I have very quickly become a huge fan of the original series that are being released by Netflix. Growing up on comics, I feel elated and enthusiastic about the organization’s treatment of the Marvel properties, including Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and my personal favorite, Daredevil. Those are far from the only great series Netflix has put out. Stranger Things is an 80’s-riffic wonder. Spectral is a great 90-minute action flick with a great payoff. Nothing available on Netflix is darker and more serious than Black Mirror.
Black Mirror is best defined as Twilight Zone for the digital native generation. The brain child of Charlie Brooker (Screenwipe, Dead Set), a satirist and broadcaster, and winner of the 2009 Columnist of the Year award and three British Comedy of the Year awards. Black Mirror began in 2011 on the BBC with a pilot episode more daring than anything in recent memory. In the debut episode of the series, the British Prime Minister Michael Callow (played fearlessly by Rory Kinnear) is thrown into an absolute no-win situation. He can either have sex with a pig live on the air, or stand by while Princess Susannah is executed in cold blood.
That episode sets the tone for the series. Each episode details an emerging technology and how humanity’s dependence on that technology ultimately becomes an enslavement or a downfall. The first two seasons of the show were aired on BBC, and covered a wide range of topics. These topics include powering broadcast networks through physical activity rewarded through a point system, an optic implant that records every memory ever witnessed, and even a simulacrum that replaces someone lost in a tragic death.
One of the strangest episodes was a Christmas special that featured two men isolated in a snowy outpost for years. Despite their isolation, they had hardly ever communicated. Episode leads Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and Rafe’ Spall (Prometheus) host a series of three technological tales that eventually lead to a dark and demented reveal that will have viewers talking around the water cooler for years to come.
In 2015, it was announced that Netflix would pick up the BBC series and begin new, original programming. The network ordered 12 episodes – a six-part season three to air in 2016 and a six-part follow up to air in 2017. The 3rd season dropped on October 21, 2016, moving the cast to north america, and continuing the bizarre, technology-driven vibe of Brooker’s original vision.
Netflix’s adoption of the series meant exposure to a new set of actors and actresses and the series dove right in. The first U.S.-based episode, “Nosedive”, featured Bryce Dallas Howard as a protagonist obsessed with a rating system that impacted not only her social interactions, but also her familial dialogue, every conversation driven by its impact on her status not only to friends but to strangers.
The third episode of season three was particularly striking, as it drove home the ideas of identity theft, extortion, and anonymous groups of hackers forcing unwitting victims into actions driven by desperation. This particular episode, titled “Shut Up and Dance” (after the hit single by Walk the Moon), follows an introverted teen named Kevin. His computer has been hacked and the hackers threaten to release the video of him masturbating if he doesn’t follow their instructions. These demands grow from mundane to life-threatening as the episode accelerates, leading to a finale’ that would make Brooker and his team proud.
The inhabitants of Shut Up and Dance are given an impossible ultimatum. It’s the kind of race-to-the-finish-only-to-lose dystopian premise that has been written for decades. While researching for an upcoming project, I caught a 2010 video that seemed to sum up this challenge perfectly. The band Metric encapsulated this never-ending set of challenges in its video for the single, “Gold Guns Girls”. The band repeatedly meets a series of digital instructions and every victory only spawns another challenge. This is very much the challenge of “Shut Up and Dance.”
Black Mirror is a study in technological addiction. Social media, gaming, online interactions for points or review systems…any of these are fair game to the cutting-edge programming launched by Brooker and his crew back in 2011.
The theme of Black Mirror is very much the core lyric to Metric’s most memorable single, and even more to the topic of our dependence on technology…”Is it ever gonna be enough?”