Jan 24, 2018

[TV] Black Mirror: Season 4 Review

The announcement of a new season of Black Mirror has always been a cause for geeky celebration. But now that the show is being supported by Netflix, that celebration has gotten a lot bigger than the few obsessive geeks who swapped stories about this quirky show that no one had ever heard of.

There was a lot of fear about things getting watered down when Netflix got involved  with the show's third full season, but of course those fears were baseless and the result was some of the best Black Mirror that we had ever seen.

With that in mind there was a lot more excitement for the fourth season with the internet poised to devour even the smallest tidbit of news and naturally feasted on the "leak" of the episode titles last year.

We live in fortune times when the next season of the show is no longer something one just hopes to happen at random. With bigger backing we're here with a brand new season which a lot of us got to enjoy over the holidays.

Synopsis: Black Mirror is a British science fiction anthology series created by Charlie Brooker. Season 4 represents the second half of the 12-episode order made by Netflix when the rights to the program were picked up from Channel 4.

The sheer diversity of stories this time around is pretty quirky, although there has been an observation made about the prevalence of female protagonists in this season. "USS Callister" is a Star Trek style homage where the programmer of a virtual reality world has a personal playground where he gets to play captain. "Arkangel" explores how far parental control technology can go. "Crocodile" is a story of odd coincidences where everyone's memory can be subject to subpoena or legal seizure if the need may be.

"Hang the DJ" is all about whether or not algorithm-driven dating may actually be the future. "Metalhead" is a tense one about a woman trying to get away from tireless robotic guard dogs. And "Black  Museum" initially seems to be about a whole different range of technologies that focus on converting one's "essense" into a digital form with a thrilling twist of its own. Then again almost every Black Mirror involves pivots around a moment of surprise or shock, so that shouldn't be a serious problem at this point.

What I Liked: This season didn't quite hit the high notes of the third season (because damn it San Junipero) but it still delivers on the usual brand of just being on the fringes of our current technological limits to make it scary. Compared to past seasons this one feels a tad bit more hopeful with more characters "winning" versus every episode feeling like a chilling cautionary tale.

It's hard to pick favorites, but naturally I was drawn to "USS Callister" for its premise and aesthetic but really dove in because of the rather scary implications of the story. I honestly liked "Arkangel" as well given how it did what Black Mirror does best - take a curret technology or digital practice then blow it up to see what sticks and how it might develop over time. And naturally "Black Museum" felt like a bit of fan service and the sort of lighter yet still scary story telling that defined older shows like Amazing Stories.

What Could Have Been Better: As this is an anthology series, not every story will be to your liking and a lot of times that can boil down to opinion. Episodes like "Crocodile" and "Metalhead" had some interesting premises driving them but maybe way too much build-up and eventually not quite enough payoff to be truly satisfying. "Hang the DJ" is an honestly good piece but at times too close to "San Junipero" in terms of "feels" that one can't help to think they were trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice.

In general the season was pretty good but then it didn't quite stand out either as something being quite as amazing as prior seasons. Even it's best episodes didn't feel like they totally ranked up there with the best the show has to offer, and I concede this may just reflect having fairly high expectations after following the show for so long. Maybe I could benefit from waiting longer before watching a fifth season of episodes, should they decided to make one. Hard to say.

TL;DR: Black Mirror's fourth season is still pretty solid and represents some of the most innovative and thoughtful television out there. It continues to look forward to our future and what might be while making us consider who we are now. Thus the season gets a good 4 creepy robotic dogs out of a possible 5.

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