Black Mirror has become one of those TV series. You know the ones, they’re the shows that people will say they’re bored about being told how fantastic they are and how by watching them, they’ll change everything you thought you knew about everything. Much like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and Mrs Brown’s Boys. But there’s a good reason why people feel the need to incessantly chew your ears off about how great Black Mirror is – because it truly is.
Charlie Brooker’s third series of his darkly dystopian sci-fi anthology series – a Twilight Zone for millennials, as you’ve probably heard it being described as a million times before – is finally here and we’re ready to be told how terrible everything will be in the future once again. Following from our review of episodes 1-3, here’s our look at the second half of series three with episodes 4-6. And yes, there will be spoilers – not only for the episodes, but also for the black hole of awfulness where all humanity is likely heading towards. Enjoy!
Episode Four: San Junipero
There’s a moment at the end of San Junipero, when you will cry. Honestly, you will be blubbing like the emotional wreck that you know you secretly are. Why? Because San Junipero is probably Charlie Brooker’s finest piece of gut-wrenching, heart-filled writing that he’s ever done.
Set in the 1980s (or is it?) two women (or are they?) fall in love (or do they?), but of course this is Black Mirror and nothing is as simple as all of that (or is it? No, it really isn’t). But for all the obvious trickery of the plot which makes you second guess everything, this turns out to be secondary to what is a supremely touching and beautiful love story. Played out gracefully by its two leads (Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis), their affair is a wonderfully real thing in an unreal world. Hell, it even launches into something that would be considered crowd-pleasing rom-com territory at times, but that’s just dandy because Brooker has expertly crafted something that has the power to kick you right in the feels. In a good way.
As well as the emotional one-twos that San Junipero likes to plant on your poor little face, there’s a hint of unexpected optimism too. Sure, you can still feel the cynical drum of the ghost of things to come ominously beating down on you, but there’s a playful ambiguity on offer here. Is the technology prophesied in the episode actually all that bad? Maybe not. Maybe the future isn’t the bad guy here, so why don’t you get another virtual cocktail from the digital bar and dance your way through the rest of eternity.
Episode Five: Men Against Fire
Although the episodes of series three can be watched in any order, it does feel like Men Against Fire is a well-matched palate cleanser after the sweet-natured San Junipero. Because now we have an episode that is as cynical and as dark as anything that has come before in Black Mirror. Which is really saying something.
Men Against Fire is basically Brooker’s Starship Troopers. Which is great because Starship Troopers is one of the best politicized sci-fi films ever made, that was deceptively dressed up in dumb Hollywood action-movie clothes. In the episode, the human race is battling against grotesque human abominations, known only as ‘roaches’. As we follow one soldier whilst he and his unit bloodily plow through the enemy in a foreign country, things are not as they seem. It’s Black Mirror. Of course they’re not as they seem. They never are.
At its core, Men Against Fire is all about the dehumanizing nature of war, but more than that it’s a political comment on government propaganda and media vilification. The ‘roaches’ are demonized in the eyes of the soldiers, as they’re made to appear like monsters through technological corruption of each soldier’s minds. The really scary part though, and the real kicker in the tale, is that they all gamely signed up for such a vile task beforehand.
So whereas the evil state conspiracy to corrupt our minds would make it much palatable for us to swallow, the very idea that we could willingly allow it to happen is what hits home the hardest. We’re all partly to blame for this bleak future on offer here. The soldiers represent us, and we have to make a choice like they do – will we live with our awful choices, or will we blank it all out and carry on as if nothing happened? As crushed as your soul might be at the end of it all, you just won’t be able to stop thinking about this powerful episode for days and days after watching it.
Episode Six: Hated in the Nation
Finally, series three winds up with the longest episode in the run (90 minutes, in case you’re wondering). Hated in the Nation effectively plays out as some kind of bizarre offspring of a feature-length ITV detective drama and the Michael Caine bee-movie horror, The Swarm. In it, a pair of detectives investigate a growing spate of suspicious deaths of online hate figures whom, after being kicked around on social media, die in quite horrible and painful ways. It seems that the hate campaigns being orchestrated online are somehow responsible for their demises. Well, this and artificial bees of course.
Hated in the Nation is all about Twitterstorms and how the “hive mind”of the Internet can sometimes revel in their public shaming of people, so much that they ultimately forget how their anonymous slandering can have disastrous consequences. The episode has all the fun of a gripping thriller and although it can feel a tad clunky at times, it has the decency to catch all the right notes with enough twisty-turns and schlocky bits of horror to keep you engaged throughout.
Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting, Boardwalk Empire) nails the lead role of the typically gruff detective, who has a hatred and overly cynical eye towards anything vaguely futuristic. She also gets to deliver the best line of the whole series, the one that arguably sums up all of Black Mirror in one simple sentence: “I didn’t expect to find myself living in the future, but here I f*****g well am.”
We’ll continue living in the future and hating it then. But if it means we’ll get another series of Black Mirror, then that’s just fine by us.