Netflix’s original series “Black Mirror” ended 2017 with a fourth season that carried on its reputation for thought-provoking television.
Each episode is standalone—but avid fans can spot easter eggs that show they might inhabit the same or maybe parallel universes, and all six episodes are well done.
The season opens with “USS Callister,” a parody of “Star Trek” turned dark. The underdog nerd who created a virtual reality game and had the glory and money taken from him by his partner at first poses as our hero. However, he has a secret: he traps virtual versions of people he dislikes or is interested in within the game by sampling their DNA. His prisoners, forced to submit to his tortures, have plans to get out. They have to get around a captor who, in this universe, is basically god. “USS Callister” has been praised for destroying the trope of the ill-treated nerd boy who lashes out because he feels the world is against him. It’s satisfying precisely because he doesn’t win.
Hover-parenting and its dangers are explored in “Arkangel,” in which a mother, upon panicking when her three-year-old daughter Sara gets lost, allows her to be part of a trial run of a technology called Arkangel. Arkangel allows her to locate her daughter at all times, sense her vitals, see through her eyes and filter out anything that makes her heart rate rise. In the beginning, the technology is useful. But when Sara grows up, loses her virginity and experiments with drugs, her mother’s illicit use of the device breaks their trust irreparably.
“Crocodile” got people talking. It is the episode your friends warn you about: you’ll definitely not be okay after watching it. Although “Crocodile” follows a woman’s dark descent into murder after murder, it falls short of the twist that sells most “Black Mirror” episodes. We don’t get smacked in the face; we just watch the story get darker and darker. “Crocodile” is a solid episode, but it shouldn’t be hailed as the best of the season.
And, of course, because there’s always one or two uplifting episodes per season, we get “Hang the DJ.” In the episode, we get online dating as we’ve never seen it before, a strict regime of dates run by computers which, through trial and error, promise to find the perfect match with a 99.8% success rate.
Reviews of the black-and-white “Metalhead” are polarized. One thing is for certain: it’s the most heartbreaking episode. We follow one woman who’s being chased by a computerized dog that only has the mission to kill. It has the most well-crafted ending when it’s revealed why she’s on the run.
“Black Museum” closes Season 4. The most socially relevant, it follows a young woman on a tour of a roadside museum with relics of trapped consciousnesses: a woman in a stuffed monkey, an apparatus for sharing feelings that caused an ER doctor to go mad and a man whose death in the electric chair keeps replaying. She’s more than a sightseer though; she’s out for revenge.
“Black Mirror” is “The Twilight Zone” of the new millennium. It’s cynical where Rod Serling was hopeful, and it is horribly, horribly relevant. “Black Mirror” doesn’t skimp on good writing and, in this way, it continues to delight and disturb.
This article first appeared in the Friday, January 19, 2018, Edition of The Echo.