Season 3 available worldwide on Friday, October 21, Netflix
In my On TV column a couple of weeks back, I sang the praises of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s tech-fi dystopian anthology series. I ranked the seven then-extant episodes, and was excited for Season 3 of the show, picked up by Netflix after it was left languishing a little too long by Britain’s Channel 4.
And Season 3 mostly does not disappoint, with all six episodes offering up compelling versions of our imminent future, and enough late-game twists to make even early Shyamalan sit up and take notice.
The casting is, across the board, phenomenal, and these are episodes that will long stick in your memory. From the cringe-inducing “Nosedive” that kicks us off — with Bryce Dallas Howard in captivating form as a woman desperate for social validation in a pastel-colored world of dark superficiality that is perhaps a little too real — Black Mirror‘s third season is relentlessly thought-provoking, and even occasionally provocative.
The episode I like best is without a doubt “San Junipero,” starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Halt and Catch Fire‘s Mackenzie Davis, not only for its delightful love story but also for the smile it left on my face at the end, in a very un-Black Mirror-like manner. It’s an episode that still raises questions — of mortality; of loyalty; of reality and responsibility — but it doesn’t culminate in total despair, which, given this series’ track record, may very well make it this season’s biggest twist.
My least favorite is “Men Against Fire,” a mind-controlled soldier-y tale that isn’t nearly as fascinating as it thinks it is.
The one that will haunt my nightmares is “Playtest,” featuring the eminently likable Wyatt Russell as a charismatic drifter who is inveigled into trialing a new virtual reality software. It does not, predictably, go well. And it has me reconsidering my decision to buy a PlayStation VR. (Don’t worry for Sony’s bottom line — I am sure it will actually encourage the more adventuresome to do the same thing.)
And the one I will have the hardest time shaking off is “Shut Up and Dance,” which tells of cyber-intrusion and blackmail, mostly because the depravity it suggests went entirely unsuspected by me and it made me feel dirty to have been so duped into cheering for the wrong person. And the performance of Alex Lawther, who you may recognize as the young Alan Turing from The Imitation Game, is simply stunning.
“Nosedive.” I am still cringing.
And man, I loved “Hated in the Nation,” aka the one with the killer bees! Mostly because Kelly Macdonald definitely needs to head up her own police procedural immediately, but also because it is what CSI: Cyber wishes it could have been, and I watched that show hoping it might be. (It never was.)
Indeed, much of Black Mirror may remind you of something you’ve seen before, as is often the case in our trope-filled world. I saw a tweet on the weekend that simply said: “Black Mirror. The show for people who have never read science fiction.” And there is some justice in that; these are wonderful stories, but SF-as-allegory is a concept that goes back centuries and is hardly unique, just because it is a new experience for some. And it’s not just Black Mirror‘s relationship to sci-fi novels that is notable here; there are, let’s call them homages, to movies and comics and other TV shows, as well. For example, speculative fiction as far-ranging as Existenz, an Asimov short story and YA alien invasion novel The Fifth Wave were all brought forcibly to my mind.
Oh, it’s still brilliant and all. Just a little like The Fifth Wave on occasion.