You may have missed it, but Black Mirror has moved from Channel Four to Netflix – and without a Bake Off channel-move style uproar. But there’s no uproar because the simple fact is they’ve remained brilliant. The bigger budget shows and is put to excellent use in some of the episodes, most notably in the CGI of “Men Against Fire.” Suffice to say, Channel Fours budget probably wouldn’t have stretched to some of the monumental scenes we see in this new series.
But, the new money from overseas hasn’t necessarily improved the show everywhere. Some of the most chilling episodes of Black Mirror are the ones in the most mundane scenarios. The couple who’ve just moved house, the man who thinks his wife is having an affair, and now the teenage boy in his bedroom. Even some of the big episodes of the previous two series had a way of making big events feel like they could personally affect you. “The National Anthem” may have focused on the Prime Minister and his doings with a pig, but the most interesting aspect of this episode was the insights into how individual members of the public react. And this is something that feels missing in the latest series. The bigger budget has allowed the producers to go beyond these mundane settings, but at a cost. Episodes like “Men Against Fire” don’t feel personal; an army barracks on the frontline of some war isn’t close to home for those of us watching the series. And more importantly they don’t feel plausible…yet.
I can’t really complain. I did watch all six episodes in one sitting. And I’d do it again. Charlie Brooker uncovers something about human nature you can’t deny.
The most poignant episodes are those that feel like they could actually happen. Only today I was reading an article about how middle aged men are using Siri and other bots to have conversations and combat their loneliness. This is just like “Be Right Back,” where the protagonist becomes obsessed with recreating her boyfriend through social media. But many of the episodes in the latest series don’t feel so close to home. “Playtest,” the weakest of the new series, feels completely ludicrous, and so any impact it might have is lost. The best episode of the new series, by far, is “Shut up and Dance” because it could actually happen. People are blackmailed over the internet and it does ruin lives. We all know how easy it is for the government to hack your webcam, the thought of someone filming you through it is unlikely, but not 100 miles away from reality. The thought makes you want to slam close your laptop. And this is where “Shut up and dance” gets its power from, it actually makes you want to change your habits.
The most talked about episode will probably be San Junipero, which weirdly is set in the past, a first for a Black Mirror episode. But unlike the other episodes, it looks both at the darkness and the light of the world, and chooses the light. A happy ending. It ignores the obvious horrors of the technology we might find in living forever. And so sacrifices any power the episode could have for some cheesy walk-off-into-the-sunset ending.
But to be honest, I can’t really complain. I did watch all six episodes in one sitting. And I’d do it again. The dark twists in each episode are heartbreaking and in some cases, physically sickening. And each one makes you want to stop watching, but you just cant turn away. Because a little part of you knows that Charlie Brooker has uncovered something about human nature that you’d never really thought about, but can’t deny. “Hated by the nation” sees the population voting on Twitter for who they want executed next. You want to think “no, we just wouldn’t do that.” But you only have to look at the death threats and the mocked up photos online, to know people would jump at the opportunity to vote to cull off their least favourite public figure. If loads of people do it, no responsibility right?
The acting is undoubtedly good, but it’s never been about the acting. It’s about the writing. And Brooker continues with his incredible work. But the Netflix budgets also seek to overshadow the writing. The producers need to remember it’s the ideas and not the scenery that counts with the show. But Black Mirror still has the intended effect. Once you turn off your computer, or your phone, you’re still confronted with your own face in that shiny black mirror. And you just want to look away.