How would a hostage situation play out if the ransom wasn’t money or political pardons? What would it mean to be able to recall any moment of your life in 1080p HD? What happens when your entire life is spent cycling for energy?
All of these questions are answered in the BBC series Black Mirror.
Black Mirror is, in a word, relevant.
The tensions of the series almost exclusively center around how the usage of technology has completely permeated our lives. On a surface level, this makes Black Mirror relevant because social media and technology have had a profound effect on how we conduct our day to day.
On a deeper level however, the series raises existential questions in ways that often seem to sprout from the most mundane and extreme circumstances. In each of these situations, Black Mirror presents simple concepts and takes the viewer on increasingly bizarre rides.
For fans of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, Black Mirror presents a familiar format and feel. If anything though, the series refreshes the “bizarre tales from a near future” by making it fully relatable to (and I hate this word) “millennial” audience. Observers of the obvious will pinpoint the suffusion of social media, references to current brands, and the appearance of contemporary hardware as the source of that relatability. I’d argue however that it’s the placement of all of these things within relatable situations that cement Black Mirror’s relevance.
Creator Charlie Brooker clearly understands that references are nothing without clear human pathos and impetus. All of the stories in s1 are simple and have been done before. It’s the interaction between the characters and varying forms of technology that make the difference. For instance, in e1, half of the humiliation of the terrorist’s ransom is from public mockery and diffusion. By presenting that gawkery, from YouTube to pubs, Booker highlights how the meshing of social media and “in real life” interactions coalesce to reveal the uglier sides of human voyeurism.
Unlike it’s forebears, Black Mirror does not dive too deeply into the macabre or grotesque. Rather, it sits most comfortably in the dark humor and drama corner of the room. Every episode goes far enough to pull your heart strings, but not disgust you. In addition, there’s enough to scare you on a meta level, but the show in no real way is interested in straight-on horror.
Any horrific elements always return to the idea of human identity and being existing in a precarious state. Whether it be existential, physical or emotional, peril is always around the corner. In some ways this is comforting because Black Mirror does this well. Contrast this with how relatively easy it is to present horrific situations without finesse; something that sci-fi at large is often critiqued for.
The series’ deftness though can be a double-edged sword. Brooker’s deliberate decisions to not truly go for the jugular (hey Bing) makes the resulting conclusions a bit soft, if not lukewarm at times. Despite this, I believe that in maintaining its position, Black Mirror reveals itself to be much more of a thinker’s series than a full-on fright reel. This is because more often than not it’s the thought behind the situations, and not the situations themselves, that are horrifying. While that may pass over some viewer’s heads, I do think that it has much more value for both the series’ own merits and the genre at large.
Ultimately, Black Mirror presents a science fiction that doesn’t feel like too much fiction at all. That in of itself is scary enough.
Black Mirror is streaming on Netflix.
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope