With Black Mirror returning for a double-dose third season, digital life just got a little bit scarier. Charlie Brooker’s Twilight Zone for the digital age once again serves up a healthy helping of suspense, thrills, and general uneasiness that’ll make you just a little bit more wary the next time you pull out your phone.
Since Black Mirror is a dish best served cold, I’ll stay light on the spoilers on this article and stick to personal observations and opinions on each episode.
The first of the bunch, Nosedive, stars Bryce Dallas Howard in an anvilicious sendup to the social media and ratings-obsessed world of today, set in a world where your ‘ratings’ determine what you can and can’t do, like if Yelp took over the world.
With all the subtlety of a Nokia 3310 in your face, this episode makes its intentions clear from the get-go, the in-your-face fakeness of almost its whole cast, and its sickeningly saccharine diabetes-inducing yet aggresively bland aesthetic completely sells the concept in a great season opener that might just make you think twice about Instagramming your next meal or that next status update.
Episode numero dos, Playtest, stars Wyatt Russell as Cooper, a thrillseeker who might’ve bitten a bit more than he could chew when he took a job playtesting new augmented reality tech for a games company. In true Black Mirror fashion, this is exactly where things go wrong.
Dan Trachtenberg, of 10 Clovefield Lane fame, takes us on a horror trip combining the best of horror games and movies into one genre-savvy package that just might be a little bit savvier than we are, keeping us guessing until the end. Wunmi Mosaku also excels as Cooper’s ‘handler’ Katie and the always enchanting Hannah John-Kamen as the witty Sonja rounds out the cast in this clever horror tale, one of my personal favourites this season.
On to round three with Shut Up And Dance, this tale starring Jerome Flynn and Alex Lawther is a thriller where blackmail is the name of the game. Because when you have someone by their dick pics, it’s hard to break free.
While it’s an effective enough cautionary tale to keep in mind before doing anything genital-related in front of a webcam and a depressing look at how blackmail ruins someone, this episode didn’t resonate well with me. It does have its darkly funny and actual thrill moments and hits rather close to home as it’s something that could happen to any of us, but for some reason I found it a bit lacking. Even so, it’s still a well-made thriller and a nice watch.
Past the halfway point, we flash back to San Junipero in the 80s. Or was it the 90s? Not a problem, it’s San Junipero! Mackenzie Davis is shy nerd Yorkie and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is outgoing party girl Kelly. A chance encounter in San Junipero kicks off a bond between them that transcends space, time, and maybe even existence itself.
Owen Harris, a Black Mirror alum of Be Right Back fame helms yet another deeply emotional tale of love, loss, and dealing with grief. At its very core, this episode is a romance story, and it feels that way all the way through. Supported by the visuals and aesthetics of San Junipero as it changes through the years, alongside a kickin’ soundtrack and one of the most clever song-to-scene puns I’ve ever seen, San Junipero is a rare episode of Black Mirror that keeps you smiling for most of its runtime and one of the season’s strongest.
The penultimate episode, Men Against Fire stars Malachi Kirby in a military-centered tale about soldiers fighting a vague Nosferatu-like enemy simply called ‘roaches’. But this wouldn’t be Black Mirror without an extra twist, am I right?
A scathing commentary on military propaganda and the toll battle takes on soldiers, Men Against Fire delivers its point with no more subtletly than a .50 through the eye socket. That said, the acting is great and the action scenes are intense, making for a suspenseful first half and an uneasy second half, if a bit predictable at times.
This season’s closer is a feature-length episode entitled Hated in the Nation, which stars Kelly Macdonald, Faye Marsay, and Benedict Wong in a thriller tailor-made for the social media generation.
We’ve all sent online vitriol to someone else before, and this episode takes it to the extreme conclusion. If the people you wish death on social media actually died, would you still do it? Clocking in at 89 minutes, this is the longest Black Mirror to date and is one of the season’s highlights. Aside from the not-so-subtle jabs at keyboard warrior culture, this episode also manages to throw in a few pokes at hot-button issues like government tracking and an oddly prescient mention of a certain recent online bullying incident. Tightly written with great performance and a simple concept executed well, Hated in the Nation manages to steal the show in another amazing season of Black Mirror.
Overall, this season of Black Mirror brings a much more diverse aftertaste than the almost uniformly bleak past two seasons. You’ll laugh, you’ll shudder, you’ll cry, this season has it all. The future for Black Mirror is bright and I can’t wait to be a part of it.
As an endnote, kudos for the Black Mirror Twitter admin for the past 24 hours of tweeting reactions to viewers and the one bomb-ass tweet they somehow posted while Twitter was down. And the trailer, my god, the trailer. The whole marketing team deserves big ups as well for another season well done.