive success of “San Junipero” that Charlie Brooker decided that happiness sold better than despair.
It was apparent in this batch of episodes that the Black Mirror creators had found what worked and didn’t care much for testing the boundaries. In fact, I found myself uttering the phrase “Oh, this is just like that other Black Mirror episode…” quite often. Too often for my taste. What Black Mirror has always done exceptionally well was create stories that were completely unlike each other, and also unlike anything else. This time around I felt that while the stories were good, they weren’t as good as the previous episode they had done with the same concept. What’s unfortunate is that as stand alone pieces from anywhere else, the season 4 episodes would have blown me away, but because they were Black Mirror episodes and I know how good the series is, I felt largely underwhelmed. To me, “Black Museum” was a rehash of one of my favorite Black Mirror episodes, “White Christmas,” with a more politically oriented message. I loved “Black Museum,” and it felt like the quintessential Black Mirror story, but I felt like I’d seen it before. Similarly, while I liked “USS Calister,” I felt like they’ve already dealt with the issue of sentience and rights for computer-generated people in other episodes. I didn’t have that moment of “Wait, should I actually care about them?” the way that I did when I was first introduced to the Cookie technology in “White Christmas.” And frankly I wasn’t impressed with the “It’s all a simulation” stunt in “Hang the DJ.” “Crocodile” was outlandish even by Black Mirror standards, but I felt like it was a nice way to reference the beginnings of the technology used in other episodes.
Which brings me to another point — Black Mirror was pitched as an anthology, with the episodes being stand alone and unrelated. Though there had been theories floating around internet chatrooms that all of the episodes took place in the same universe, the show itself never went out of its way to connect the episodes, besides a couple easter eggs here and there. But it seems that with season 4 Black Mirror has decided to give in and admit that yes, the episodes do actually take place in the same universe. I’m not necessarily upset about this, mostly because it was always bound to happen and in a way it’s kind of cool, and far, far more believable that Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story universe, which felt more like fan service than clever plot writing. The point is, while I’m not upset, I feel now the next step is literally tie all of the episodes together, and here is where things may get out of hand.
Overall I felt this season was less daring than previous installments, and a clear shift in tone and narrative style. It wasn’t my favorite season of Black Mirror, but it was still a much better piece of television than most other shows could come up with.
Final Rating: 3/5
Tell Us: What did you think of this season of Black Mirror? Better? Worse? Do you want them to connect all the episodes in the end?