Black Mirror: A cautionary tale for the new world
The Brits do TV very differently than we do here. For one thing, their seasons (or series) can be exceptionally short, three episodes may be all you get. But, they also realize that Television is a medium that can deliver incredibly powerful stories very effectively, especially as nearly everyone has a TV in their home. In the US, these types of stories would be relegated to cable, a luxury service that not everyone has access to — sometimes by choice- due to cost prohibitions. I’m not fully versed on how TV is paid for in the UK but I do know that basically everyone has access to the same things which allows greater numbers of people to see these shows. And, when the show is a Twilight Zone-esque be-careful-what-you-wish-for nightmarescape like Black Mirror, you want to make sure as many people see it as possible.
Set in the sci-fi sub-genre known as “10 minutes in the future” — still sci-fi but it’s so close to reality it can be scary, Black Mirror is an anthology series that imagines the twisted endgame of our increasing dependence on technology. Over the course of 6 episodes (available on Netflix ) we see twisted possible futures of everything from YouTube to smartphones to the internet as a whole, all through completely terrifying plausibility.
The series opener, “National Anthem”, follows the story of a kidnapped royal, a demented ransom demand, and the Prime Minister caught in the middle. Through the the episode the media and the internet are used to not only advance the plot but in fact allow the plot to exist at all. The lengths the government goes to to prevent the PM from having to do something unthinkable — and broadcast it live on TV — is truly amazing. But, one of the themes of the series is consequences and no one makes it out unscathed.
Another episode, “The Entire History of You”, imagines a world in which all people have a small device embedded in their brains that gives them instant perfect recall of everything that they have ever experienced. These memories can even be broadcast to nearby screens to be shared. You can even erase an entire person from your mind with simple click or block them causing you to see a blank silhouette and hear their voice are garbled static. While the idea seems ludicrous the world of the show makes a good point for the existence of such technology, while also showing the disastrous results.
Over the 6 episodes of the series we see technology both brutally destroy lives and quietly cause pain. Most episodes of the series are hard to watch in their intense realness. While the technology on display is light years ahead of what we have but we absolutely have the basis. This is no more true than in the Christmas Special (also the series 4 opener)- another thing British TV has on us- “White Christmas”. This single episode, which is not yet on Netflix so look around for it, stars Jon Hamm as man with a secret. And I can’t say more without spoiling it. But, it is mesmerizing. The way the story unfolds is both heartbreaking and chilling and the ending is a maddening mix of relief and utter horror.
You might be asking yourself why am I so sold on this show given my dislike of the scary. It’s becasue this show isn’t scary in and of itself. It gets inside your mind and makes you ask “what if?” The events depicted have few intrinsic scares to them (with some exceptions) but when you find yourself realizing how close to fruition, how incredibly easy these leaps, are then the the fear begins to creep in.
This is the one Netflix shows I would caution against bingewatching — the compounded sadness would just be too much. Maybe throw in a break of your favorite comedy as a pallet cleanser once in a while. But once you have seen it all you will have seen one of the most interesting and thought provoking series I have seen in along time. A+ (Must Watch)