On 'Black Mirror' Season 4 and its cleverly-constructed shock value

December 31st 2017

Netflix is back with the fourth iteration of its mind and genre bending series, Black Mirror, with 6 more episodes, ready to fill a viewer’s head with both question marks and exclamation marks. The series returns with six short stories in which technology is almost always a nefarious catalyst, just in time to make you take a deep look at the gadgets you got as Christmas gifts, and wonder if they are trying to kill you.

‘U.S.S Callister’ starts the season and takes the show to new territory as it explores a plot with cosmic elements, as the male villain and main character, a Chief Technical Officer (Jesse Plemons) of a tech firm grows tired of being walked all over in real life, so in turn, creates a universe within his computer in which he is omnipotent and sovereign. This is quite the contrast to his real life, where he lacks any sort of charisma or confidence and is pushed around by his colleagues and subordinates. He makes self-aware, digital clones of his colleagues to do his bidding, boost his self-esteem and offer some escapism. An early fourth-wall break is here where Jesse references Netflix. It is a clever bit of irony and foreshadowing, as the same way Jesse has a micro-universe for his own amusement. We suddenly realize the episode, his life, his universe is a micro-universe for our amusement. The realization almost made me want to check if I was a clone of myself.

The clever, easy and to miss nuances like the Netflix reference are what define this season, they provide enough ambiguity and thought provocation to allow for plenty of conspiracy theories and speculation between you and your fellow viewers. The show has been noted for shrewdly addressing tricky social issues and this is continued in Season 4’s ‘Ark Angel,’ which serves as an exposition as to how fast children grow up and how being overprotective and excessively sheltering of children can turn into a morbid obsession, which can end up detrimental and tragic. We also see Season 4 touch on finding love in the digital age in ‘Hang the DJ,’ where characters sought to find love catalyzed by technology, which promises to find your perfect match. This explores how easy it is to end up caught in a tedious unfulfilling cycle of flings, which may have some people looking at their Tinder apps in disgust.

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There is plenty of homage to past episodes in Season 4m including footage from Season 3’s ‘Men Against Fire’ being shown on a TV in Season 4’s ‘Ark Angel,' or the eerily, constant reoccurring feature of Irma Thomas’ song ‘Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand),’ which has now featured Season 1’s ‘Fifteen Million Merits’, Season 3’s ‘Men Against Fire’ and ‘White Christmas,’ and now, Season 4’s ‘Crocodile.’ These things, coupled with elusive links such as the two main characters of both Crocodile and Metalhead eating the same sweets, are the threads that link the whole Black Mirror-verse together, as well as the foundation of speculation and the elaborate theories Black Mirror fans build trying to figure out what seemingly minute details represent or foreshadow.

The crown jewel of Season 4  is the intriguingly-titled ‘Black Museum’ which is an amazing story and has the trademark Black Mirror swerve. Towards the end of this episode, the always excruciating topic of race was explored, particularly how black death has become a spectacle in the social media age. Whenever you read a headline that an innocent black person has been killed, a hashtag will follow and not long after a video explicitly showing these gruesome moments surface on the internet. ‘Black Museum’ serves as an exposition to just how disgusting and dignity stripping this practice can be, it even calls to accountability people who gain some sort of sick kick from these images.

Season 3’s ‘Shut Up and Dance’ produced a plot twist that left many watchers questioning their own morality and sense of justice by pulling a plot twist that still has many watchers reeling. Season 4 could have used a couple more of those moments, episodes ‘Metalhead’ and ‘Crocodile’ seemed to be, for the best part a series, of rather unpleasant and anxiety inducing moments, with a particularly nasty incident at the end, which did, in a few ways, leave the viewer wanting more, or waiting for the trademark swerve or plot twist. ‘Metalhead’ didn’t evoke much emotion nor provide much backing context, but made for a good viewing as the episode which was shot in black and white had some excellent scenes and cinematography. The post-apocalyptic scene felt Mad Max-esque.

The dystopian motif was emphasized throughout the season, with only a couple episodes having even remotely happy endings.  Season 4 of Black Mirror, for the most part, traded in its original blueprint of cleverly constructed shock value and harrowing plot twists for a more intricate approach with gradual and tension building storytelling that requires you to pay close attention to your screen till the very moment the ‘next episode’ countdown in the bottom right corner of your screen reaches 0, fades to black and becomes a Black Mirror.  The deliberate and nimble storytelling of this season gives watchers a reason to binge on it a second time as there are hidden details and moments that will only be uncovered after a second watch.

by Eto Worchie on December 31st 2017

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