A running theme in Charlie Brooker’s dystopian anthology series Black Mirror is the stretching of the limits of human perception and its consequences. Some of the best episodes in the series (The Entire History of You, White Christmas) are centered on this theme. Similarly, in the fourth and latest season of Black Mirror, four out of six episodes are about people paying the price of augmenting their five senses through science. The results are surprisingly unique most of the time, and sometimes, repetitive.
The fourth season will be released on Netflix on December 29. Brooker has written all six episodes. (William Bridges is a co-writer on USS Callister).
An impressive list of directors have lent their talents to the series – John Hillcoat (The Proposition) has directed Crocodile, Jodie Foster (Money Monster) has directed Arkangel, TV regulars Tim Van Patten, Toby Haynes and Colm McCarthy have directed one each, and David Slade (30 Days of Night) has directed Metalhead, the only black-and-white episode of the series so far.
USS Callister is one of the finest Black Mirror episodes till date. At 95 minutes, it is the longest episode this season and is a mishmash of Star Trek, The Matrix and Escape from Alcatraz. Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad, the Fargo TV series) gives an excellent performance, oscillating between miserable and evil. In scope and scale, USS Callister breaks new ground for Black Mirror. The overriding sense of adventure also makes the episode stand apart from the usual techno-horror Black Mirror deals in.
Crocodile is an anti-whodunit in which the suspense lies in witnessing what a murderer can get away with, and for how long. The technology is almost a prototype of the one featured in season one’s The Entire History of You – a machine can record raw impressions of one’s memories of an event. Shot in Iceland, Crocodile is an immersive experience courtesy Hillcoat’s atmospheric direction. Andrea Riseborough gives the performance of the season here.
Metalhead is a horror tale about brute survival. Its sparse plot is complemented with loads of thrills. It works because of its pulpy B-movie pleasures rather than the charm of high-concept technology. Metalhead’s high-contrast, black-and-white cinematography makes it look like an inescapable nightmare.
Arkangel is about helicopter parenting gone badly wrong. Set in near-future America, a sophisticated surveillance tool becomes a barrier between a mother and a daughter over the course of many years. Rosemarie Dewitt brilliantly communicates the obsessiveness of an over-concerned mother.
Hang the DJ is an attempt to recreate the fuzzy, bittersweet San Junipero feeling. It revolves around an advanced dating system that maps out a person’s romantic relationships in advance. The episode may find its fans upon release but it also looks like the makers are trying to follow the season three formula of inserting a light-hearted story in the middle of a few serious ones. Nonetheless, Hang the DJ is a decent breather.
Black Museum, like White Christmas, combines three short stories held together by a larger story. Set in a ramshackle roadside museum of high-tech misdeeds, Black Museum features some dastardly gadgets put to use by wicked men. Though there is a plethora of ideas in Black Museum, it does not work well as the others, which are character-driven.
Once again, Black Mirror, turns out to be a triumph in anthology story-telling. However, after three seasons, a persistent feeling of conceptual and tonal sameness lingers over the series. The science fiction also appears to be far removed from present-day concerns, which takes out some of the urgency associated with Black Mirror’s best stories.
That said, Black Mirror is still one of the best-running series right now, and the only one of its kind that has filled the space left blank by The Twilight Zone.