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Black Mirror, Season 4 (2017), the science fiction anthology series that issues social commentary on our use of technology and media, and how it may defy our good intentions.

June 6, 2019

MY CALL: Seasons 1-3 were spectacular. Season 4 certainly has its share of impressive moments and remains a favorite and high-quality series—but it just doesn’t measure up to the previous seasons in my opinion. If you enjoy thoughtful cautionary morality tales, social commentary and science fiction, then this should be your favorite show ever. MORE SCI-FI ANTHOLOGIES: The Twilight Zone (1959-1964, 1985-1989, 2002-2003, 2019), The Outer Limits (1963-1965, 1995-2002), Amazing Stories (1985-1987), Oats Studios, Vol. 1 (2017), Electric Dreams (2017-2018) and Love, Death & Robots (2019). Also check out Dust on YouTube!

I’m a big fan of Black Mirror (2011-17; 4 seasons), an anthology series which focuses its allegory on our potential trajectories misusing, overusing, or addicting to technology and/or social media and the stories all seem take place somewhere in the near to distant future, once such technologies have developed beyond their present-day capabilities.

But most interesting is that some episodes feel more like thrillers (on the verge of horror-ish), deep science fiction (USS Callister), more dramatic (The Waldo Moment), crime thriller (Crocodile), action (Metalhead), romantic (San Junipero), and still others are almost like dramedies (e.g., Nosedive). So, whereas some cling to their science fictionality, others embrace sci-fi elements as simply a backdrop (or a “given”) in their films.

I’ll be the first to admit that the quality of the episodes can vary quite a bit, but each season still has its great segments/episodes. Season 3’s Nosedive was among the best of the entire series, with Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World, The Village) starring in this social commentary on tracking rankings/ratings of everything—even individuals. Likewise, Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina, Dredd, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) shifted our sentiments from hope to harrowing in Season 2’s Be Right Back, which was about reconfiguring one’s consciousness from the sum of their electronic correspondence… and then the “next step.” San Junipero and White Christmas definitely share a powerful fanfare as well. These “episodes” were outstanding films all on their own.

Season 4 boasts a 6 episodes—compared to Season 1 with 3 episodes, Season 2 with 4, and Season 3 with 6. For me, the standout episode was the very first: USS Callister.

Wow, I adored USS Callister (director Toby Haynes; Doctor Who, Sherlock, Being Human) so much. Kind of twisted yet occasionally light-hearted and loaded with veeeery Trekkie-esque fun. The story is about the psychological tyranny of a starship captain (Jesse Plemons; Battleship, Paul, Fargo) and it will remind you of the little boy that always got his way in Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). Among the crewman, Jimmi Simpson (Westworld, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Stay Alive) provides some of the comic relief, but everyone gets their moment to shine.

Still pleasant, but not even in the same league was the likewise lighter-hearted Hang the DJ—lightER for Black Mirror at least—which issues commentary on our young dating app-driven society.

Getting more emotionally heavy is Arkangel (directed by Jodie Foster). “Mother will protect you” is the morally over-reaching cautionary aspect of this segment. The theme here is protection versus invasiveness between a mother (Rosemarie DeWitt; Poltergeist) and daughter. This started out so interesting—addressing issues of privacy and surveillance between parent and child—then fizzled to an intriguing yet sluggish pace. Still emotionally powerful, I found myself questioning the limits of what is okay and when to let go.

Outside of delivering the typical allegory on where a certain technology may lead us and how we’ll respond to it, Crocodile packed little punch for me (in the context of the Black Mirror series). Well-acted, but more vague in its intentions compared to the other rich episodes. This completely lacked any clear moral compass. On its own it’s a great (and intense) short film with solid allegory and wonderfully clever allusions in the title. But our murderous perp never learned any lesson outside of the commonality that we should be good and honest and moral people. She behaved like a sociopath with little reflection outside of her aversion to getting caught. Again, it just left me with an empty feeling. But… perhaps that was the goal.

Metalhead was an odd killer robot film with an odd (if not obscured) message of morality. Good film… but wouldn’t have expected to find this in a Black Mirror season—but more likely Dust on YouTube. The filmmaking and writing are near Black Mirror S1-3’s “quality,” but the style is not what we’ve come to love in the series. This is more… mean. Almost mean like S1E1 (i.e., pig-banging prime minister).

And remaining askew of my expectations in style, I feel like a few “okay” ideas too minor to develop into an entire film resulted in Black Museum, an abbreviated anthology film in itself. Cool in concept, poor in execution, but not a good way to close a season in my opinion.

Overall, I feel that with each passing season, Black Mirror drops a bit in quality. But even with such criticism, I continue to love this series and the notions it chooses to explore. Very much looking forward to Season 5 (June 2019).

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