A few weeks ago we were treated to the 4th season of Charlie Brooker’s Science Fiction Anthology series; Black Mirror, which came out on Netflix (originally belonging to Channel 4).
Now, as a little recap, Black Mirror is a series showcasing a few standalone episodes often set in various futures, alternative realities, or sometimes so close to home that it is scary to think about, all with dark overtones and always involving humanities dependency on technology, more often than not showing the downfall of mankind putting too much faith in some sort of new bit of tech.
Each episode is different, so unless you have read up before hand, it takes about 15 – 20 minutes of the episode just working your head around what exactly is going on.
The show uses a lot of familiar faces from actors all over the place, so you might be surprised to see people like Bron of the Blackwater from Game of Thrones, Todd from Breaking Bad, Claire from Jurassic World, Jon Hamm, and Agent Carter; Hayley Atwell herself, to name a few.
I would highly recommend it and the good thing is that since it is an anthology series, you can pick it up from anywhere. The seasons are short and if you are a binge watcher, you can easily smash the back catalogue of Black Mirror out in a very little time indeed, however, afterwards you might be left wanting more.
Some episodes can be a bit hit and miss at times, but overall nearly every single one of the 19 available episodes are enjoyable in some way.
Thankfully season 4 has to be the strongest season yet and I am thoroughly gutted that it is now over for another year (although I am not 100% that it will even return, but I will give you my theory on that later), but I am impressed with the excellent quality that this season has given us.
Instead of reviewing the entire season as a whole, I will give a mini review of each episode.
1. USS Callister
Now everything that has been said about this episode you can find in its own personal full-length review here by my fellow Bearded Robot; Peter. http://beardedrobot.co.uk/tv-show-blogs/black-mirror-uss-callister-s4e1-review/
Peter has covered everything in this sterling review as he discusses feeling empathetic for the antagonist in this tale of a lonely man looking to create his own perfect escape from the cruel world that he lives in.
The story of the USS Callister is great. Robert Dale is a lonesome and mocked chief technical officer at a computer game company who specialise in the massively popular multiplayer game Infinity, which allows you to upload your own DNA into the game and become an avatar. However, Robert, a huge fan of the TV series; Space Fleet (an allusion to the real-life Star Trek media franchise) has his own private server that is locked out from the rest of the online game, which he is in control of. Here he is a sadistic version of Captain Kirk who has ‘acquired’ the DNA of his co-workers, including his business partner and the CEO of his game company, as well as the new girl that Robert finds attractive. In the private server of the game, these DNA copied avatars are slaves to his bidding as he plays out his Space Fleet fantasies over and over.
However when the new comer is added into the game, she decides to fight back and a dangerous mission against an all powerful enemy begins in both in the real world and in the virtual one.
Overall, USS Callister is the best episode of the season. It hits the ground running and leaves us intrigued all the way through it. It is funny, intense, and, at times, sad, as you feel empathy for the lonely Robert Dale who only wanted to be respected. Definitely a great watch, and with a run time of an hour and half, you are in for a great ride.
Coming from the coattails of a very fun sci-fi adventure, Arkangel brings us back to a very near future experience, by showing us a scenario that every parent fears; their sweet and innocent child coming into adolescence.
The good thing about this show and its anthology structure is that we really are thrown all over the place in terms of the setting. Where as the USS Callister felt far into the future, at least in the bright and alien virtual world, Arkangel is set in a normal urban American city.
Now Black Mirror tends to not hold anything back, which means that anything bad could happen at any given moment, and since the show doesn’t need to worry about carrying a fan favourite character over from episode, they are free to kill whomever they like. And with that we are introduced to a woman who gives birth to a baby girl, but makes us believe for a brief moment that the baby was stillborn. Thankfully this is not the case, but we get to see the woman and the child (who is now 3) try and live a normal life together, but the horrors that face a parent every day come out in fall swing. This is why I watched this part of the show with one eye squinted expecting something horrible to happen to the 3 year old little blonde girl, who is exactly the same as my kid currently.
Thankfully this was not the case, but the episode made us believe that something COULD happen to her at any moment (get lost, kidnapped, attacked by a dog, etc), which was really the whole point allowing us to relate to the mother and the decision she made.
The mother signs on for this free trial to inject her child with a device that connects to the Arkangel parental app. At first it looks like the app is merely just a tracking device to check to see where her daughter is at all times, but it is so much more. The app allows her to monitor her heart rate and other vital signs, and see what she is looking at through her own eyes. It can also be set with parental controls which pixelates adult content that might be seen, blocking out blood and violence. However, this does become a problem when the grandfather is the only one looking after the little girl whilst the mother is at work, and he suffers a heart attack, but she cannot see it, but it is not overly an issue, so the Arkangel does really give a parent the piece of mind that their child is safe going out into the world, if not massively intrusive into their development.
Of course having complete control over your child and hiding them away from certain things in the world will naturally leave them different. When she gets a little older she is mocked for not being able to see stuff and doesn’t feel like she belongs, and this continues on as she gets older, however, her mother, after being able to see what her daughter sees for most of her life is now dependant on it, agrees to switch off the app and let her live her life.
Once the girl reaches about 15/16, now the trouble begins as she begins to get involved with drugs, boys and all the other stuff that comes with experimenting at that age. Her secluded life of being protected from everything has only sparked her curiosity now that blinkers are off, and she goes for it.
The mother has now inadvertently pushed her towards it all, bringing about the things she spent her life trying to protect her daughter from.
It is a great lesson for parents to learn, in the fact that children need to be exposed to some of this stuff at the right moment in order to make them realise the dangers of it all. Being hidden away from violence will only lead a curious person to wanting to find out more, and the same can be said about drugs, alcohol and sex, unless it is explained to them in the right way.
As the rest of the story goes, the mother turns on the app and secretly discovers what her daughter has been up to all this time, and ends up worse off than she was before. The ending is a haunting realisation of how if we wrap our children in too much cotton wool, eventually they will break out and go on a mad rampage.
Arkangel is another great episode that leaves you with a lot to think about afterwards.
Crocodile is probably one of the darkest episodes Black Mirror has ever done. Some of the things that happen are unsettling, and it shows us just how far some people are prepared to go to keep hold of their lives. As with all of Black Mirror’s episodes, Crocodile is a very interesting concept that has been explored in a dark way, but I will get to that in a moment.
So, the episode shows us a woman who lives a normal successful life with her husband and child. Although when she was younger, her and her boyfriend at the time killed a cyclist whilst drink driving and dumped the body in the river. Although she was not the one driving, nor was it her idea to dump the body (she wanted to turn herself in), she was lead by her boyfriend who was the one who faced the most jail time. So, anyway, back in the present day (or the near future), she is at a hotel on business in the same city as her old boyfriend, who decides to call her up as he wants to speak to her. It turns out that he has been ruined by the crippling guilt of what they did all those years ago. It seems that she has managed to push it back into the darkest recess of her mind and forgotten it, so that it has not held her back from living her life, but it appears to have done permanent damage to him mentally, and he wants to make amends and write a letter to the family of the victim, who to this day has no idea what happened to their love one.
She believes that this will open an investigation into the hit and run/murder/body dump, and refuses to be involved, but he seems determine to confess, or at least give the family some closure, which results in a struggle and the woman murders her ex in the hotel room.
Seconds later she hears a noise and heads to the window to see a man hit by an automated delivery vehicle (as Black Mirror is really good at giving us a little taste of the future here and there with stuff like this in the background), but pays it no mind as she worries about cleaning up the place, getting the body out of there, and disposing.
Now, the point of mentioning the man being hit by the delivery vehicle… an Insurance Officer is investigating the incident and has a device that hooks up to your temple (always the temple). It is connected to a small TV and allows the viewer access to the person’s memories relating to a specific incident. The memories are hazy and distorted, but overall they are viewable (surely you can see where this is heading).
She is speaking to people who witnessed the crash, along with the victim, and is gathering a complete recreation of what happened that night. She sees a person in one person’s memories and then runs a facial recognition on that person to then go and interview them, which in turns builds a bigger picture of the incident.
Anyway, she follow the trail, she is eventually lead to the woman who murder her ex and, after a hesitant moment and a reminder that this interview is approved by the law and failure to compile can result in jail time, witness everything before the crash, showing her the murder in question.
Desperate to protect what she has, the woman ties up the Insurance officer and uses the same device on her to find out if anyone knew she was coming here, which it turns out it was only her husband, so after she murders the Insurance Officer, she then heads off and murders the husband as he unwinds in the bath, but, as I could see coming a mile off, the Insurance Officer and her husband have a baby, and because the police can use this memory viewer device on it, she murders that as well (thankfully off screen).
She does all of this to protect her own life, but unfortunately it all comes back on her in the end, when a Guinea Pig was in the kids room, and the device is shown being used on that to lead the police to her.
It was a horrific tale which has a very Hitchcock feel to it. The woman tries to protect what is hers, but eventually it spirals out of control as she desperately murders everyone and anyone who would stand in her way. Brutal stuff.
4. Hang The DJ
After the dark and depressing episode previously, Hang the DJ was a great story that really did a good job of using technology to show us how real life relationships, meanless sex, and love really has on us as individuals and how it can affect our lives.
The story begins in a controlled world where people use an app called ‘Coach’ to go on dates with random strangers, engage in sexual activity, and just generally hang out with them for a certain amount of time.
When they first meet, they synchronise their devices, which show them how long they will spend together. Sometimes this can be a few hours, a couple of days, a few months, or even a number of years. During this time they must spend that time together and once the time is up, they leave one another and after a random amount of time, Coach will contact them again advising them that they have another match lined up.
There also appears to be a huge wall that they cannot bypass, as well as other men with tasers who watch over them from a distance at the mall or at the restaurant.
Well the episode follows Frank and Amy who meet during one of these Coach matches. They synch their devices and see that they have the evening together, which they spend at the restaurant and then back to their assigned housing situation. They don’t have sex, but they enjoy each other’s company. After the time is up they leave, but appeared to both have a really good time. Frank is kind of hung up on Amy and can’t stop thinking about her, and Amy is sort of the same, however she is busy as Coach has been setting her up with quick match after quick match. Each time she meets them for a meal, then goes to the assigned housing situation for meanless sex. This happens over the course of a few years, and during that time, Frank has been matched with a terrible partner who he must spend years together with. They both hate the match and spend the entire time hating one another, resentful of all the things that they had with other matches before. Their sex is rubbish, and their overall existence is not a happy one.
If you haven’t worked it out by now, then you ain’t going to. This is clearly a metaphor at real life. Sometimes we become stuck in toxic relationships that we feel trapped in, and once it is done, we are a million times better for it, whilst other times we can live going from one meaningless sexual experience to another, and not actually find the happiness that we thought we were looking for by going with so many different partners. It is brilliantly portrayed in this science fiction themed so-called controlled world that Frank and Amy live in.
Eventually their relationship matches come to an end and Frank and Amy are set up once more by Coach, to both of their delight. They decide not to synch up their devices and just live in the moment, going from one day to the next and enjoying being with one another, never wanting to know when it will end… which is really the meaning of true love. If you can find that person that you want to spend your time with, rather than wanting to know when it will end, then you will truly be happy in your relationship.
This is fantastically shown when Frank, thinking and worrying about how much time they have left together because he doesn’t want it to end, synchs up their devices and discovers that they had years left… but because they did not synch together to find out, it causes a recalculation and the time ticks down to only a few days. Horrified by this, Frank decides to rebel against it, but it turns out that when Amy finds out that Frank looked at their time (something they agreed not to do) then this ultimately brings forth the end of relationship, which was ironically the thing Frank was trying desperately to avoid.
It shows us that if we start to think of how much time left we have with the person we are in a relationship with, we will eventually cause it to just become another meaningless encounter and will end up in a timed match, rather than finding the person that they were meant to be with for the rest of your lives.
This episode has a very poetic meaning behind it and it was enjoyable to watch the metaphor of; how we live our lives, unfold.
In the end, Amy gets notified by Coach that her ‘final match’ has been confirmed, which means that she will leave this place. She is allowed one free previous match date, which will last a short while before she is to leave, and picks Frank (after a while of not seeing him since their relationship ended). The two of them meet and decide to break free of the system and escape. The men with tasers turn out to be façade and they run off to scale the big wall. Once at the top, they find themselves in a place with hundreds of different versions of themselves with one another, and it appears that this Frank and Amy was the 1000th time that they had been matched together.
It zooms out to reveal that everything has been inside a dating app that has been running algorithms to find one another’s perfect match, which has put Frank and Amy together in the real world. The two of them see each other at a bar and smile and the episode ends.
Brilliantly done Black Mirror in probably one of the least disturbing and non-sorrowful episodes you have done since that old ladies uploaded to the cloud in the last season.
5. Metal Head
This episode felt as if it was straight from the mind of myself. I will go on record to say that it is a right piece of Danny. Although it was not as meaningful as the others, there was no hidden message to be found here, what it did instead was give us a nice piece of action packed post apocalypse for us to sink our teeth in and enjoy. It didn’t even have much dialogue or overall plot line, so this will probably be the shortest review of the lot here (which is good as I’m getting tired writing and thinking deeply into these episodes).
Metal Head begins with three scavengers turning up to a warehouse. The entire place looks like it has been deserted, and it doesn’t take us long to realise that this is a post apocalyptic world. Something has happened here and we get a real sense that the characters have been through a lot and are running, hiding, and fighting for survival. We do not know what has caused this, but we are sure that it has to be something technology based (as it is Black Mirror after all).
So two of the survivors (a woman and a man) head into the warehouse and one stays out to hotwire (technological hotwire) a van parked outside.
Inside they appear to be searching for something to make life easier for someone who is dying back at their sanctuary or safe house, which is never really described. This episode does a great job of just telling us the story of these survivors and nothing else. We do not know what happened to civilisation by the end of it, nor what is really truly out there. Instead this episode shows us one small tale set in this mysterious dystopian future.
So when the two survivors find it, there appears to be a strange robotic dog like creature hiding behind the box, which attacks with strange weaponry, killing the male survivor. The robot has no face and no features of any kind other than its four legs, but appears to be blood thirsty to stop any humans it can.
It chases the woman outside, who speeds off in her car. The man follows in the van but is eventually brought down by the robot who is now in hot pursuit. It connects itself to the car and uses that to chase after her.
The rest of the episode follows her attempting to escape this robotic menace that is trying to kill her. She evades it at one point by hiding up a tree and tricking it into remaining in a standby mode as it waits for her to leave the tree, which she uses to slip away. It loses a leg after the van crashed and resorts to just using the three remaining.
Eventually she finds herself in a house where she makes her final stand against the robot and defeats it, but not before being implanted with a tracker to allow more of them to come after her.
The ending of the episode shows us the aftermath of the events of the episode, as more robotic dogs are following the tracks back to her. In the end we see that the box contained a type of teddy bear, implying that this was all they were doing all along; getting another teddy of the same type for a child that has lost his.
The entire thing is filmed in black and white, which really does give us a bleak and gritty feel to the whole thing. It suits it perfectly and, while the episode lacks the same depth as some of the previous ones, it was still one of the must enjoyable of the lot.
6. Black Museum
This episode felt a little like the series’ swansong. It linked a couple of previous episode’s together (previous from other seasons) and really did feel like a good finisher to end the series on. It almost felt like this episode WAS Black Mirror itself, so to speak, but let me explain a little of the episode itself and I will explain myself in further detail.
The episode itself revolves around a woman whose car is left charging (solar power charging) at a gas station in the middle of Utah or some other American desert, and nearby is the strange building with the sign outside stating; Rolo Haynes’ World Famous Black Museum. She heads over to it and waits outside for a few minutes before the “11am tour”, so the sign on the door says.
A man, introducing himself as Rolo Haynes, comes out and invites her in to see his collection of criminological artifacts. She leaves her metal belongings in the reception area and heads inside.
The girl says that it’s her father’s birthday party and her mother wants to surprise him, but she is currently charging her car so wants to have a look around. Rolo appologies for the heat, stating that the AC does not work properly.
Inside the museam we see lots of different cases displaying various pieces of technology. We see the bee from the 3rd season finale, as well as the black balaclava from ‘White Bear’. Rolo himself at one points references the events of ‘San Junipero’ and we see items from every episode this season; the lollipop and DNA machine from ‘USS Callister’, the tablet used by Marie in ‘Arkangel’, and the bloodied bathtub where the woman’s husband was murdered in ‘Crocodile’.
This is what I was getting at when I meant that the very idea of Black Mirror is this museum. We are mere spectators viewing all these technolocal terrors that have occurred throughout the years. It is a great idea and, since Black Mirror does not normally link their stories, it would be a wicked way to see the series off.
So, anyway, as the girl is looking around, she notices a skullcap device made up of wiring, which Rolo then begins his first tale of technology gone wrong. You see the episode is comprised of three short stories (the last one being ridiculously short) which tie together in some way towards the end of the episode. All of these story are related to one Rolo himself, as he used to be the head of some neurological R&D lab conducting experiments into various technology and how they can be used to help mankind.
In the first story, Rolo tells the girl of Dr. Peter Dawson’s Sympathic Diagnoser, which is a device Dr. Dawson was installed with to allow him to use the skullcap of wiring on a patient to feel exactly what it is the patient is feeling. He is able to determine exactly what is wrong with people, as he has had a number of different people, over the course of using this implant, so he is used to the symptoms, as sometimes someone isn’t sure what is wrong with them, or it might be a child who cannot express what is the matter. Dr. Dawson saves many lives over the months/years and it seems like everything is going well. He is even maximising his pleasure at home when he uses it on his partner at home, making him feel both the male and female orgasm. Everything is going well…
but that wouldn’t make for interesting television now would it?
One day a patient flat-lines whilst Dawson is connect, causing him to lose consciousness. He literally feels what it is like to pass on to the other side. It causes a change in him and he becomes addicted to the pain. His love life becomes more sadistic, and eventually he finds himself waiting around the ER for the next fix. Eventually, after stopping a woman from being save so he can get his pleasure, he is suspended… but the urge is still there. He ends up causing the pain onto himself, cutting off his toes and pulling his finger nails, piling out his teeth, and cutting at his skin. His medical knowledge allows him to know how far to take it. He stays at home cutting bits off of himself. It is really quite brutal when he is staring at himself in the mirror afterwards.
The thing is, it is not enough. He needs to experience the fear that comes alongside the pain. The fear of knowing that you might die at any moment. That is what he is missing.
You can see this part of the story coming a mile away about halfway through the episode, but he finds and tortures a homeless man before the police find him in a complete catatonic state with the same look of intense pleasure on his face, which he still has to this day with as he lies in a vegetated state in a hospital bed.
The second story begins after the girl points out the teddy bear in the museum and questions the relevance of it. Here Rolo explains is the saddest thing in the entire place.
This story follows a man and a woman who have a child and one day, the woman is tragically hit by a van is in a coma. Rolo comes in the hospital room and says that he can take her consciousness from the shell that was once the man’s wife, and put it into his brain, given that we humans only use about 30% of it anyway, so there is a lot of extra space.
The man eventually agrees and his wife awakens inside the man’s head, seemingly stuck into a chair yet being able to feel everything that he does. When he hugs their son, she can feel it. When he tastes an apple, she can taste it. She can even communicate with him like a voice in his head.
Clearly this is a terrible idea and you know it was never going to work. The man argues with her about everything. She is trapped inside his head with no power to do anything. She naturally questions and/or criticises nearly everything that he does, from not washing his hands after peeing, to having a go at their son for something bad he has done. Not to mention that he frequently checks out other women, so he gets a ball ache for that as well.
He goes to see Rolo who has a solution, which is to be able to put her on pause. To her, only moments have passed, but in reality hours or even months might have gone by since she last saw the world. This causes some clashes as he wants to get on and live his life, but she doesn’t want to go onto pause. They try the divorce thing of putting her on pause during the week, then spending the weekend together with their son, but after the man gets a new missus, neither woman likes the arrangement.
Eventually the new woman doesn’t want the old one around, and they return to Rolo. Here he suggests putting the consciousness of the man’s wife (the old one, not the new one) into the body of a prototype teddy bear, which she can semi-control through two voice commands “I love you” for happy, and “I need a hug” for sad. It is designed for the son so that the mum will always be with him, and she can feel the hug if he does. The man and his new girlfriend go for this and the woman then becomes trapped inside this teddy bear. After time the child loses interest in it and the teddy is discarded.
Back in the present day, at the Black Museum, the girl is shocked to see that the woman in the story’s consciousness is still in that teddy to this day (though you’d think Rolo would put a TV on for her or something).
The final story revolves around Rolo’s main attraction; a convicted killer who was sentence to death by electrocution, who Rolo managed to take his consciousness and create a hologram version of him, using technology based on the Dr Dawson’s device. Here customers are able to pull the lever themselves and execute him over and over again (gaining a little key chain keepsake of the man screaming in agony for eternity).
Now, during the course of the episode, Rolo mentions how hot it is and seems to be getting more and more hotter (warmer… not sexier) as the episode goes on. He even accepts a drink of water from the girl at one point. He is coughing more and at first you do not notice it, but after the third story (which is basically all was mentioned above), you realise that something is actually wrong with Rolo.
It was here that I clicked that she had poisoned him, but I had no idea why. Well it is revealed that she is in fact this convicted murderer’s daughter, and she is here to set him free. Her mother came to this Black Museum years ago and saw him in this state, now a mindless vegetable. After this she took her own life. Her daughter is here for vengeance.
I would like to point out that it is heavily implied that the Dad did not murder anyone and that he was wrongfully executed.
As Rolo succumbs to the poison, she uploads his consciousness (the same way that he did to the woman in the second story) and uploads it to that of the mind of the holographic man in the cell. Rolo, now in the seat and out of control, watches in horror as the girl mercy kills her father’s consciousness and Rolo at the same time. Rolo is left as a screaming key chain, as she leaves with the Teddy bear (which says “I love you”). It is revealed that she had hacked the AC, which has now started a fire, and when she gets back in the car it also reveals that her mother’s consciousness is in her mind who thanks her for setting the girl’s father free. She drives off as the Black Museum burns thus ending the 4th season of this fantastic show.
But was it the end of the series? It seemed like a good place to finish on; that this Rolo was basically behind most things and got his comeuppance. Could it be that the burning down of the Black Museum marks the end of the tales of technological terror? Only a scenario in the future will tell us.