The new season of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian anthology series Black Mirror has been inescapable on Twitter these past few days. Six new episodes arrived on October 21 with many fans watching them all and ranking them in order of preference afterwards. The show’s move from British network Channel 4 to Netflix was reflected in technological fables that felt bigger both in budget and scope, with episodes examining themes from the endorphin rush of a “Like,” to the damage a Twitter mob can cause.
Black Mirror has become infamous for its prescience thanks, in part, to dealing with the near future, and exaggerated situations involving the technology we already use. The stomach churning “what if?” scenarios were again present in the season and made for an uncomfortably tense watch. Here is a rundown of the moments from S3 that cut closest to the bone and spoke to its audience the loudest.
Warning: Contains spoilers for every episode of Black Mirror S3.
1. What if your likes meant everything?
“Nosedive” is set in a near-future where the Uber-style rating system is extended to every aspect of life. For example, you get a high rating when you hold a door for a stranger and a low one if you let it shut on them. The episode warns us of attaching meaning to our followers and feedback with lead character Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard) go into meltdown as she chases the perfect score. After a series of insane events she ends the episode in prison, happy that she is finally free from the fear of seeing her numbers drop. Expect “Nosedive” to harshen the high next time your Instagram likes are flowing in.
2. Are we constantly faking it?
In the pastel-colored world of "Nosedive" people use special contact lenses to see the ratings of others at all times. Think of it as somewhere between Terminator vision and a souped up Pokémon Go. With the use of augmented reality on the rise, Black Mirror asks what happens when the technology moves beyond trying to catch a Pikachu? In "Nosedive" AR is used as the barometer for a whole new class system based not on your background, but how convincing you are at being a good person.
3. Who are we without our memories?
"Playtest" is the second episode of the season and lands somewhere between a video game and Black Mirror’s take on a haunted house story. In it, backpacker Cooper is grieving the death of his father from Alzheimer's when he agrees to test some new VR technology for a games company. He unwittingly enters a violent otherworld in which his memory begins to fail him, cruelly mirroring his father’s illness. It’s a brutal story that riffs on traditional horror tropes (creepy apparitions, massive spiders) and also uses technology as a means of confronting us with the fears which lurk deepest within us.
4. What if love only existed in the afterlife?
Episode: “San Junipero”
Set in 1987, "San Junipero" is Black Mirror’s period piece. We’re introduced to the awkward Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) as she visits the idyllic seaside town of San Junipero for the first time. She meets Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) there and they fall in love while dancing to Belinda Carlisle hits. Yorkie returns to the town a week later but Kelly isn’t there. Here the story pulls wider and we learn that technology has advanced to the point where an artificial afterlife has been built that users are able to access briefly before they “pass over.” It’s a clever setup to explore what living forever might look like, and the moral quandaries it brings with it. Kelly and Yorkie can exist together in this synthetic town away from their own harsh realities in the real world but at what cost? "San Junipero" argues that it's possible to find heaven on earth and with it reveals that beneath Black Mirror's darkened edges lies a gooey heart.
5. How far would you go to protect your reputation?
Episode: “Shut Up and Dance”
From an episode which will probably never come true, to one that could easily be happening right now. "Shut Up and Dance" captures a nightmarish scenario that begins when a teenage boy is filmed masturbating in his bedroom through the camera on his laptop. The hackers get his phone number and begin texting him demands, saying that if he refuses then they will leak the footage. This is one of the most tense of the new episodes and just about earns its very dark twist. Its themes of online security and the dark side of the web feel all too real, especially in the wake of the recent DDOS attack which saw sites including Twitter and (ironically) Netflix inaccessible. Anyone who has stuck blu-tac over the camera lens on their computer will identify with it.
6. What if hashtags could kill?
Episode: “Hated In The Nation”
"Hated In The Nation" is the last episode in the season and its longest, clocking in at a feature length 90-minutes. Loosely informed by Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, we see a journalist at the center of a Twitter storm violently killed in her home. Evidence points to her husband, but one detective suspects that angry hordes of social media users might have played a role in her death. It turns out she’s right, with an army of drone bees programmed to kill targets of the #DeathTo hashtag. "Hated In The Nation" feels like a warning to those who dismiss what happens online as if it doesn’t have consequences IRL. It’s the story of vilified figures like Jonah Lehrer and Justine Sacco but with the volume turned way up — and Brooker nails the mob mentality behind it.
7. What is the true cost of dehumanizing others?
Episode: "Men Against Fire"
"Men Against Fire" dives into the psyche of soldiers and looks at the way in which they could trained to dehumanize the opposition. It’s only when the technology fails and we see that the “Roaches” are real people is the full horror revealed. Though the episode is among the less gripping of the season, its central idea of imposing an “other-ness” to arbitrary opposition chimes true across society right now. Dehumanizing others is central to the success of military operations and political campaigns worldwide. This feels like Black Mirror’s attempt at getting the message of humanity across in a time when basic decency can feel like a rare commodity.