Another series of Charlie Brooker’s popular anthology series has hit the ‘flix so it’s time again to go over the episodes and see which ones were hot and which ones were not. I’ve heard it said that this fourth series pales slightly in comparison to all the others and I find myself agreeing with them; I’d say that series four has one amazing episode, two great ones, two that are pretty decent and one unfortunate disappointment. That’s the problem with an anthology series, I guess.
So here are my thoughts on each episode, going from worst to best in my opinion.
This seems to be a fairly divisive episode – some would count it among the best of this series while others were noticeably more disappointed. I’m in the second camp as Crocodile eventually plays out like a conventional thriller and is far too pedestrian and “normal” for Black Mirror. The best parts of the story come from Kiran Sonia Sawar’s investigation – using olfactory and audio stimulation (that great song from Fifteen Million Merits. Slightly overused though and a bit too much of an effort to link the episode into the Black Mirrorverse) to look at different witnesses’ recollection of events, gradually piecing it all together, leading her to the truth, is particularly interesting but outside that, the episode often gets quite boring as it all proceeds in a typical, conventional manner. Plus, our central character ends up making a few too many stupid decisions by the end.
And the twist, whilst quite Black Mirror-esque, reminded me of a very similar scene in the “Ex Post Facto” episode of Star Trek: Voyager. Not so original after all . . .
This episode left me a little torn because on the positive side, it was very well constructed, managing to creating a menacing, thrilling atmosphere, using monochrome to a satisfying extent (though that made it all look a bit like a student film), and allowing a one woman show for Maxine Peake, who carried the episode quite well. But what bothered me is that this episode didn’t seem to have a point; there was never really an understanding of who these people were, what had happened to the world, why they wanted what was in that crate, and why those killer robot dogs were there and why they tried to kill the humans, leaving the episode with too many unanswered questions. It’s an odd episode for a series of Black Mirror and although it was great to see a well constructed Terminator/Predator/Mad Max type of story, it ultimately seemed a little pointless and there was not enough closure by the end.
4. Black Museum
Perhaps also known as “the Easter egg episode”, Black Museum used the White Christmas formula: including three apparently random tales which eventually ended up having a common thread. It doesn’t quite achieve the same success (maybe we’ve gotten wise to Brooker’s style) but this episode is deliciously dark and features plenty of gruesome moments, messed up characters and some jet black comedy, culminating in an extremely wicked and satisfying ending.
But most of those Easter eggs must have gone over my head, having only seen each Black Mirror episode (bar two) just the once; I only understood the references to White Bear, San Junipero and obviously U.S.S. Callister.
A Black Mirror shared universe though. A scarily exciting concept.
Nowadays, it’s clear that the age of innocence is over and there’s an increasing need to keep our children safe from the awful, dangerous people of the world. So given all that, Arkangel is an especially relevant story and successfully looks at the idea of technology advancing to the point where parents would be able to keep track of their kids 24/7 but it also explores how the child could be adversely affected as a result as well as the the parental paranoia, overprotectiveness and privacy violations that go right alongside. It’s well directed by Jodie Foster, it has a strong story and there are plenty of unexpected moments and inciting incidents as well as a satisfyingly ambiguous ending. The episode has a clear message and the strong script brings the central issues to life very well.
2. U.S.S. Callister
Opening series four in style, this Star Trek inspired episode (Charlie Brooker doing Star Trek – say whaaaat?!) boasts plenty of high quality, colourful visuals and more importantly, a unique, imaginative tale about a tech company founder trapping copies of his co-workers on a simulated starship where he’s essentially their God, calling the shots and brutally punishing them when displeased. There’s plenty of menace in the air, plenty of thrills and danger as well as dark humour and fun, and the ensemble cast that includes the creepy, Shatner-mimicking Jesse Plemmons and the determined, unwavering Cristin Millioti is colourful and entertaining to watch – it’s wonderful to learn about the characters and to support them as they attempt to bring down their monstrous captor, all leading to a marvellously gripping finale.
1. Hang the DJ
“Burn down the Disco . . .”
Perhaps taking inspiration from The Lobster, this wonderful episode has two amazing performances at the centre as well as a clever, highly imaginative story, some utterly devastating moments and a perfect, unexpected ending that, if you’re anything like me, will leave you defiantly punching the air and triumphantly singing along to The Smiths as the credits roll.
Joe Cole (Peaky Blinders) and the lovely Georgina Campbell (Flowers) are just perfect together and have such believable chemistry that it’s all to easy to get fully emotionally invested in their relationship – I haven’t been so intrigued by an onscreen relationship since the first series of Master of None and I was constantly shouting at the screen, willing them to get together and to escape their “imprisonment”.
And as I say, it also helps that the story is so original and really fascinating as it explores the evolution of dating, paying close attention to modern dating apps, and treats us to an imaginative and unpredictable story that’s choc full of heart and soul.
* * *
So that’s that then. All in all, series four isn’t quite as innovative as previous efforts but there’s still enough fresh material to be found and I’m sure that we’re anxious to see what tricks Charlie Brooker has left up his sleeve for the future.