Black Mirror, Season 3 — dystopia of today

Mackenzie Davis in ‘San Junipero’

Black Mirror has returned for a third season, bringing with it its tales of a world not so different from our own. This anthology series is a modern day Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, albeit with a particular focus on how modern (or near-future) technology changes human lives.

These are poignant tales for our time. After all, we are surrounded my more technology than ever before, bombarded by new apps and gadgets on almost a daily basis. Our technological world has grown to such an extent that it equals, and in some cases supersedes, the physical world in people’s lives. And, with the doubling of computer processing speed every 18 months, in what is known as Moore’s Law, this is only going to increase.

Technology is here to stay. But should we be afraid of its impact on our lives? If Charlie Brooker’s dystopian series is anything to go by, then the answer is ‘Yes’. We should be afraid, very afraid.

This season was the first to be commissioned by streaming giant Netflix. The show gained a strong cult following in America after its first two seasons were added to the on-demand service. The move has brought with it noticeably increased budgets, an all-star cast and an array of talented directors, from Atonement’s Joe Wright to 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Dan Trachtenberg and others.

The season starts with Nosedive, depicting a world obsessed by social media status where people rate each other out of five stars for every interaction. In this world your rating is your capital, it can determine where you live, where you go and even what car you drive. This episode is the most talent-filled: directed by Wright, its screenplay penned by Parks and Recreation’s Mike Schur and Rashida Jones, and starring the excellent Bryce Dallas Howard as Lacey — a young woman who needs to elevate her rating from a 4.2 to a 4.5 in order to secure a discount on a new apartment. What could possibly go wrong?

Next is Playtest, as an American (Wyatt Russell), who has been travelling the world in order to escape the grief for his father, volunteers for an experimental augmented-reality game with the promise of a big pay cheque with which he can buy a ticket home. But this game, with the aid of a “mushroom” implant, pits his own subconscious against him, projecting horrifying images and sounds from his own mind onto his surroundings in order to scare him. Its kind of like Schizophrenia: the video game. How charming.

The third episode, Shut Up and Dance, is the most tense offering of the season as shy 19-year-old Kenny (Alex Lawther) is recorded by his webcam doing something rather embarrassing (wonder how many people covered their webcams with Blu-Tac after watching this episode!) After being blackmailed by the people who recorded him, he is forced into an uneasy alliance with Hector (Jerome Flynn) to do a number of seemingly random tasks.

San Junipero is the most different of Black Mirror episodes to date (I actually had to check I was still watching the show after a few minutes, as I thought it had jumped onto another). It is its most optimistic and romantic episode, and perhaps its most moving. It starts in 1987 when a shy young woman Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) visits San Junipero for the first time. She enters a club filled with eighties 8-bit arcade games and bright neon lights and meets Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a loud fun-loving girl who is attempting ditch an old fling. The two are drawn to each other and a romance begins. It is really hard to go too much into detail about this episode without massive spoilers, but it is Black Mirror at its most beautiful and most touching.

The penultimate episode, Men Against Fire, tells the story of soldiers in a futuristic world who must protect frightened villagers from an infestation of monstrous mutant ‘roaches’. But after a routine raid, in which an electronic weapon is used by a roach, Stripe’s (Malachi Kirby) Mass chip is damaged and he begins to see a world that is very different to the one he had believed was true. With the hysteria around immigrants and refugees following the Brexit vote and the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump, this episode is particularly poignant.

The last episode, Hated in the Nation, is all about online trolls as a police detective (Kelly McDonald) and her tech-savvy shadow (Faye Marsay) investigate the mysterious murders of two celebrities who had been tweeted about alongside the hashtag #Deathto. But could a technology created to help the environment be to blame? McDonald and Marsay form a natural partnership that makes you think they could easily spin off this episode into a futuristic procedural police show.

This series, with its larger budgets and the increase in episodes from three to six, has brought with it a greater degree of expectation. But in this regard Brooker and co have delivered with arguably Black Mirror’s best season to date. Each episode has a different tone and genre, and the pure scale of it is just incredible. It is science fiction at its very best, when it tells stories not about some distant future far removed from ourselves, but about now. It leaves you excited for season four and hating Charlie Brooker just a little bit (or is that just me? Why is he so good at everything?)

The only downside to this series is that to date it has been so damn prophetic. Black Mirror’s season one opener The National Anthem predicted Pig-Gate and David Cameron’s alleged antics with a dead pig’s head. Season two’s Be Right Back is not so different from Bina84, a social robot that can interact based on the information and memories of a dead person. And Samsung recently patented a live-stream contact lens which takes a picture when a wearer blinks — which, doubled with silicone chips that are being designed to mimic our memory recall process, sounds a lot like The Entire History of You.

Perhaps Charlie Brooker should be burned as a witch (the ultra talented bastard!)

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