Season 3 of Black Mirror Takes on Contemporary Issues in the Future

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

 If you’re like me, you refreshed Netflix the moment the clock struck midnight on October 21st. Don’t lie. You probably screamed in delight when you saw those two little words on the signature cracked glass accompanied by, in bright red, “New Episodes.” I had been waiting for this moment since last December and now it was finally here:

“Black Mirror” Season 3

For those of you who haven’t yet caught on to the fabulousness that is “Black Mirror,” this is a TV show that centers on how future technology might influence our human relationships. It is an anthology that is similar to a modern day “Twilight Zone.” In the past, there were three episodes to a season and one Christmas special.

I was a bit apprehensive when I heard that Netflix was going to be taking over this beloved British series. First of all, there would be six episodes in the third season, rather than three. Part of me was excited, but another part of me was worried that the series wouldn’t have the same attention to detail as it had in the past. I was also concerned that Netflix would attempt to make the series into something new for the mainstream public. “Black Mirror” is dark and dirty and real, and I didn’t want that to get lost in translation.

Needless to say, I finished the season in one day. I came out of my binge-watching stupor surprised, yet extremely satisfied with how Netflix upheld the integrity of one of my favorite shows. There were minor stumbles, but on the whole, this season was very well done. Beyond this, I was so impressed with the way Netflix made “Black Mirror” something relevant and meaningful. More than any other season, I thought it was truly a commentary on our society and the contemporary issues we are facing. Here are my thoughts on each episode.

 

1. Nosedive

They decided to start out the show with a BANG. I was extremely impressed with this episode and it was arguably one of the strongest in the season. This episode takes place in a society, in which social media dictates our standing in life. People rate each other after every interaction and that is then averaged together into a rating between 1 and 5. This dictates what jobs they get, their living situations, and how others treat them. The main character is Lacie who is obsessed with her rating and needs to get above a 4.5 in order to rent an apartment. She goes to lengths to get the 4.5 and, because of eventuating circumstances, ends up “nosediving” to a 1.2 and effectively ruining her entire life. The episode ends with her in jail and finally smiling as she is able to get rid of social niceties and curse at the person in the cell across from her.

I think that this episode was so poignant because it is so relevant to our obsession with social media today. We look at how many likes or shares we get on a post as our standard for how people think of us. Let’s be honest, in this day and age most people, including myself, crave that sense of approval from others. This episode made the viewer think about what it would really mean if the likes and shares mattered. Bryce Dallas Howard who played Lacie was absolutely flawless in her performance and she absolutely broke my heart.  It was scary to put myself in her shoes because I was questioning whether or not I would personally survive in a world like this. I don’t know if we, as humans, have the capability to fake our appearances to the extent that we do on social media in daily life. After watching this episode, I hope that we do not and won’t ever have to. 

2. Playtest

For me, this was the weakest episode of the season, but still very commendable. This episode is about an American, Cooper, whose credit card is hacked in London right before he is about to fly home. To make money, he agrees to test virtual reality technology for a horror video game company. The “game” he tests ends up preying on his worst fears and blurring the line between what is real and what is an illusion. In the end, we discover that Cooper actually died during the first few seconds of the virtual reality experience because his phone interfered with the device…or did he?

This episode plays on our search for more realistic technological experiences. It deals with what the repercussions of this might be. It insists that we face the reality that the technology might be too powerful for us to handle. Where the episode loses its potency is in the fact that we really can’t be certain of what actually happened to Cooper. While this does build suspense, it also left me a bit confused at the end of the episode. Cooper was also a difficult character to identify with. He was honestly a bit of an asshole, so I was glad to see the game kick his ass.

3. Shut up and dance

This episode absolutely shocked me. It kept me thinking for hours after I finished it. The main character of this episode is a teenager, Kenny. He is filmed masturbating by a hacker on his webcam (or at least that’s what the viewer thinks happened). He receives texts telling him to go to specific locations and deliver items or else the video will be leaked to his friends and family. Kenny does this and eventually the tasks escalate. Kenny meets other people who are also being blackmailed along the way, all for acts relating to sexual deviance. In the final scenes, we discover that Kenny was actually looking at pictures of children in the video and he fights a man to the death to keep that secret. In the end, his secret and the video are leaked anyway and he is arrested.

This episode was so successful because it built sympathy for Kenny for almost the entire episode. As a viewer, you felt so sorry for him and you felt like the people doing this to him were monsters. When we find out his secret, we are caught in a bit of a dilemma. We have already identified with the pedophile. The episode is turned on its head and Kenny, the sobbing child who peed his pants, becomes a villain and the people who are torturing him become the heroes. It is hard to reconcile and it made me conflicted as a viewer. This tension though, is what made the episode so good. It made me think about right and wrong.

4. San Junipero

This episode is the only one in “Black Mirror” that has ever had a completely happy ending. It is so sweet and such a great way to follow the dark episode the preceded it. The two main characters of this episode are Kelly and Yorkie. The two women meet in a town called San Junipero and begin to have a relationship. We find out that San Junipero is actually a virtual town in which people who are elderly can visit in the decade of their choosing and live as their younger selves. When they die, they can be uploaded to the town and stay there for the rest of their lives. Yorkie and Kelly meet in real life and get married on Yorkie’s deathbed. Yorkie gets uploaded to San Junipero. Kelly is resistant to being uploaded because her late husband is not there. Eventually, she decides to die and live in San Junipero with Yorkie forever.

There are so many reasons why this episode is fantastic. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Kelly) and Mackenzie Davis (Yorkie) were fantastic in their roles. They brought a wisdom to their characters even though they are young themselves. This episode not only put a healthy female relationship on-screen, but there was (FINALLY) representation for bisexual women. And not just a bisexual woman…a bisexual woman of color. There are not enough shows and movies which give representation to this marginalized group and I truly appreciated this. It didn’t fetish-ize the queerness, but made it something that people could identify with. Beyond that, this episode gave me a new on-screen couple to fall in love with and it made me extremely happy.

5. Men Against Fire

This episode dealt with some extremely relevant topics in today’s world.  It was about a soldier called Stripe who is in Denmark fighting against a group of humans called “Roaches” with a genetic mutation. The army has placed an implant in his head which allows them to place images in his field of vision. We are told that the rest of the world has killed all of their Roaches, but Denmark is harboring them. We see Stripe fight Roaches through his point of view. They look like creatures not people. However, while Stripe is fighting and killing a Roach, a light gets shined in his eye, causing his implant to malfunction. Because of this, we discover that the army has altered his vision to make the Roaches look like creatures, but they are actually just regular people with less favorable genetic markers. In the end, Stripe chooses to have his implant restored and his memory wiped by the army.

This episode deals with institutionalized racism and how we are conditioned by society to look negatively on a group of people. The army is conditioned to see these Roaches as less than human and, therefore, it is okay to kill them. This is extremely relevant with today’s the police situation and senseless killings of African Americans. This episode is forcing America to come face to face with the ugliest realities that exist within our country. It also draws attention to the bystanders. The army were the only ones with the implants, and yet, the public did nothing to stop the killing of this group of people. This episode makes you question the choices you make in society. Do you do anything to end the murder? Or do you allow yourself to be blinded by institutionalized behaviors?

6. Hated in the Nation

This was a loaded finale. It dealt with a ton of issues that we are grappling with today. The plot is quite convoluted, but I will try my best to give a quick synopsis. It is set in England where celebrities who did something unpopular with the public begin to mysteriously die after writhing around in pain. In this world, bees are extinct, and so there are little robot bees that are contracted by the government to pollinate plants. We discover that someone is hacking bees so that they burrow into the brain of whoever receives the most tweets saying “#DeathTo” with their name. The plot centers on the police who are trying to figure out who is responsible for this. In the end, they discover the computer of the man who is responsible and attempt to shut down the programming. Instead, they release the “end-game.”In a shocking twist, anyone who used tweeted “#DeathTo” is killed by the robot bees. Hundreds of thousands of people are killed.

The first topic this episode deals with is what we do on social media. People today often feel like their posts go out into the ether and have no real value. We often post nasty things about a person or a celebrity that we don’t like and that never has any repercussions. This episode makes you think about what you are writing on social media. You may not be doing any physical harm to a person like in the episode, but there are still consequences to all actions. This episode wants the viewer to take responsibility for what they post and who they post about.

The second issue it deals with is the extinction of the bees and whether or not that is something we can recover from. This is a very real problem which people are trying to solve today. We have wondered if there is technology that can replace the bees if they become extinct. This episode serves to remind us that technology is unnatural and can, therefore, never be perfected. Real bees couldn’t have been hacked to kill people. If we create similar technology to this, we might run into problems in the future. The real horror story of this episode began not when people were killed, but when the bees died. The creation of this technology not only made the events of the episode possible, but made them inevitable.