I don’t know how I managed to miss the memo, but I only realised there was a new season of Black Mirror coming perhaps two weeks before the new episodes of thrilling goodness premiered on Netflix. Like many no doubt, I’ve been hooked on Charlie Brooker‘s anthology series ever since he put Rory Kinnear‘s UK Prime Minister in a questionable situation with a pig back in 2011.
For fans, it’s been a long two year wait since the Black Mirror Christmas Special but thanks to its addition to the Netflix family, we were granted six glorious stories in one go, as opposed to the three-part seasons we’ve been fed so far. The only downside about the show being unveiled in this way is that if you’re like me, you binge watched the whole thing and now you’re feeling a bit lost, knowing that there’s possibly another two year wait ahead.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at this third season and it’s episodes ranked in order of how we’d ideally have viewed them the first time round; least favourite to most favourite.
Yes, there are spoilers ahead.
MEN AGAINST FIRE
Starring Malachi Kirby, who brought Kunta Kinte to life brilliantly in the recent remake of Roots, Madeline Brewer (Orange Is The New Black‘s beloved yet short-lived Tricia Miller) and our own Sarah Snook, the penultimate episode of the season is the most politically charged.
Fusing the harsh realities of modern warfare with the oftentimes terrifying technological advancements, the episode explores a landscape where soldiers are, via implants, made to perceive human beings as monsters (‘Roaches’), therefore making killing them an easier task.
As many Black Mirror episodes tend to roll out, the viewer is confronted with questions that can be applied to our current day society – something Men Against Fire definitely does. However as a way to approach the end of the season, this one falls slightly short even though the performances from the cast were strong to watch. It lacked the pace of Hated in the Nation, the huge impactful nature of show opener The National Anthem that the storyline deserved – Men Against Fire isn’t by any means bad, just the most unmemorable of the new crop.
An episode that utilises the dark humour trope Black Mirror has done so well in the past, the Dan Trachtenberg-directed Playtest explores a dangerous side of obsession with virtual reality, while playing in the horror pool to great effect. Wyatt Russell plays Cooper Redfield (cool Resident Evil hint there), your classic American backpacker bro who finds himself in London, broke and in need of money to return home, where his father is dying.
What results is Wyatt’s descent into mania as he enters an agreement with an ambitious video game creator who places him in an a VR environment where his fears and deepest issues are mined and manifested into obstacles meant to scare the player of the game. Russell is brilliant in this episode, particularly as Cooper begins to lose his grasp on what is real and what isn’t, but the scares remained very much textbook shock horror, where the real tension came in the build up and the indications that things would take a more sinister turn…turns that never were fully realised.
Nosedive opens the third season of Black Mirror and, along with Hated in the Nation, represents heightened elements of our current reality that remain scarily realistic. We meet Bryce Dallas Howard‘s Lacie in a pastel-coloured version of the future, where society is reliant on an app-based ranking scheme. Directed by Joe Wright with a teleplay by Rashida Jones and Michael Schur, Nosedive shows what happens when a seemingly perfect environment and in-control way of living is upended with the crash of one’s ‘rank’.
Howard’s Lacie is committed to remaining above the 4.5 star ranking (mainly so she can move into an upper class house), so when her oldest friend Naomi (Alice Eve) – a socialite type with a ranking of 4.8, invites her to be her Maid of Honour, it’s a win win. The more positive ranks Lacie gets from the guests at the wedding (all of the same 4.8 and above class), the quicker her own status rises.
Obviously, things don’t go to plan and we see Lacie fall rather quickly down the ladder, eventually landing herself in lock up, swearing her head off – joyfully – with another person locked up opposite.
It’s a great look at how dependent we already are on being perceived a certain way, whether or not we actually want to genuinely be liked or simply fit in with the other pastel pink-cardigan wearers.
I bet you’re going to be looking at your Uber driver differently next trip.
SHUT UP AND DANCE
This is one of those episodes where, once the twist is revealed, you find yourself looking at a lot of the earlier plot points a lot more clearly. It’s also a gem of an episode in that all the action is grounded in modern day Britain without the overuse of technology driving the story. Instead, the narrative is driven by the intense paranoia and desperation of the characters; as a viewer, you’re hooked on trying to figure these remarkably different indivduals out more than you are trying to suss out the environment they live in.
Both Jerome Flynn and Alex Lawther play excellently off each other as a cheating husband and shy teenager both caught up in a game of blackmail with an unseen group of computer hackers. You don’t know who’s in on what and if Flynn’s Hector is actually going to stick around and play getaway driver to Lawther’s Kenny’s bank robber.
The pacing of this episode is fantastic, while the twist and the ending had me in a state of disbelief before I began drawing comparisons to 2013 episode White Bear. The audience is made to sympathise with Kenny from the beginning of the episode; the hackers have recorded him masturbating to ‘pictures’ and of course, like any teenage boy living in a social media dominated age, the concept of the footage being leaked to everyone he knows would be mortifying. Though his tears as he tells Hector the story made me think he was overreacting slightly, you still felt sorry for the kid.
But as with White Bear, the twist leaves you feeling betrayed and thinking about the protagonist’s actions and entire make up until this end point. Masterful writing by Brooker and William Bridges, even if Shut Up and Dance does end up showing the viewer its full hand in a similar vein to White Bear, the reveal is no less shocking.
HATED IN THE NATION
The sixth and final episode of Black Mirror‘s third season sees A.I., the bee shortage, globally accessed data and the detrimental effects of social media all come into play as Kelly Macdonald‘s DCI Karin Parke and her team attempts to work their way what seems like your ‘normal’ procedural suicide/possible murder cases before realising something larger and more sinister is at work.
The episode is the longest of the six and definitely feels feature length. We see a journalist and a rapper die after having been targeted on social media via a #DeathTo hashtag as a result of some pretty low moves on their behalf.
What’s scary about the situation isn’t the threat of Big Brother watching or drones, it’s that we see this type of cyber-bullying happen all the time. What if there was an organisation out there killing, technically on your behalf, without you realising it? 250k retweets or uses of that particular hashtag and boom, that person is wiped out.
Just as soon as you think you have the plot figured out (killer bee drones with a mission that won’t quite? Classic), a new, horrific layer is stumbled upon and we’re left with our jaws on the floor.
Kids and keyboard warriors, think twice before you jump on Twitter or Instagram and tell a celebrity to kill themselves. In this version of reality, you could very well have a mark on your own back.
Which brings us to San Junipero. Who would’ve thought Black Mirror would be able to insert a sci-fi romance in amongst all the blood and chilling terror? Well, they went and did just that. It’s a clear departure from the show’s aesthetic but not a total one; there’s still a bittersweet sense of sadness surrounding the ideas of what does and doesn’t exist after death, and the struggles some people endure in moving on.
In all, San Junipero is a triumph for many reasons. The script is great for one; moving deftly between time zones with subtle visual and musical hints to guide the viewer, the focus remains on the relationship between Mackenzie Davis‘ Yorkie and Gugu Mbatha-Raw‘s Kelly as they weave in and out of each other’s lives once a week. Providing an environment for the two women to explore a relationship as their younger selves, San Junipero only exists for them for only five hours a week.
Their love story is one that becomes invested in quickly and that is thanks to the writing and acting of the two leads; Davis and Mbatha-Raw have a natural chemistry with one another and they’re both so damn likeable, you’re gunning for them to win.
Still, San Junipero comes with some pretty hefty emotional punches; we find out that in the real world, both Yorkie and Kelly are elderly women using the ‘San Junipero System’ as nostalgia therapy (a form of therapy used to help ease the effects of Alzheimer’s and the elderly); Kelly is dying from cancer but keeps outliving the prognoses, while Yorkie has been in a vegetative state since her 20’s. While Yorkie looks forward to permanently ‘passing through’ to San Junipero (effectively dying and being uploaded to the Cloud), Kelly remains emotionally attached to the memory of her deceased husband (who railed against the idea of San Junipero) and daughter, who died before the San Junipero technology existed.
Where Hated in the Nation was given the opportunity to take its time in fleshing out its narrative, I felt like San Junipero could have benefited from the extra half hour screen time also. After the shit year lesbian characters have had onscreen (still not over the fate of Poussey on Orange is the New Black), it was refreshing to see a same-sex couple (not to mention an interracial one) gain the win here – even if it was technically, in the afterlife.
Admit it, you still have Belinda Carlisle‘s “Heaven is a Place on Earth” in your head.
Black Mirror Season 3 is available on Netflix now.