Spanning two critically acclaimed series, and a total of seven episodes, the Black Mirror universe up to this point has explored a diverse variety of themes ranging from the growing obsession with reality TV and the effects of relationships on the human psyche to political blackmail and finding suitable punishments for those who commit unspeakable crimes. The third series, purchased from Channel 4 by Netflix and consisting of 6 episodes has been hyped across media platforms leading to high expectations. This review discusses whether the next installment of Charlie Brooker’s darkly satirical hit it has really been worth the wait.
Black Mirror Episode 1
Credit: David Dettmann/Netflix
Episode 1 – Nosedive

The series opens with a powerful and thought provoking episode in the form of ‘Nosedive,’ a study of the way in which social media has consumed us, and how humanity desperately seeks approval and validation in the form of likes, followers and retweets. Bryce Dallas-Howard offers a striking performance as Lacie Pound, a 4.2 whose goal is to enter the realm of the ‘prime influencers’ and ‘high quality’ 4.5’s and above, and to gain access to the perks that only a high social rating can bring. When Lacie’s plans of achieving a perfect rating and life begin to spiral out of control, we see how the way others perceive us can have a devastating effect on our well-being and state of mind, and experience the frightening reality of how we measure our own worth.

Episode 2 – Playtest

One of Black Mirror’s most frightening episodes, ‘Playtest’ covers the themes of the modern gaming industry, the psychological effects of relationships and what happens when our deepest and darkest fears become realized. While focusing at face value on several horror movie tropes such as being isolated in eerie locations, becoming unable to trust in what you see and hear, and feeling as if you are trapped within your nightmares, at a deeper and more unnerving level, this episode leaves the viewer holding their breath and feeling genuinely terrified, not by things that go bump in the night, but by the private emotional horrors that disturb us on a daily basis.

Episode 3 – Shut Up And Dance

On a tie with ‘Playtest’ for the most harrowing episode to date, ‘Shut Up And Dance’ makes the viewer feel as exposed and vulnerable as Kenny (Alex Lawther), an awkward teen attempting to navigate the perils of puberty until an anonymous internet justice group finds its prey when Kenny performs a seemingly private act. Lawther provides the most commendable performance of the series which pulls the audience with baited breath along with him through each mysterious task he is forced to perform, and refuses to let go when they think they may finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief. ‘Shut Up And Dance’ may be the episode which hits closest to home, as in an era where we willingly broadcast our lives, what happens when another chooses what the world will see?

Episode 4 – San Junipero

Easily the series most heart-wrenching episode, ‘San Junipero’ offers a poignant exploration of the passage of time, of our beliefs in what happens beyond life and most significantly of all, the joys and the perils of being in love. The story of two women, Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) an extrovert party girl and Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) a reserved ingénue, crosses both time and the social restrictions often placed upon love, but demonstrates the ways in which a true meeting of minds and souls can withstand even the most impossible of circumstances, and how ever evolving technology has affected one of the most powerful aspects of what it means to be human. Beautifully visualized in a kaleidoscope of colours and superbly acted, this episode stands out as one of Black Mirror’s finest and makes us question if there can ever be a happy ever after.

Episode 5 – Men Against Fire

Arguably the slowest and least visually exciting episode, ‘Men Against Fire’ takes a while to find its footing in its examination of increasing militarization, a ‘shoot now, ask questions later’ mentality and the Us Vs Them divide that war brings upon humanity. While it is not until later in the episode where the mentalities of viewers are forced to change, these moments of creeping realisation provide one of the most effective and sickening feelings across the series and delivers a distressing reminder of the events occurring in our own world with the treatment of refugees and those on the peripheries of society. ‘Men Against Fire’ may not pack the same visual punch as ‘Playtest’ or sense of impending danger as ‘Nosedive’, but the result leaves a mental imprint that may outstay the others.

Episode 6 – Hated In The Nation

Closing series 3, ‘Hated In The Nation’ further examines the social fears of surveillance and the remote control of our lives first explored in ‘Shut Up And Dance,’ and presents a tense and gripping drama that poses the suggestion that what we do online can have dangerous consequences in reality. This theme is examined in a manner reminiscent of Hitchcock through both the visual swarms of ADI’s or Automated Drone Insects seen throughout, and the figurative ‘swarm’ of death threats and abuse present on social media on a daily basis. The decision to end the series on a longer and more slow building story-line provides an eerily familiar sense of fear over the power we possess when we are hidden behind our screens, and provides an ending that heeds the warning to consider our actions online before violent words become violent acts.

In short, with many highly emotive and unnervingly believable performances and several episodes that will leave the viewer needing time to reflect, Black Mirror series 3 shows the very worst of us as humans, examining our need for attention, our cravings for violence and our susceptibility to allowing technology to change our lives and personalities.
However, episodes such as ‘San Junipero’ and ‘Men Against Fire’ provide a glimmer of light in the dark, perhaps humanity is best defined by its resilience and its ability to want to do better next time. Series 3 is moving, innovative and may shock you into making change happen, if only because Black Mirror does not show us the future, but merely reflects our own.

By Sophie Chadwick

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