I confess I like self-important sententious stuff. It’s my thing. So an entire series built around technophobia that serves as a critique of our modern obsession with technology replete with unsolicited shots at social media is right up my alley.
The golden age of television lasted from the debut of The Sopranos to the series finale of Breaking Bad. Anything before or after this period is usually just an attempt to get back to this kind of story-telling. It was here that television outpaced film as an art-form and where a British invasion of shows like Skins, Sherlock, Misfits and Black Mirror exposed us to a slew of new actors, directors and writers. Something was clearly happening in the U.K and it was pushing American television to new heights and sent writers on a search for new stories. The creator of Black Mirror Charlie, Brooker wanted an anthology series that explored modern society in ways we wasn’t seeing on television and we hadn’t seen as an audience since the debut of The Twilight Zone.
Black Mirror debuted in 2011 with the internet in its late teens and social media is in it’s infancy, so it was able to fill a void for modern day dramatic commentary that many of the prestige shows weren’t able to do because many were period pieces, or the worlds the encompassed didn’t really speak to commentary. Black Mirror was able to (sigh) hold up “a mirror” (eye roll) to our own lives. Typically each season was an easily digestible three episodes format where each episode stood alone with its own unique theme. The move to Netflix meant an extended season and that lead many of fans of the show (me) to worry about the dilution of the product and a dumbing down for an American audience, but then I saw the trailers and was sure that the show would endure.
Season three debuted on Friday with the six episodes perfect for a happy hour binge watch and as always I watched it for you…
Episode 1: Nosedive This will probably go down as the most influential episodes of the season revolving around our obsession with our online personas and how that perception influences our real world interactions. In the world of Nosedive your social media status and your title as an influencer affects everything from your relationships to, job prospects, to your ability to pay your mortgage. Your ability to incorporate code-switching in even the most mundane social interaction has a significant impact on your entire life.
The episode highlights the faux smiles and false motivations in our real life connections that are in no way meaningful to our actual existence, but we somehow deem important. But in the world of ‘Nosedive’ “likes” drive your world view and end up being the driving force for all of your social and professional interactions. What crawls the viewer’s skin about ‘Nosedive’ is that this is already happening in our society. You probably have friends on your Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat you can’t stand, but the awkwardness of deleting and blocking them prevents you from cutting the cord. You assess them as somehow valuable to your online existence and go along with the pretend niceties, but at what cost? Do we just live in an era of fakeness, glad handing and back slapping where we end up doing things we would in no way cosign if we saw others doing it, or shit just had honest conversations with ourselves? Or is this now just a survival tactic that we have to live with moving forward, its fascinating and sad all at once. Episode Rating: 5/5
Episode 2: PlaytestConfession: I superficially care about most things in life that aren’t related to consciousness, artificial intelligence, the singularity, or the coming nuclear apocalypse. Compared to those things everything else is muted for me (Except Basketball WAGs Miami – Thanks Shonny). Playtest takes on two of the four, however, the start leads you to believe you’e in for a white-male midlife crisis with a dissection of online dating, or narcissistic travel blogging. However, it soon ascends into a Matrix/Virtual Reality/Horror episode about consciousness. How does our conscience mind see reality, and what constitutes realism when technology can manipulate your mind to believe whatever it wants? Would we even know what’s real? In our actual reality billionaires have even proposed that our reality is merely computer simulation, going so far as hiring scientists with the expressed purpose of proving that very fact. Playtest takes a virtual reality first timer who volunteers for a new game that immerses his mind into a horror house. Wait What? I mean what could go wrong? Once you’ve seen this episode you’ll do two things, obsess over questions of your reality, and call your mom immediately. Trust me on this one. Episode Rating: 3/5
Episode 3: Shutup & Dance
The darkest episode of the season focuses on young man being blackmailed and forced into a series of minor tasks by an the unknown hacking group “They”. Think the first episode of Mr. Robot mixed with real world Hactivist Anonymous. The multiple plot twists, with the “protagonist”(I use that term very loosely) plays on some of our darkest fears; namely, that our secrets could be exposed for the world to see, that our privacy doesn’t really exist once our true selves are loaded onto iPhones and android, and lengths we’d go to keep our real selves hidden from the world. Episode Rating: 3.5/5
Episode 4: San Juinpero
They had me at the 80’s. This is Black Mirror, so the 80’s aesthetic was a dead giveaway that we would be playing with some kind of time manipulation. Our main character is shy and reserved trying desperately not to dance in an 80’s night club. In this future world San Juinpero represents an old folks home where the consciences of the elderly are uploaded to a mythical Southern California town. In this world humans are truly immortal and death has become an option like everything else in our world, you could live forever in a life of decadence and debauchery and look exactly how you did in the prime of your life, and oh yeah you could do this forever. The body may die but they endure, immediately you wonder how would religion deal with this, and what would your choice be, death the unknown and possible an eternity of darkness or the surety of being in San Juinpero forever.
Despite what I just described this was easily the feelgood episode of the season. I feel better just even writing about it, thank god it’s getting traction it deserves. It really ends on an upnote….that is if you ignore any possibility of the afterlife where your loved ones are waiting on you while you drink eternity away in the 90’s world listening to AlanisMorissette for centuries. Episode Rating: 4.5/5
Episode 5: Men Against Fire
Well they all can’t be great. Obviously in past seasons an episode like this wouldn’t have made the cut but this is what happens when you expand from three episodes to six. ‘Men against Fire’ follows the story of a soldier enhanced by Meta, a technology which allows these futuristic soldiers to train harder, be smarter in battle and eliminates fear when encountering enemies called roaches.
This is another episode that plays on the character’s perception of reality and how easily it can be manipulated but it supposes what that development would do to modern warfare. I don’t even play video games but feel like this has been the plot of Call of Duty 8: Futureverse or something like that. The ideas of course are interesting enough, but every bit of this seemed predictable and it’s doubtful I’ll ever watch this one again, I wish I could delete this from my Netflix. I’m used to Black Mirror making me feel uncomfortable and forcing me to think but episode 5 just left me meh and thinking about roaches. Episode Rating: 1/5
Episode 6: Hated in the Nation
For Netflix series I’m always curious what kind of episode the show-runner choose to end a season with. By the conventional means of watching television we’ve all been conditioned to expect the finale to be the most impactful, but in a world where any episode is easily at your disposable and rewatchability is paramount ‘Hated in the Nation’ didn’t have that burden it just needed to give us the same…but different.
One of the random facts you’ll hear at any gathering of hipsters is the importance of bees in our ecosystem and how the survival of the human race depends on this. So when I saw that that was a vital component of episode 6 I had an exaggerated eye roll, but once again that’s not what this ended up being about. Instead Nation takes on Public Shaming on the internet and just how comfortable we are with the nature of anonymous hate online. Many of the tweets and comments we see online are imbued with a kind of hate that if manifested in real sense would end in violence. It’s part of the coarsening of our culture that we believe the freedom to speak means freedom to hate and Nation does an excellent job of showing us just maybe that some of us should just delete your account. Episode Rating: 4/5
I don’t know if there could be a three episode run better than the first season of Black Mirror, but for me season three has some very strong entries into the catalog and if enough people watch it hopefully our future won’t devolve in a like driven culture that takes place in our minds where we have no sense of privacy death doesn’t exist and that hate we see online leads to actual violence. My only fear is that we’ve already gone to far down that path and Black Mirror just serves as a canary in a cole mine.