I came across Black Mirror right after io9 announced that the show’s producer, Charlie Brooker, would be creating, “multiple new episodes” of the show for Netflix. I had never heard of Black Mirror before, and the description was enticing: suspenseful satire driven by techno-phobic themes, all seen through a futuristic and mildly dystopian lens.
I’m a lover of science fiction, and a harsh critic of consumer technology; saddened by the fact that most communication today isn’t done face-to-face. I didn’t purchase my first smartphone until October of 2014, and that was only because a Verizon saleperson told me it was time to leave my flip-phone fetish behind.
What I hate the most, is that if I complain about any of these things, people think I’m naïve and out-of-touch; but, despite all this, I also understand that the main use of modern technology is connection. Be it friends just hanging out, groups of people coordinating events, or global economies trading goods and services in the blink of an eye, I understand that the pros and cons of technology are relative to how we use them.
With all these things in mind, I sat down and watched Black Mirror.
Black Mirror is an anthology series that aired from 2011-2013 on Britain’s Channel 4. There are only six episodes and one Christmas special, so it’s easy to plow through quickly.
Each episode is a self-contained, slightly heavy-handed, story with different actors and a different director. Despite the high level of fantastical drama in each episode, they are instilled, comparatively, with so much reality that the outcomes feel eerily logical and entirely plausible. No, they won’t happen today, but they could easily happen tomorrow.
A few episodes contain divisive twists, but most of the regular action is straight-forward, with little or no extraneous sub-plots or complexities.
The characters are compelling: heroic figures who struggle with everyday problems like jobs, relationships, careers, and life. They all crave a connection to the other people in their lives, but have trouble contending with all the ways technology allows this craving to be fulfilled. Each decision pushes them farther and farther away from center, distracting them from what they know and trust until finally the distraction becomes the new center, and the consequences play out.
The writers of Black Mirror are touching in their sensitivity to human conflicts, and jaw-dropping in their punishments.
Of course it’s worth mentioning that the show is filled with all sorts of clever and creative futuristic technology, but to reveal even a hint of what that means, would be a bigger spoiler then telling you the plot of each episode.
Okay, are we done here? Did that cover all the facts pretty well? Good, because here comes the kick to the privates.
Why You Should Watch It
Holy shit, this show will mess with you, in ways you didn’t think you could be messed with. If I had to describe my initial reaction to Black Mirror in one sentence, I would say it’s like getting an accidental smack on the ass, right after getting a concussion.
Don’t believe me? The first five minutes of Black Mirror pose a question one would never imagine taking seriously: “Would you have full, un-simulated sexual intercourse with a pig, on live national television, to save the life of a princess?”
I mean seriously, what the hell, Charlie Brooker?! What gives, man? Were you secretly watching my cold, dry eyes go numb as my heart pounded like a drum? Did you enjoy it?!
Do you have friends, Charlie Brooker, and do they even get you cards on your birthday?
From that first unbelievable moment onward, the show plays tennis with your emotions, keying into your morality one moment and then driving a wrench through your most sacred values in the next. If you laugh, you won’t know if it’s because the show is funny, or because you’re simply trying not to gasp at the naked absurdity.
You’ll want to thrust your arms at the television one second, and never be able to take take your eyes off the screen or your mind off the story at the same time. It’s a lot like the movie Requiem For a Dream, phenomenally good, but you’ll never want to watch it again.
The show appeals to all variety of science fiction nerds. Fans of the original Twilight Zone will fall in love with the shameless ambiguity and uneven endings of the episodes. The shows expert handling of suspense will give LOST fans a taste of the good ole’ days. Star Trek fans will find the topics and metaphors thought-provoking, and Star Wars fans will appreciate the writers’ strong appeal to heroism.
The show could also be an immense hit with lovers of horror: no traditional monsters, demon murderers, or ghouls; yet each episode will leave you feeling like you just survived a night in Michael Myers’ house.
At it’s heart, Black Mirror loves you, the viewer. The show works because of its unflinching and non-cynical respect for human emotions. Charlie Brooker, for every part of him that might have been loved as a child, is an optimist, albeit a cautious one.
In an age of storytelling defined by subtlety, Black Mirror‘s open-air, in-your-face reality is refreshing, though that may not be how one feels right off the bat. The many angles from which Brooker dissects his topics reflect a person with an acute and compassionate understanding of tech culture, that allows him to critique without patronizing or condescending to his audience.