Set in varied dystopian future societies, Black Mirror explores the human relationship and growing dependence with our vastly advancing technology. We’re sucked into the far-reaching effects as we jump from one cyber enhanced existence to the next. Throughout five seasons, each anthology style episode embarks on a deep critique and observation of pop culture phenomena like reality TV, social media, smartphones and artificial intelligence.
It also connects everyday human beings to these phenomena and pokes and prods at the things society has embraced every time we cross the boundaries of tech and human accountability.
Ever wondered if your most intimate moments were being recorded by the silhouetted person on the other side of your webcam? Maybe you were talking about raisins and the next time you’re online, you get an add for just that. These feelings that you are being watched by your tech have only amplified with time. We sense it, and Black Mirror heavily articulates it. Often to the point of fearful paranoia.
But it’s not just tech encroaching on our lives. Black Mirror points out that we often welcome it. After all, we created it. The British anthology series carries 3 to 6 episodes each season. Following closely behind its legendary influence, “The Twilight Zone”, Black Mirror’s hour-long episodes have various characters and follow a short story format. Some episodes are more gut punching than others, some are to be avoided and some are highly celebrated. Great episodes such as “Be Right Back” explore the consequences of holding on to lost loved ones and the rate at which we make personal information available.
“Fifteen Million Merits” details the repercussions of “reality” television and the fame game of mass consumerism media in an eerie, “Sim” like world. Then there’s the episode for the private investigator in all of us. “The Entire History of You” takes text and video analyzing to obsessive proportions and gives any jealous lover a run for their money. Each episode can resonate differently with a viewer.
Showrunner, writer and conceptualiser Charlie Brooker continually switches things up with each script. He came up with the series while working on other projects and spoke on the process, stating “If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone”.
He does have help with the writing team but some of his original scripts such as the highly praised “San Junipero” and the massive effort “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” keep the show’s environment fresh. Nobody expected a positive love story but when the show moved to American audiences, Charlie silenced the naysayers by choosing unlikely female protagonists for the “San Junipero” love story. He wrote the initial script over four days and included a lot of nostalgia therapy, setting the story in the 80’s at times. He deviated from the usual grim ending and evoked hopeful dialogue and tones instead.
He struck gold again with the famous season four episode, “USS Calister” which offers commentary on fan fiction culture and male entitlement in this Trekkie influenced reimagining.
Characters and acting
With each episode having different characters, it’s hard to track consistent performances but there are some that stick out beautifully. Gugu Mbatha Raw’s portrayal of a fun-loving Kelly in the highly acclaimed “San Junipero” brings a warmth that’s often missing in this series.
Another strong female performance comes from Cristin Milioti who plays the determined captain in season four’s “USS Calister”. Then there’s Daniel Kaluuya’s little known portrayal in “Fifteen Million Merits” of a down and out worker looking for a better life in a world where nothing is real. Kaluuya’s eventual Golden Globe win really comes through in this episode. Everything from his depressing eyes and melancholic approach screams of his wide ability and range as an actor.
Music and cinematography
Each episode has completely different tones and emotional significance, so the look and sound adapts to the story. In “San Junipero” the music is very synth wave and has a lot of 80’s electronic elements. Music choices such as “Heaven is A Place on Earth” fully serves the storyline’s direction while giving light hearted nostalgia. Then there’s rougher episodes like “Shut Up and Dance” which offers no reprieve and no hope with its dark, heavy score.
One episode that dramatically changed the cinematography has to be the USS Calister, which took on a warm, film reel style look of the 60s and 70’s. Drawing heavily from the “Star Trek” series in its visuals, the clothing and ashen landscapes is a brilliant call back to the original show. It’s almost jarring to jump back into the real world.
There is a lot to be said about a series that stirs up so much reaction, revilement and awe. Some episodes, such as “Shut Up and Dance” might be too jarring, while “San Junipero” might have too much sweetness for you. Much like modern consumerism, you pick your poison with this one. Recommended for the bold viewer.