Netflix released the fourth season of its popular show “Black Mirror,” a modern reimagining of other-worldly science fiction shows like “The Twilight Zone,” just in time for the end of the last holiday season. The show’s creator, Charlie Brooker, described “Black Mirror” as “the way we live now and the way we might live in 10 minutes if we’re clumsy,” since it analyzes the possible results of technological innovation.
Every episode centers on different characters in different situations. However, many fans speculate that the many of the universes within the show are connected and that we’re simply viewing different parts of the timeline.
The latest season stays with the show’s central theme of highlighting potential problems with technological innovation. While still disturbing, this season paints a less bleak picture than previous ones. WARNING! There are many spoilers ahead.
USS Callister: This episode centers on the life and frustrations of a video game developer, Robert Daly, who helped establish a revolutionary new company that allows users to completely enter into a virtual reality. His co-founder and employees continually snub him. The viewers learn that he has created his own version of the video game, cut off from everyone else, where he has imported DNA samples from his coworkers. When he takes a DNA sample from the most recent hire, we learn that his simulated coworkers in the video game are conscious and trapped inside with Daly in complete and total control. The conscious characters in the video game work to fight back against him and gain freedom. “USS Callister” has a surprisingly upbeat ending with Daly’s coworkers escaping his despotic universe, and, in an uncharacteristic bit of poetic justice, Daly is left trapped inside his collapsing universe, unable to escape to his real body.
Arkangel: Marie, a single mother, becomes concerned for her child’s safety and consequently installs a tracker in her daughter Sara’s brain. This device, developed by a company called “Arkangel,” does more than track Sara’s location; it gives Marie access to her vital signs and vision and even allows Marie to edit out anything that causes Sara stress. Sara thus grows up in an entirely sheltered environment. Marie realizes that this technology adversely affects her daughter’s mental health, but she reactivates it once she becomes concerned again about her daughter’s whereabouts. During a fight between the two, Sara accidently turns on the censor feature and becomes unable to see that she is beating her mom with the tablet. This paints a highly disturbing portrait of the dangers of tracking technology, an issue that currently feels very real in an age where parents have access to trackers on their children’s phones. Like other “Black Mirror” episodes, “Arkangel” does not take the stance that the basic technological idea is harmful, but simply notes the potential vices in excess in that particular area of innovation.
Crocodile: This episode follows the form of a crime show. At the beginning, two drunk people, Robert and Mia, hit a cyclist on a mountain trail. Afraid of the consequences, Rob convinces Mia to help him dispose of the body. Fifteen years later, Rob finds Mia to confess that he feels guilty and wants to write an anonymous letter to the cyclist’s wife. In fear of losing her career and family, Mia then kills him and disposes of the body. Directly after that, she witnesses a car accident. An insurance agent, equipped with a machine that can view individuals’ memories, looks for witnesses of the accident. This device eventually leads her to Mia, who in turn chooses to kill the insurance agent and those connected to her. Many “Black Mirror” episodes, particularly ones from older seasons, highlight technology’s role in tragedy. “Crocodile,” on the other hand, emphasizes human evil. Her actions were driven by fear of being caught by this advanced technology, but the program is not insidious, just more powerful than people knew.
Hang the DJ: Another uncharacteristically upbeat episode, “Hang the DJ” centers on two people and their experiences with a dating “coach.” In this universe, instead of meeting people in person or online, young people live in a large commune and trust their dating lives and futures to an algorithm. The two main characters, Frank and Amy, are paired together on one date but then are torn apart by the algorithm. After the separation, they miss each other and start to doubt the system. At the end, they escape the commune and everything fades away like a video game, making the audience realize that this was a simulation the whole time. The simulation was actually testing whether or not they would escape together, in order to determine the potential for their relationship in reality. This episode, like “USS Callister,” blurs the lines between physical and virtual reality.
Metalhead: Shot entirely in black and white, “Metalhead” focuses on a group of scavengers after the collapse of human society, though the viewers are not told what has happened to bring on this downfall. The main character, Bella, along with her friends Tony and Clarke, go to an abandoned warehouse to get supplies for her sister. While collecting the box, they are spotted by a sort of mechanical security dog. Tony and Clarke are both killed in under a minute, but Bella manages to escape. The rest of the episode shows her attempts to escape the robotic dogs. Compared to other “Black Mirror” episodes, “Metalhead” features a straightforward plot and relies more on open-ended questions and speculation from the viewer instead of the usual specific philosophical questions.
Black Museum: In this episode, a young woman named Nish stumbles upon a museum essentially in the middle of nowhere called Rolo Hayne’s Black Museum. The museum features all sorts of artifacts associated with crimes. Rolo leads Nish through the various exhibitions, artfully relating the stories behind the displays. These tales are highly engaging and disturbing. As is typical with “Black Mirror,” Rolo’s stories detail the potential for destruction that exists when human failings are paired with greater technological capabilities. Over the course of the episode, the museum curator, Rolo, turns from an over-interested narrator into the villain himself. He was the willing accomplice in many of these crimes depicted in the museum. Rolo reveals that he has trapped the digital self of a man who was executed in the electric chair and has been allowing tourists to reenact that execution for years. Nish reveals that she is the daughter of this man and gets her revenge on Rolo. Despite the bleak content in this episode, it ends on an upbeat note. Similar to the rest of this season, “Black Museum” does display the potential pitfalls of technology if humans are not careful, but also emphasizes the equal, if not more important flaws in human nature.