Netflix’s Black Mirror S4: A Dash of Optimism in a Dystopian World

Now that the festive season is over, here’s your dose of dark dystopia with a sprinkling of unexpected optimism.

Updated02 Jan 2018, 05:23 PM IST
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6 min read

The bleak six-part Netflix anthology, Black Mirror (Season 4) landed on Netflix smack in the middle of the festive season. Nihilists could not be happier. But this season, they are in for a surprise since it offers an unexpected dash of humanism and optimism in one of its most crowd-pleasing episodes, picking up from where the series left off in the San Junipero episode from Season 3.

Black Mirror is much more about dark human impulses than it is about technological dystopia. Technology serves as a fitting excuse to plumb the depths of complex human nature. Year after year, the ones who return to the series, are not only those who like to stare into a dreary, imagined future of technical wizardry but also the ones who like fictional content that questions their moralities.

In Season 4, the series steers its course from the macro themes of war or climate change to more intimate ones like guilt, with the overarching idea of a shared pool of digital consciousness. This motif has its basis in cloud computing.

Themes of the Season

Created by Charlie Brooker, the former video-game journalist and satirist, each parable of this season is mounted like a blockbuster film. Every episode can leave you with a lot to chew on and a lot to marvel at, even if the story fails to impress you.

The shifting landscape from deserts to snowscapes, underscores a vast and cold barrenness in a world of digital excess. Interestingly, this time Black Mirror goes easy on tech speak, without losing its penchant for searing discomfort. So the affairs are knotty without being incomprehensible. In almost all the episodes, women characters keep a tight rein on the narrative.

Characters that are eager to embrace life-altering digital solutions without really blinking an eye, are common to most episodes. This may come across as a plot loophole but is in fact an accurate reflection of our behaviour in the face of an avalanche of technologies. Instant gratification and mindless consumption have become hallmarks of our digital age. We are quick to sacrifice tenets like privacy at the altar of convenience. The Aadhar Card mandate in India and how we give big tech companies our personal information evokes a future teetering on the brink of this feverish reality.

One of the joys of anthology series is being able to watch standalone episodes in any order, you prefer. Here’s a rundown of the episodes.

1. USS Callister

A digital poster of the first episode of <i>Black Mirror</i> S4.
A digital poster of the first episode of Black Mirror S4.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Summary: A woman wakes up on a spaceship where the crew praise their all knowing and fearless captain, who has used DNA scans to simulate real people within his game.

Star Trek fans who are in for a nostalgia ride will also have to face up to the ultimate takedown of the white nerdy fixation with pop culture. For a series like Black Mirror, this is an optimistic first episode with a sprinkle of humour that’s missing in the other decidedly grim ones.

A line in USS Callister mouthed by one of its characters stands out for it’s assertion of female sexuality. "Stealing my pussy is a red f*****g line." Giving away more would be treading in the zone of spoilers.

2. Arkangel

A still from the second episode of <i>Black Mirror</i> S4.
A still from the second episode of Black Mirror S4.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Summary: After nearly losing her daughter, a mother invests in a new technology that allows her to keep track of her child.

Directed by Jodie Foster, this tale of a disintegrating relationship could qualify as one of the best episodes of this season. While most episodes of Black Mirror seem like distant science fiction fantasies, this one can cut close to the bone. A devastating drama on helicopter parenting, it confirms the idea that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

3. Crocodile

A still from the third episode of <i>Black Mirror</i>&nbsp; S4.
A still from the third episode of Black Mirror  S4.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Summary: A woman's past comes back to haunt her while an insurance adjuster questions people about an accident with a memory machine.

This one seems like a distant cousin of Fargo. The most visually arresting episode of the season, it unravels like a Nordic noir. Based on the biological fact that ‘crocodile brains’ encompass the systems that hold memories and functions like smell and emotion that reinforce those memories, this instalment posits a world where our memories are accessible to others.

It fails to delve into the fickle and suggestive nature of our memories but that’s like missing the forest for the trees. Crocodile with its all deliberately sinister layers points to how our choices can condemn us to emotional doom.

(Spoiler alert) But at it’s heart Crocodile is like an acutely observed backstory of a seasoned murderer as it explores how far people are capable of going to bury their secrets. (End of spoiler alert).

4. Hang the DJ

A still from the fourth episode of <i>Black Mirror</i>&nbsp; S4.
A still from the fourth episode of Black Mirror  S4.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Summary: A new dating app allows the matched couples to be told how long their relationships will last.

This has got to be the most heartwarming episode of the season sans the mush that is usually associated with love stories, echoing the sentiment of the earlier San Junipero. While highlighting the exhaustion that the dating process entails in a Tinder-fuelled world, it asks tricky questions like - What would you do if you knew the expiration date of your relationship? What if there was no other choice except an algorithm that accurately picked the ‘one’ for you without the fear of rejection?

A meditation on loneliness, fear of uncertainty and ‘rebellion’, this one should be a quick favourite of the ones fumbling in the dark to find love.

5. Metalhead

A still from the fourth episode of <i>Black Mirror</i>&nbsp; S4.
A still from the fourth episode of Black Mirror  S4.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Summary: A woman attempts to survive in a dangerous land full of robotic guard-dogs.

This episode is merely an exercise in visceral thrill as it depicts a cat and mouse chase between a woman and a robotic guard-dog in a post-apocalyptic world. The hot pursuit and the woman’s ingenuous tactics to survive remain the focus as the entire episode unfurls in black and white.

This taut episode manages to induce a kind of terror for a ruthlessly adept machine. Apart from the tense chase, it offers little insight. But just like every season of Black Mirror, the least appealing episode can hardly be deemed as ‘bad’.

6. Black Museum

A still from the fourth episode of <i>Black Mirror</i>&nbsp; S4.
A still from the fourth episode of Black Mirror  S4.
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook)

Summary: A woman enters a museum where the proprietor tells her gruesome stories relating to the artefacts.

Black Museum, the last of the six episodes serves as a compendium of sorts. Like an anthology within an anthology. Housing technological crime memorabilia, the museum holds stray objects from the previous episodes - the lollipop from USS Callister and the smashed iPad from Arkangel. This episode unleashes the torture that technology can unleash, full-throttle. It attempts to demonstrate how we can be prisoners of what we perceive as new freedoms.

But as compilations go, White Christmas still retains its position at the top as the best anthology of Black Mirror.

Bingeworthy Scale


Every episode of Black Mirror will leave you with weighty issues to ponder over. We suggest that you resist the temptation to binge and space the episodes out, while viewing.

Episode Ranking Order

Arkangel >Crocodile >Hang the DJ >USS Callister >Black Museum >Metalhead

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Published: 02 Jan 2018, 04:18 PM IST

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