Black Mirror is a part of the Netflix Originals alongside such epic shows as Orange is the New Black, The Mist, and Stranger Things, and the dystopian horror and science fiction drama can definitely hold its own. There are currently five seasons and one standalone choose-your-own-adventure episode titled Bandersnatch. Now, there is definitely a lot to be said about Bandersnatch, and it is a whole thing on its own which we will touch on in the end, but the main part of this article will be focused on the series itself.
It kicks off with an epic first episode in S1:E1 titled The National Anthem, in which Princess Susannah, a prominent and much beloved figure of the Royal Family, is kidnapped. The kidnapper demands that in exchange for her release, the British Prime Minister must do something he thought he would never do. The demands are released on YouTube and soon everyone in the country has seen it, putting a great deal of pressure on the Prime Minister. The public soon becomes fixated on this task and the Prime Minister becomes a character of fiction rather than a real person. There is a suggestion that technology robs you of your morals without you even realising it.
The demoralising modern technology
And that is essentially the message at the core of Black Mirror. Technology is omnipresent. Most of us have a personal robot assistant such as Google Home Hub, Alexa, or Siri and Cortana. We have these assistants hooked up to our smart TV’s, our cars, our homes, and connected to all our streaming services and music providers. We pretty much all have a smartphone, which can be used for literally everything from checking weather apps, to sending messages on a variety of platforms; watching our favourite series to getting involved and joining a community by asking questions, chatting to other viewers on Twitch, and even playing against other people from all around the world. However, this technology and the dark sides of a technologically advanced society is at the forefront of the extremely popular dystopian series Black Mirror. Right from episode one it continues to put technology and the disadvantages it causes out there for everyone to see.
The seasons are short (there are only 22 episodes all together), but the episodes are long, ranging from 55 minutes to more than an hour. Each episode is meant as a standalone piece that tackles subjects such as our debilitating desire to garner likes on social media and how it can destroy a person’s self-esteem, our need to control ourselves and the people and situations around us, and ultimately, the vast darkness within our technological advances. If it sounds dark and disturbing it is because it is.
The episodes are cleverly manufactured so that you don’t get attached to the characters because the characters are not actually the important thing. The main character of each episode, and of the series as a whole, is technology itself and social media is often at the core of this. Just like it is often a main theme in other horror movies such as Hacked (2013) or Unfriended (2014), which also tackles the dark effects of living a public life on social media.
Original and disturbing
Black Mirror has been called a lot of things including disturbing, yet fascinating and that is a very accurate description of the series. The situations and predicaments the characters face are familiar, yet very unfamiliar as they are pushed to the edge and somewhat warped. There is a lot of virtual reality stuff, which is generally done really well, such as in the episode USS Callister (S4:E1) about a disgruntled tech employee who acts out his fantasy world in a self-built virtual reality scenario including all of his co-workers.
The episodes are well made and most of them have great scripts, but the fifth season has gotten some less than spectacular criticism and so has the standalone episode Bandersnatch, which showed great potential when first presented, but never really lived up to the rest of the series. Bandersnatch is the story of a young and promising programmer who manages to constantly screw things up for himself – or rather it is you screwing it up for him. The episode is interactive which means you get to choose where the main character goes and what choices he makes. If you make the wrong choices early on that means that you just won’t get to go very far. Take the right turns and you might make it a fair way, but it seems to be hard to make choices that will produce a satisfactory outcome.
All in all, Black Mirror is a brilliant series that takes a long, hard and very dark look at how we use our modern technologies – it comes highly recommended.