I recently watched all six episodes of season four of the series Black Mirror that was released in December. I reviewed the three earlier seasons here. For those not familiar with the series, it was conceived by caustic British news and media critic Charlie Brooker who along with Annabel Jones are the showrunners. It is a science fiction anthology set in the near future, with each episode being independent of the others. The series focuses on how technology influences people’s lives in unpredictable ways, dealing mainly with neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality innovations.
The series is generally dark in tone, showing how the bright promise of new technology to improve our lives can veer off into unexpected directions with unpleasant consequences, largely caused by the human tendency to distort its purposes. In the 13 episodes that comprised the previous three seasons, only one episode San Junipeiro could be considered to have an uplifting ending and that won an Emmy. The fourth season is less bleak than the earlier three, with two episodes in particular Episode 1: USS Callister and Episode IV: Hang the DJ being quite funny and light. The former has a Star Trek theme and the latter looks at the workings of a very controlling dating app system that guarantees a 99.8% probability of finding your perfect match. Episode II: Arkangel, Episode III: Crocodile, and Episode VI: Black Museum all center around what can happen when we are able to tap into the minds of people and access the knowledge in their brains and, in the last case, even transfer that consciousness into other people’s minds or even inanimate objects.
I did not particularly enjoy Episode V: Metalhead that deals with single-minded dog-like robots relentlessly pursuing their targets. These robots have the capability to even drive cars, overcome security systems in homes, and have foresight and planning. I found it to be very bleak, accentuated by the fact that it is filmed entirely in black and white. Perhaps my unease with this episode is because the robotic dogs shown have a close resemblance to already existing technology, like those being developed by Boston Dynamics, suggesting that this unsettling image of the future is quite near at hand.
The series is definitely thought-provoking and there are some scenes of disturbing gruesomeness. Because the series is an anthology with a new cast for each episode, one is always apprehensive that something awful might suddenly happen to characters that one has taken a liking to or that they might turn out to have a very dark side. But it is also strangely addictive.
Entertainment Weekly had an interview with Brooker where he discusses some of the elements of the recent series. The magazine also gave its ranking of all 19 episodes in order of preference, along with brief synopses of the stories.
Here’s the trailer for season 4, though given that it is made up of clips from six different episodes, you cannot make much sense of what you see other than get the general sense of the show.
One thing I noticed is that since the series is produced for Netflix in the US, there is no strict requirement for length, with episodes varying from 40 to 76 minutes, unlike regular TV shows that have to have a fixed length in order to be slotted into schedules. This allows greater latitude to the writers who are not forced to insert fillers or cut short important plot points to fit into the time available. I am not sure what happens if the series is shown on regular TV channels in the UK where the series originated as a network show.