Black Mirror returns, this time with a bigger scope, bigger budgets, and longer and more numerous episodes. What does this mean for Charlie Brooker’s warped, sinister creation? In some cases, the bigger scope allows for a fuller realisation of Brooker’s vision, but the series’ greatest asset to date has been its very nearness; almost all the episodes in the first two series were based on premises that felt very possible within the near future (or in the case of a certain Mr. Piggy, actually happened). Series Three strikes towards implausibility more than once and as a result struggles to have the same otherworldly impact at times. Still, it’s a damn good series all the same, and the move to Netflix allows it greater freedom in terms of episode times and structure, leading to a larger variety of stories being told and perhaps a stronger overall impact.
Episode Ranking (+spoilers sometimes)
1 – Nosedive (3.5/4): The most openly humorous of the third series, Nosedive is a satire on our Instagram/twitter-obsessed culture where people base their self-worth on how others view them. The tragedy is of course that much of the world depicted herein has already come to exist, and the more totalitarian elements of Nosedive (firing of employees or lack of access to certain services based on your social media ranking) already have certain real-world precedents, with employers more and more frequently implementing strict social-media policies at work.
2 – Playtest (3/4): The weakest episode of the third series, although it is certainly the most fun one to watch for video game fans. Whilst its premise is within the realms of near-plausibility, its execution is less so—who would agree to playing a virtual/augmented-reality game which penetrates your deepest fears and makes them seem real and also includes a painful-looking implant?—but despite that, Playtest is an effective mini-horror, tense and jumpy enough to be worthwhile.
3 – Shut Up and Dance (4/4): Not so much plausible as already reality, Shut Up and Dance tells the story of Kenny, whose webcam is hacked mid-wank; he is then blackmailed into carrying out instructions decided upon by a mysterious organisation. Such things have already become reality in many ways, although not yet in such a dark, ugly way. The entire episode sustains a mood of itchy, nervous tension and panic. Easily the fastest-paced and best of the series.
4 – San Junipero (3.5/4): Despite being the most implausible episode premise-wise—the terminally-ill and the already-dead can pay to stay in San Junipero, a digitally-crafted beachside paradise town to party their infinities away in whatever era they choose—San Junipero is also the most heartbreaking and humane episode of the series. Two visitors meet and fall in love, but troubles arise as we find more and more about their real lives, the ones they live outside of sunny San Junipero. San Junipero sets its sights high, aiming to handle such lofty topics as the finality of death, the commitment and hard work of a lifelong marriage, and the ephemeral nature of youth. For the most part it succeeds with supreme confidence, helped along by two brilliant performances by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis, both of whom are real rising stars. Unfortunately SPOILER Charlie Brooker pulls his punches at the very last moment. San Junipero is the only episode with a happy ending in the entirety of Black Mirror. Our two leads riding off happily into the sunset sounds great on paper, but with all that comes before it, it saps the emotive character of Brooker’s message. What could have been one of Black Mirror’s best ever episodes is merely just an excellent one, sadly.
5 – Men Against Fire (3.5/4): Bearing similarities to the recently-released British zombie film The Girl With All the Gifts, Men Against Fire is a fine treatise on the nature of propaganda control and how it effects how we view others, particularly refugees and the poor. Its central premise SPOILER, that soldiers are implanted with chips that make them see the enemy not as fellow human beings but as horrendous, vile monsters is almost certainly something that militaries across the world are already working on, and the episode’s ugly atmosphere goes a long way to creating the right degree of verisimilitude. Of all the episodes in this series, Men Against Fire offers perhaps the bleakest view of humanity’s future: everywhere else our protagonists are at the very least able to retain some glimmer of humanity, no matter how dim. Here, it is the very thing we have long since lost.
6 – Hated in the Nation (3.5/4): This one would work just fine as a standalone film. It’s perhaps the most idea-loaded of the six episodes, many of which again feel entirely plausible. SPOILERS It’s entirely logical that we might soon have to use drone bees to pollinate flowers and prop up the ecosystem. It’s entirely logical that governments would want to use them as spies. It’s entirely logical that the public would be goaded into using Twitter hatestorms to kill people, and only the episode’s late-game twist feels implausible in real-life, even if it is perfectly logical in the context of the episode. Some excellent performances here too, and a fine way to cap off an excellent series. Series Three may not reach the same heights as earlier episodes so frequently, but when it does it’s a pleasure to watch.