Black Mirror is cracked, but not broken
Image Credit: Netflix
“OMG! Did you see Black Mirror? It was amaaazing! It was just… I can’t describe it. Mind-blowing.”
That’s the gist of most of the comments I have been seeing on social media ever since the release of the long-awaited fourth season of Black Mirror. The show came back after a long promotional campaign by Netflix, who uploaded teasers for weeks without ever mentioning the release date. I was definitely one of those who waited patiently for the new season to be released. Sadly, the show left me quite disappointed for one very big reason.
Before complaining, I should say that Black Mirror, in many ways, is one of the most remarkable shows that have been released in the last couple of years. Each episode has been directed and played by different directors and cast. While the TV anthology is not a new concept and has actually been seeing a resurgence as of late, Black Mirror is unique in its application because no matter how different, all episodes share a technologically-induced dystopian near-future, creating a compelling overarching theme.
So what’s the problem then? Well … the short answer: Capitalism did it again and killed creativity.
To draw that out, consider this. In 2015, I watched the first episode of Black Mirror. I could have finished the first two seasons that day, but instead spent countless hours digesting what I had just seen during late night conversations with friends.
This was how sky-high the expectations were for the new seasons and how satisfying the show was to me in terms of ideas, emotion, perspective and empathy. Here’s the thing: after the second season’s Christmas special, “White Christmas”—which is THE greatest episode of Black Mirror ever—the show simply settled and kept reusing the same ideas without adding anything new.
Let’s take a quick look at the best episodes of the last season based on their IMDB ratings:
“Hang the DJ”: 9.0/10
“Black Museum”: 8.8/10
“USS Callister”: 8.4/10
They are all quite good episodes individually. If previous episodes of Black Mirror did not exist, these episodes would be even better. However, what we’ve seen so far in season four are copy-and-pastes of the same ideas (with tiny modifications) again and again. Two of these episodes,”Black Museum” and “USS Callister,” focus on the “cookie” technology that was introduced in “White Christmas,” which was released four years ago. What differences does this new “cookie” have? Instead of “cookie,” the multiplication of the human consciousness and its transmittance is called “Infinity” in “USS Callister” and “monkey” in “Black Museum.”
I know it’s getting boring comparing every episode to the Christmas special, but you can see similar incidents in other episodes. Another great episode “San Junipero” (Season 3) revolves around the idea of the consciousness of a dead person being transferred into a VR simulation, thereby keeping them “alive.” This technology is the same, or at least extremely similar, to the technology that is used in “Black Museum” to eternally punish a prisoner’s consciousness via a hologram. And so on and so on...
I would like to draw a brief chronology to help me get to my point.
2011: 1st season (3 episodes)
2013-14: 2nd season (4 episodes - including one Christmas special)
2015: Netflix purchases the show
2016: 3rd season (6 episodes)
2017: 4th season (6 episodes)
I am not going to shit on Netflix since they play a significant role in providing opportunities for low-budget content creators and support a variety of great projects that normally might not have had the chance to come to life. But on this specific subject, when I look to see who holds the responsibility for the reason that the creativity of Black Mirror has been dying out over the last two seasons, I look at the involvement of Netflix. Perhaps it is because of being less selective about stories now that they can produce more and more, rather than pursuing uniqueness, content quality or something else.
And yet, the newer episodes of Black Mirror are still better than other shows. I just hope Netflix will take some serious steps to save one of the greatest TV shows from getting ruined. Otherwise, it will likely leave the art piece that is Black Mirror with less and less to be talked about.
P.S. If you have not watched the show and, even after all the spoilers, are still willing to watch some of the best episodes (repetitive or not), here is a list!
“The National Anthem”
“Fifteen Million Merits”
“The Entire History of You”
“Be Right Back”
“Hang the DJ”