Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

I'm certainly far from the only person who enjoyed the first two seasons of Black Mirror. It got so much attention here in the States that it was picked up for additional episodes to be produced by Netflix. While the previous seasons were both from a British perspective, Season 3 is a healthy mix of British and American episodes.

The tone remains extremely misanthropic, and very pessimistic about human nature and what our baser instincts would lead us to do, were we to be presented with advanced technology. It's actually really fitting, given our current political climate. If you want a good wallow in what kinds of cruelty humans can inflict on each other, given the right tools, this is the show for you. Normally, I'd hate a sci-fi show that was this grim, but Black Mirror always finds a way to tell these stories in a compelling way, when it could just as easily be totally repellant. And there's even a kernel or two of hope here in Season 3! Dare I say it, there's even an episode with a happy ending.

Here's some quick descriptions, but I won't spoil the ending of any of them, because I want you to go watch these. "Nosedive" imagines a near future in which everyone is evaluated by their social media popularity. Your job, your housing, and all the services available to you are based on how many stars you're rated. Bryce Dallas Howard is fantastic as Lacie, a woman who's trying to bump her rating to attend the hoity-toity wedding of her highly-ranked friend. In "Playtest", an easy-going American (Wyatt Russell) is traveling the world, and when his identity is stolen and he runs short of cash, he agrees to test out a secretive project designed to bring horror games to new levels of realism. This one was not as successful, as it crosses over the line from having a dark tone to straight up gratuitous misery porn. It's still very watchable, and Russell is great, but it was easily my least favorite episode of the season.

"Shut Up and Dance" does a better job of bringing a terrifying scenario to life. A shy teenager (Alex Lawther) clicks on a link he shouldn't, and soon after, blackmailers who videotaped him in his bedroom are forcing him into increasingly wild and dangerous stunts, under threat of exposure. Along the way, he encounters others who are also being blackmailed, and they desperately hope that if they give the shadowy hackers a good show, they'll be let off the hook. That one was probably my second-favorite of the season, and it was immediately followed by not only my favorite episode of the season, but the best episode of Black Mirror to date, and is in fact probably my favorite episode of television this year, full stop.

You've likely heard the words "San Junipero" floating around the web, and for good reason. A shy, retiring young woman (Mackenzie Davis) meets a fun-loving outgoing girl (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in a seaside town in the '80s, and begin to be drawn towards one another. As their relationship develops, the audience discovers that the women are not all that they seem to be, and neither is the town they inhabit. It's an incredibly beautiful, moving, and gripping hour of television, and it also just happens to contain some of the best music choices ever. If you watch one episode of television this year, make it this one.

Unfortunately, it was followed up by my second-least-favorite episode, "Men Against Fire". It centers around a soldier named Stripe (Malachi Kirby), a newbie who joins a military company to help protect a village against a horrifying invasion of ghoulish monsters. Since this is Black Mirror, the underlying facts aren't as simple as that, and Stripe must come to terms with where his loyalties truly lie. It's not a bad episode by any means, but I found it didn't dig deeply enough into the show's core credo of how human nature is warped by technology. It's just kind of a facile episode about war. Thankfully, the season ended on a high note with "Hated in the Nation", which has the longest running time, and is really more of a movie than a television episode. The always-wonderful Kelly McDonald plays Karin Parke, a police detective who takes on rookie sidekick Blue (Faye Marsay) in order to investigate the mysterious deaths of people famous for being pilloried on the internet.

Parke is the kind of traditional detective we've seen on countless shows, but unlike those universes, she must contend with the futuristic technology that is implicated in the deaths. Equal parts thriller, crime procedural, and spine-tingling sci-fi, "Hated in the Nation" was a really great episode, and capped off my favorite season of Black Mirror so far. Depressing as the show often is, it's such a terrific blend of quality writing, acting, and production design that I simply can't resist.

Black Mirror - Season 3: A


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