Through a Screen, Darkly (Series Review: “Black Mirror”)

Black Mirror immerses the viewer in a ghastly (yet darkly comic) dystopia in which the staples of modern technology wield dire and unintended consequences. Put down your devices and pay attention.

SnapShot Plot

The much anticipated Season 3 of the immensely watchable anthology series from the UK, Black Mirror will debut today on Netflix. And fear not, even if you haven’t yet discovered the show, you can just pop in anywhere, as each episode is an autonomous, stand-alone story with its own unique cast of actors. In this way, Black Mirror hearkens back to Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Outer Limits, but mostly to The Twilight Zone. In fact, the creator of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker has oft cited the groundbreaking Rod Serling series as a real inspiration for the show, especially in light of the technological bend to many of The Twilight Zone plots.

The central theme at the core of each Black Mirror episode revolves around some aspect of technology, whether it be an app on a tablet or smartphone, a social media platform, or any number of modern communications devices. And its the exaggeration or distortion of the technology, as well as the often sinister impulses behind it, which place reality as we know it within the boundaries of nightmare.

Case in point: the pilot episode of Season 1 of Black Mirror. Early one morning the British Prime Minister and his wife are awakened with the disturbing news that the country’s beloved Princess (a Diana type figure) has been brutally taken hostage by a lunatic who forces her to read his ransom note live on social media. The ransom, however, does not involve money, weapons, fanatical ideology or the like. No, this is more on the level of a public hanging or crucifixion. The kidnapper will execute the Princess in a matter of hours unless the Prime Minister engages in an act of public humiliation so vile that to share it here would be a shameful spoiler. Oh, and the act itself is to be broadcast live on national television. So what first emerges as some kind of preposterous and comic hoax, quickly and tragically turns into a degrading and utter nightmare. There’s never been a series pilot quite like it, to be sure. Welcome to Black Mirror.



Parting Shot

Black Mirror is the kind of series that, by the quality of its storytelling and its sincere and fundamental approach/avoidance fascination with technology, has invited the best and brightest talent to its shores. Actors and directors who include the likes of Rafe Spall, Jon Hamm, Rory Kinnear, Joe Wright, Kelly Macdonald, Rashida Jones and Bryce Dallas Howard are only a handful.

It is also the kind of series that invites both positive and negative speculation on the present and soon-to-be world around us, tickling our fancy the way a creepy fun house evokes squeals of laughter while at the same time we’re frantically looking for the door.

YouTube Trailer Courtesy of:

For a fascinating interview with Black Mirror’s creator, Charlie Brooker, on yesterday’s Fresh Air (on NPR) which strangely enough included references to Donald Trump and the state of politics today, I encourage you to check it out:

Black Mirror is presently streaming on Netflix.

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