It’s especially a tough time for showrunners, given that we’re going through the golden age of television. Things saw a shift during the first few years of the millennium when instead of looking to just ‘entertain and evoke laughter’, writers began making more topical shows.
In many ways, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror was a significant leap for the ‘idiot box’ – where the show wasn’t quite content with mocking our over-dependence of technology, but also philosophising on #JustHumanThings.
In its fourth season, which began streaming on Netflix since yesterday (December 29), the show has released 6 new episodes. Brooker has provided explicit commentary on our need to deify the media, our curiosity (sometimes unnecessary and petty) and how we always manage to use the technology (designed to make our lives easier), in a manner to destroy ourselves.
The fourth season is all the more of the same, though the climaxes aren’t any less unnerving. Black Mirror‘s perverse sense of humour is something you just don’t get used to.
The show opens with USS Callister, parodying the space shows of the 1970s where the captain (Jesse Plemons) always manages to save the day. Just like James Tiberius Kirk. And we soon find out about an alternate reality, with the elements of Star Trek, Star Wars and The Matrix. The most fascinating part of this first episode is how we go through a range of emotions while observing the principal characters. Ranging from pity, compassion, disgust to the feeling of misfortune – USS Callister evokes many emotions during its epic running-time of an hour and eighteen minutes.
Episode 2, Arkangel, involves a mother-daughter duo, asking striking questions about overprotective parents. Do children need to be shielded from everything bad in this world, and if they are…will they ever know pain and hurt? Directed by Jodie Foster, the show draws up an uncomfortable portrait of a well-meaning parent’s compulsive need to control the universe of her child.
Along the lines of I Know What You Did Last Summer, episode 3 Crocodile, deals with human guilt and makes a much larger point about it. Starring Andrea Riseborough, the episode autopsies the perfect murder, and asks interesting questions about whether we can outrun our demons from the past. The episode makes a point about how futile it is to try and bury our ghosts, because we’ll always slip. It’s human tendency.
It’s impossible to talk about the future, without the words ‘dating app’ coming up. After Master of None and Newness, episode 4 Hang the DJ (borrowed from The Smiths’ song) gives its own twisted take on the matter. Taking place inside the ‘system’ in a dystopian future, men and women meet with a predetermined ‘expiry’ – anywhere between 12 hours and a year. It gauges every single emotional response of its participants to ultimately select ‘the one’ for them. The episode’s idealism made me smile and reminded me of 2011’s The Adjustment Bureau, which juggles the matters of sci-fi and romance with equal flair.
Borrowing from the bare-bones survival thrillers like the Alien movies, episode 5 Metalhead is only about living through the day. A bunch of humans try and survive a robotic ‘dog’ in the dystopian future, where every second counts. The robot’s eery perspective to hunt down humans reminded me of that steely gaze of HAL 9000, in that iconic scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey where he *hears* the humans by closely watching their lip-movements.
The final episode called Black Museum, is as racially charged as the name suggests. Taking place inside a museum filled with crime-scene artifacts, it slowly and steadily builds towards the climax. Overstuffed with material worth at least four episodes, it manages to somehow hold together all its elements albeit a small degree of clunky.
All in all, the fourth season of Black Mirror is satisfying trip. After the shaky third season where Netflix threatened to have ‘bought’ Charlie Brooker’s soul turning it into a shiny toy, I’m happy to report that Brooker of the old is back. This latest one broods, shocks and awes in equal measure and gives us (quite possibly) the event of the year.
*All images sourced from Netflix