When it comes to Black Mirror, you either love its dystopian, technologically-doomed worlds, or you hate them. However, of all the themes present in season four, the one that branches further than just “the robots are taking over the world” is how human emotions interact explicitly with technology. The six part series covers a multitude of themes, but three episodes especially piqued my human heart.
‘U.S.S Callister’ follows Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons), the socially awkward and reclusive creator of a successful VR game. He dislikes his coworkers for not recognising his true genius – so much so that he traps virtual clones of them in his game, forcing them to act out Star Trek-style space missions. Picture retro outfits and cheesy dialogue – topped off with Daly’s sadistic puppeteering. The scariest lesson from ‘USS Callister’ is that even though technology can physically harm people, it’s human nature itself which ultimately underpins the horrific scenarios we see in the show. It’s all a bit grim, to say the least.
These human stories continue in ‘Hang the DJ’. Riding on the romantic wave of season three’s ‘San Junipero’, ‘Hang The DJ’ follows Frank (Joe Cole) and Amy (Georgina Campbell), who fall in love even though society’s matchmaking service (ominously named “The System”) ultimately deemed them incompatible. Our protagonists don’t like this: they know they’re destined to be together – so they rebel and try to escape. Spoiler: they succeed. Hang the DJ’s message is that technology can never really beat human instinct and emotion no matter how oppressive it may seem initially. Did somebody say “Aww”?
The final episode of the series is ‘Black Museum’; a long-winded execution of the classic plotline of good triumphing over evil. We meet Nish (Letitia Wright), a young woman who seemingly stumbles upon the Black Museum in America’s desert. The museum’s proprietor, the enigmatic Rolo Haynes (played brilliantly by Douglas Hodge), guides Nish through his macabre exhibits. We soon realise that he’s the antagonist of the episode – a human experimentalist who uses his patients and their technology-based tragedies to make a quick buck at his roadside show. Just at the moment that we begin to realise how sadistic Haynes is, Nish exacts her own hidden plan and he ultimately gets his comeuppance. It’s nice to see a Black Mirror episode where the good guy (or girl) really does win.
There are, as ever, numerous deeper themes explored throughout the series, however, one clear and overarching one is that technology’s downfalls ultimately stem from human faults, and, as a result, humans are the only ones who can overcome them. Season four is still as dystopian, still as exaggerated, and still as scary as previous seasons – but it’s nice to see a more human side to these stories too.
All seasons of Black Mirror are currently available to stream on Netflix.