Black Mirror, but not as black as it used to be

Estimated reading time: 8 minute(s)

A few months ago I briefly discussed with a colleague the changes brought about in Black Mirror during the transition some years ago from Channel 4 to Netflix. I argued that, while some episodes lived up to the quality of the Channel 4-produced seasons and to the expectations of the fans (San Junipero, for instance), a general mutation of the series created by Charlie Brooker could be generally noticed. He was instead happy with Netflix since the change meant more money for production and all that a higher budget involves – that was a step-up for Black Mirror, in his opinion. Although I was not totally convinced, it seemed a sensible opinion (expressed by a person who would have been a perfect fit for a Black Mirror episode, by the way). Now, having just watched the fifth season, I beg to differ again.

Let us consider Striking Vipers. One can see from the beginning where the story leads: a bored husband, Danny, meets his old best friend, Karl, who is still dating young girls, living in the city and acting cool and young, and gets from him a VR fighting videogame. After the first fight, they end up having a sort of hyperrealistic VR affair and daily virtual sexual intercourses, setting the conditions for a crisis in Danny’s marriage. Utterly predictable, and the final compromise is not really the dramatic plot twist one could expect. Everything perfectly linear – too linear.

I could not, instead, foresee the conclusion of Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too, but, on the other side, at one point I got the sense I was watching a good-quality Disney movie (and not just for Miley Cyrus interpreting the main character, a young pop star) with its inevitable happy ending. What’s the underlying criticism of today’s technology? Brain modelling and emulation are interesting topics to touch upon issues such as mind and identity, while all we got here is an adventure with a tiny robot and two young girls against a reckless music agent (who happens also to be the pop star’s aunt) – perfect plot for a Disney movie, indeed.

Twitter or Twitter-like social media already appeared in previous episodes (The National Anthem and Hated in the Nation). In Smithereens, though, no particular type message is transmitted via social media, be it a message of love, hate, disdain or whatever. No, we just have a social media addict who caused a deadly car accident because he was distracted by a notification on his smartphone, and a CEO who just blethers and apologises over his company’s attempt to make Twitter-like social network Smithereens as much addictive as possible – it is too easy and naive for him to say he lost control of his creation. Yes, the episode shows and reveals how penetrant social media can be, and how easy it is for social network’s corporations to get to know about our life, our past, our character. Still, though, this translates into an oversimplistic episode.

If you watch this season, you do not waste your time. Plots are overall interesting and you want to get until the end of each story. The point is that Black Mirror lost its depth, and that is a big regret for a fan.

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