Is Black mirror a distorted reflection of what our society could be?
Disclaimer: There are spoilers
Black Mirror’s season 4 dropped about a month ago and the newest season definitely is just as thought-provoking as the show’s previous ones. Many of the newest episodes tackle technology that’s intended to help society but actually has detrimental unforeseen consequences. This newest set of 6 episodes truly encapsulates the potential technology that could be a part of our future, maybe even sooner than we think. Each episode (besides the not so cautionary “Hang the DJ”) being a different cautionary tale, directed and written beautifully to leave the viewer intrigued, curious, sometimes mind-blown, and ultimately a little fearful.
Here are the themes I took from each episode.
1. USS Callister
The first of the season, USS Callister is what viewers refer to as “the Star Trek episode.” However, you don’t have to know anything about Star Trek to enjoy the episode. The technology tackled in this episode is VR technology that involves a coded copy or clone of yourself in a virtual reality.
The Run-Down: The main character Daly works for a tech company as its Chief Technical Officer. In the real world, he is an introverted bitter man, looked down upon by the employees of his company. He doesn’t receive much praise for his work and often spends his work days in his office alone. This constant feeling of inadequateness leads him to code a simulation in which he has all the power. He uses his simulation to take out his anger on co-workers who have “wronged” him in some way. In his virtual reality, he is the captain of the Callister, imprisoning coded copies of his co-workers to complete missions to other planets. They praise him, while he tortures them if they are to disobey.
It’s Potential Message:
This episode is stating that people oftentimes want to escape their own sad realities. We all have our secret fantasies, but this episode takes it to the extreme.
The ending of the episode also makes a statement. The co-workers in the virtual world destroy Daly’s virtual self, which in turns leaves Daly forever in his virtual reality, as his real self is dead. So is this a cautionary tale on a technology taken too far? Or perhaps the idea that there is a way the external world can punish us for what is really only inside our head?
2. Hang the DJ
By far the happiest episode out of the series, Hang the DJ involves a more technologically advanced version of dating apps like Tinder. The app is a “coach” that sets you up with dates with random partners until eventually you find the one you stay with forever. Ultimately, with each relationship you are given a solid expiration date, which indicates when the relationship ends. You don’t have control over your love life because the app is micromanaging it for you.
The Run-Down: The main characters, Frank and Amy, go on one date that’s brief, and throughout the next few relationships, they are constantly thinking of each other. They eventually rebel against the system and “escape” because it has not set them up with each other.
The Twist: The entire episode is kind of like a “dream” in a sense. The whole time the characters were using the app and it was their virtual selves in a simulation. The system creates 1000 different simulations with each couple. If the couple rebels the system that tears them apart 998 times, their real world selves are a 99.8% match. This is exactly what happens to Frank and Amy. The ending shows the real Frank and Amy meeting for the first time, after discovering they are a perfect match.
Its Potential Message:
This episode beautifully portrays that perhaps dating apps do work. It is not really a cautionary tale like the others. It also suggests that oftentimes people stay in relationships when they are still thinking about their exes, and finally, that you should find the person that you will fight for no matter what. It shares the messages that no one should settle, and that every relationship happens for a reason.
This beautiful story was really just a simulation, but Hang the DJ shows the possibility of technology as a successful way to find “the one.”
It also, yet again, involves coded simulations of people in virtual realities, similar to the technology in USS Callister, San Junipero, and White Christmas.
Probably the bleakest and most horrific episode of the season, Metalhead portrays a post-apocalyptic world in which killer drone dogs have killed off most of the human race.
The episode is centered around a woman who was trying to receive a shipment of teddy bears for her friend’s son but is soon in a terrifying battle with a killer drone dog, after it discovers her. The drone dog shoots location tracking missiles in the humans and the only way they can get them out is by cutting them out. So essentially, even if one drone dog doesn’t kill them, another will eventually track them down.
It’s Potential Message:
This episode is a cautionary tale involving a man vs. machine conflict. This episode suggests that human’s creation of robots could be deadly and that one day civilization may be taken over by robots. “Be careful what you wish for” is definitely the message of this episode. It is by far the scariest one because it suggests that mankind’s creations may potentially be the cause of mankind’s extinction.
Arkangel is also a cautionary tale depicting the horrors of helicopter parenting.
This episode doesn’t take place in a post-apocalyptic world, but a world that is horrifyingly close to it
The Run-Down: After a mother’s daughter, Sara, temporarily disappears on the playground, the mother looks to a new technology “Arkangel” to solve her parental panicking. It’s essentially a chip implanted into her daughter’s brain. The parental unit, that looks like an iPad, helps the mother track her daughter’s location, and see the world through her daughter’s eyes. The chip also monitors hormone levels, pixelating anything Sara sees that would cause her to feel fear or discomfort. Sara soon becomes curious about the world she sees filterd. She becomes a rebellious teenager, and engages in risky behavor, and ultimately destroys her relationship with her mother.
It’s Potential Message: Arkangel demonstrates the negative effects of technology more realistically than some other episodes. Parental controls exist in the modern world, but not to the extent of Arkangel. This episode shows the negative effects of limiting a child’s freedom. Strict parenting can only go so far- in this case too far, in the Black Mirror universe.
Possibly one of the most depressing Black Mirror episodes, Crocodile explores what could happen if others could see our memories.
The Run-Down: The main character Mia, and her boyfriend go for a drive after drinking a little too much. The boyfriend driving, hits a man on his bike, instantly killing him. Panicking, they don’t call the police but instead dump the man’s body in the water. When confronted with her past, Mia panics and kills her boyfriend to hide any trace someone would have to her involvement. Because of new technology that taps into your memories, Mia is ultimately confronted with her action and tries to cover it up by, of course, killing more people (because that’s how you hide a murder right?). In the end, she’s caught, and it’s a guinea pig that incriminates her. So much for being an innocent household pet.
It’s Potential Message:
It may be saying that there is a reason why people’s memories are not accessible to others. This episode shows the psychological effects of knowing that a technology can infringe on your privacy so much so that not even your own thoughts are private anymore. Even though the initial murder Mia committed had nothing to do with the new technology, Mia felt as if she had to cover up this murder because of it, causing even more psychological and physical destruction. It’s also ironic how a guinea pig ends up incriminating her. It shows how an animal who can’t even speak has the power to incriminate a human, just because of technology.
6. Black Museum
This season wouldn’t be complete without this twisted finale episode.
Similar to Season 2’s White Christmas, Black Museum tells three separate stories which ultimately weave into one, to create the final, twisted punch line. A young traveller stops by the Black Museum. The museum happens to be a collection of artifacts used in high-profile technological crimes seen in previous episodes. The tour guide, Rolo, tells the young girl a story about a pain transference device that went wrong, as well as a story about a man who agreed to transfer the conscience of his comatose wife, into his own head. The third and final story he tells is a falsely convicted criminal on a death row, who agrees to give up his DNA after he dies, in exchange for economic stability for his family. Rolo creates a digital copy of the man and turns him into an exhibit far worse than prison.
The Twist– The girl who just happened to “stop by” the museum, is actually there for a reason. She came to kill Rolo, who put her father through endless torture, all for a profit. And, her mother just happens to watch the entire time, as her consciousness lives inside the head of her daughter.
It’s Potential Message: This episode touches on evils in humanity and the ethics behind taking one’s consciousness. The questions posed: should coded copies of people have rights? Do they feel pain? These questions won’t even be tackled until this technology is even created. This episode brings up questions about ethics that haven’t even been addressed in the real world yet. In this case, Rolo’s coded copy of the girl’s father did feel pain. But the real question is, can code even feel pain?
Overall, Black Mirror’s fourth season delivered. It touched base on a lot of the themes depicted in the previous seasons but also added some new ideas. I will not be let down by a Black Mirror episode.