Netflix’s Black Mirror: Episode Motif Data Viz
“Science fiction is about using speculative scenarios as a lens to examine the human condition” — Ted Chang
The show Black Mirror has captivated millions of people with its dark take on technology’s societal impact. It explores emerging technologies and the potential dystopian scenarios they could create, with glimmers of optimism scattered throughout the seasons. As a long time fan, Season 3 was Black Mirror in its top form; an absolute peak in terms of creativity and originality. The episode San Junipero is some of the best television I’ve seen to this day. However, as I started watching Season 4 my excitement was subdued as I started noticing something disappointing- repetition. The “new” episodes were revisiting many prior motifs explored in prior seasons:
*spoiler alert ahead
- In Arkangel, the child’s vision auto-blocks violence without consent, which is identical to White Christmas, where people can be auto-blocked visually from others’ field of vision as punishment.
- The tech premise of Crocodile was using memory recording to recreate a past incident, very similar to Season 1’s The Entire History of You.
- Black Museum was similar to the special White Christmas as they both consisted of multiple narratives, and explored punishment through consciousness uploading/extraction as well.
I wondered how many other repetitions existed in prior episodes, so I started mapping out motifs along what I think are the 2 main dimensions to not just Black Mirror, but all of Science Fiction narratives:
- Technology- exploring the possibilities enabled by the latest and future technologies (ex: AI, virtual reality, drones, etc)
- Human Condition -how those technologies could impact individuals and society. (ex: fear, love, death, etc)
Here’s my subjective motif analysis of Seasons 1–4
The top 3 technologies explored throughout all four seasons were Neural Implants, Social Media, and Consciousness Uploading, while the top 3 human conditions were Crime & Punishment, Love & Relationships, and Memory.
I wasn’t surprised by the dominant use of Neural Implants as recent developments by Facebook and Elon Musk’s Neuralink have stirred up public excitement (check out my ultimate guide to Brain-Computer Interfaces.) The prevalence of Social Media is expected as its frequency is reflective of our society’s use. I was however surprised that Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality were barely explored given their the explosive growth in recent years.
As love is the pinnacle of human existence, it’s dominance is to be expected. Classicism aside, the lack of plots around Privacy are surprising granted its increasing endangerment in today’s world.
Perhaps more interesting than mapping prior plot motifs is the potential to create new plot possibilities. By picking one or more items from Technology and combining them with Human Condition, new possibilities arise:
Feel free to share any interesting combinations in the comments below.
Here are some other technologies I’d love to see explored in future episodes:
- Quantum Computers and its effects on cryptography
- Deepfake Video and criminal implications
- Cryptocurrencies and mass financial disruption
- Universal Basic Income and societal’s creative boost
- General Artificial Intelligence and anything
PS: Check out my drone privacy concept inspired by the show.