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BLACK MIRROR’s Cautionary Crusade Expands in Season 4 (Review)

Editor’s Note: this review contains minor context spoilers for Black Mirror season 4. Read at your own risk!

The harrowing conceit behind Black Mirror has been tread in reviews and thinkpieces for years now. In its fourth season—its second as a Netflix co-production—the Charlie Brooker series has continued to expand upon its Millennial Twilight Zone roots in continually inventive ways. Sprung forth from these new episodes is something that’s evolved beyond a wariness of machines and their technological stranglehold on our society. This season jumps around the spectrum of its storytelling–from an appreciation and respect for these tools we’ve created and the lengths to which they go to improve and/or destroy us (knowingly or otherwise), to standalone episodes that go aggressively against the idea of having a theme at all.

And this season continues to impress, depress, and inspire in that emotional way only Black Mirror can.

To speak too closely to any one episodic narrative would undermine the effectiveness of Black Mirror‘s evocative storytelling, but the series has certainly expanded its understanding of technology and its effects on humans. Expanding its scope yet again, Black Mirror‘s rumination on society’s connection to its technological advances has gone so far as to contemplate the idea of the humanity of this technology. (This is especially seen in one of those all-too-rare, arguably happy episodes of the season, “Hang the DJ.”)

More straightforward in their parable-ness than seasons past, the almost all-Brooker-written episodes (with one co-writing credit exception in the form of the David Slade-directed “Metalhead”) continue to prove the effectiveness of the series’ anthology roots while growing more cinematic in nature. Directors like Slade (whose work on American Gods is simply unparalleled) and Jodie Foster and Toby Haynes (of Sherlock and Doctor Who fame) are clearly having fun (yes, really) attacking the philosophical questions presented by technology’s advancement of society.

The season opens up with the Jodie Foster-helmed stunner, “ArkAngel,” taking the dangers of helicopter parenting to its darkest and most bleakly logical conclusions. Starring the brilliant Rosemarie DeWitt and Australian TV actress Brenna Harding, Foster deftly tackles the dangers of caring too much, and how sheltering children from the realities of the world can drive them directly into those dangers’ arms. Similarly, the bleak black-and-white Slade stunner, “Metalhead,” looks at the dangers of single-minded technology with a far more devastating result.

The biggest standouts of the season, however, take the series to a new level altogether: contemplating the humanity of technology itself. Can it feel? Can it think? Can it be better than humanity? Both “U.S.S. Callister” and “Hang the DJ” use this idea incredibly effectively, giving us some of the most original storytelling the series has done. Actors Cristin Milioti, Jesse Plemons, Michaela Coel, and Jimmi Simpson prove their mettle in a Star Trek tribute that shows the darker side of fandom, nostalgia, and toxic masculinity. Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole, on the other hand, bring whimsy and romance to the series in a way that’s sure to turn “Hang the DJ” into this season’s “San Junipero,” but don’t think they’re in any way similar beyond their relatively sunny outlooks.

True to form, Black Mirror‘s fourth season sends its six new episodes out into the world alone—but unlike seasons past, this one shows more connective tissue to the reality in which these stories are told. And they wrap with, perhaps, the season’s weakest episode. Does a world like this need to connect? And what are the consequences of culling some of the series’ technological artifacts into the sum of all parts? Is it fan service or actually serviceable? Whether the season closer does this effectively or not will be a divisive issue. Only you can really decide that for yourself.

Overall, Black Mirror‘s strengths continue to shine and evolve in new ways—even if they do feel somewhat more digestible than seasons past. But really: haven’t we all suffered enough in 2017? If the result of this year is a slightly softer look at how technology will ruin us all, we’re okay with it.

Black Mirror hits Netflix on December 29. Are you going to tune in? Let us know in the comments below.

4 out of 5 self-aware bot-ritos:

Images: Netflix

Alicia Lutes is the Managing Editor, creator/host of Fangirling, and resident Khaleesi of House Nerdist. Find her on Twitter!



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