Thanks to Netflix, the masterful and under-the-radar BBC TV series Black Mirror, from writer/creator Charlie Brooker, is back for season 3. Just like its preceding two seasons, Mirror continues to push the envelope when it comes to exploring the dark aspects of social culture, technology and our infatuation with social media. But unlike the first 6 episodes (and the additional Christmas special), season 3 presents us with some of the most daring and heartfelt moments of this series yet. This season's episodes are different as can be, offering us war, virtual video game reality, a romance between two women, and even a dark foreshadowing of what a world without bees would be like.
In Nosedive, Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard) has to endure being a social outcast by the world entire when, living in a universe where people rate one another (up to five stars) during any social interaction or encounter, she becomes a social outcast, and sees her life fall apart completely. Like the Facebook “like” button gone haywire, this dystopian option to rate humans based on their looks, smiles and personality leads to a decimation of a person’s self esteem and psyche entirely.
A virtual world envelops an American backpacker who, while traveling in London, decides to make some quick cash by testing a new horror themed game in Playtest. The obsession with smartphones - including our willingness to let the phone ring without answering it - eventually catches up to the protagonist, where it has fatal consequences. It is a terrifyingly real episode, with visuals that even the proudest of horror masters would envy.
Shut Up and Dance presents us with a teenager and an unfaithful husband, both of whom are being blackmailed by a hacker who has incriminating videos of them, and who threatens to release them to their families (and the world) if they don’t do as he/she says. Naturally, these two men will have their psychological and physical limits tested by this troll, and deeper, darker secrets about them will be revealed.
A love story between two women, both spending the best times of their youth in a virtual reality world in a decade very reminiscent of the 1980s, is at the center of San Junipero. When one of them gets old and sick in the real world, she has a tough choice to make: to join her deceased husband and child in the afterlife - the nature of which is ambiguous - or join her female lover in a sunny and peaceful virtual universe where they can both be happy forever. This episode is at once moving, romantic and captivating.
The darkest of the episodes is Men Against Fire, where we witness one soldier’s transformation from a “roach-killing-machine” (roaches are people that are deemed a class or two above normal humans) to a conscious being who suddenly becomes wise to his army’s ploy to murder inferior beings for no good reason. What he finds out is a secret so dangerous and horrific that his sanity is eventually brought into question.
The longest episode of the season, Hated in the Nation, is nearly of feature movie length, and in it, a detective played by Kelly McDonald investigates strange deaths caused by robotic bees. This season finale explores our excessive internet trolling on social media, and our rush to judge certain people prematurely by sending death threats their way for the entire world to see. Perhaps no episode presents a harsher punishment for the average cynic than this one.
Black Mirror Season 3 continues to awe, amaze and horrify us in just the right quantities, and I wonder just how much of their dark prophetic ideas, if any, will ever haunt our society for real. I just hope that if that day should ever arrive, that it be after the genius of Charlie Brooker’s runs out of ideas. May that day be a long time from now.