First ever television review, and it’s not even a review, but I need an excuse to talk about Black Mirror. For those of you who follow gamobo (bless your kind heart; you’re a special kind of awesome) for books or movies, please do yourself an enormous favour and go watch Black Mirror. But you MUST go into it blind, without looking up what it’s about. Also, try to balance it out; one episode a day is good. Black Mirror is literally a case where too much of something good can be bad for you.
Unlike most regular TV shows each episode of Black Mirror is independent of one another; that means no waiting for next season to find out what happens next. Each viewing has its own story, cast of characters, and even a different director! (though the producers do enjoy using cross-over easter eggs)
There are many places where you can read about the critical and public acclaim for the series, but for this blog we’ll be talking about the three best episodes of Black Mirror in the humble opinion of this one webpage. There will be spoilers, so please do not read if you haven’t seen the show. I mean it!
3. The Entire History of You
Black Mirror as an instigator. It’s the girl who joins the picket lines with the ALL-CAPS sign marching silently towards the police blockade. The core identity of this television series is that it’s a commentary concerning the dangers of hyper-dependence on technology, both in practical and emotional terms. The episodes I consider the best are the ones that testify equally on the frailty of both technology and the human heart, which is why the show is without equal. No matter the premise, these stories are all still concerned primarily with humanity.
“The Entire History of You” is about a relationship, and admittedly less ambitious than most of the other episodes. In this story-world, there is a memory storage device implanted just underneath your ear. It records everything you see through implanted contact lenses. The gist of the episode is that a husband deduces that his wife had cheated on him during a spat, after much denying from the guilty party. The episode considers the psychological dangers (most notably obsession and paranoia) of having your memory available to you with pinpoint accuracy and on a whim.
While that is an interesting angle in of itself, the episode instead chooses to focus on the characters and their relationships, which is the most effective way of getting any message across. Show, don’t tell, right? We follow Liam as he investigates old memories, digging up the ugly past and waving it in front of his wife’s face, and we begin to have our own doubts. Maybe Liam is making something out of nothing, but it’s the suspense that is gripping, and in the end we get an emotional payload that we knew was coming, but it hits us unexpectedly nonetheless.
Quite the emotional episode, full of tension and uncomfortable feelings. Good for third best on gamobo’s list.
2. San Junipero
And here we take a big leap from season two to season three, and what a difference time and a bigger budget can make. This episode starts off as something of a mystery. We see that it takes place in the 60s or 70s, and after some short segments a title card announces: “One Week Later” and a decade has passed. This happens a couple of times, so perhaps the episode is about time travel?
Nope. It turns out “San Junipero” is a virtual world where minds can be copied and uploaded to. Primarily used by elderly people who want a copy of themselves (usually their younger more attractive versions) to live on forever in whatever time period they’re comfortable with. That in of itself is a fascinating question: if you were going to die, would you upload a copy of your mind so that it can live forever? There seems to be no downside to it except the knowledge that it’s all fake.
The story, however, features another issue as its central premise, and that is the love story between Yorkie and Kelly. LGBT is never the main theme of this episode; it’s only about the story of two women who find each other in a virtual world, and shows how both the technology itself and their own personal lives create conflict that gets between their relationship, and that’s the best way to do it. To show people everything’s normal, why not try acting normally instead of being overly flamboyant and having topless rallies in the city? Don’t make a story that screams “look at this niche! These characters are gay!” Instead, have a story where gay people are experiencing normal things, like falling in love, getting into arguments, and dealing with life.
That aside, the story uses the relationship between Yorkie and Kelly to explore questions surrounding life, death, love, and meaning. What do these things mean when you have the ability to continue “living” after your physical body wears out? Yorkie and Kelly come to find their own answers, but while we watch their story unfold, interesting questions are bound to pop up in our heads, however brief. It’s sorta like The Matrix all over again; is there any value in a virtual life? But “San Junipero” goes farther than that. One of the questions it asks is: Can there by any love in a virtual life?
Many things are packed in this episode, and because of its themes and unique setting, it is number two on gamobo’s top three Black Mirror episodes. Production also deserves a shout-out for how the episode was shot. For the first time ever I noticed the camera angles and colour schemes for individual scenes within a TV show. This sort of thing is usually reserved for movies, but whoever directed “San Junipero” took their job seriously, and the results clearly show in the final product.
Season three, episode one, and what a way to start a new season. It was as if Black Mirror was anxious to impress his new girlfriend (Netflix), in a morbid world where black satire and fleeting dread is sexy. “Nosedive” stars Bryce Dallas Howard as Lacie, a working-class girl living in a world where everyone has a star rating attached to their person. This is possible because everyone has lens implants, allowing them to see a rating out of five next to everyone’s face. Ratings are given based on interactions, and those could be as mundane as bumping into someone on the street or picking up an order of coffee.
The key concept “Nosedive” wants to explore is how people are judged based on appearances, “appearances” in this case being that number out of five. The primary reason this episode is number one on gamobo’s list is because the world in “Nosedive” is the closest to North American society in 2017. Uber and Airbnb already have people relying on five star ratings to stay competitive, and how else are strangers going to judge each other without prior communication? The big difference in Nosedive is that the ratings encompass everything, not just whether you’re a good driver or have comfortable living accommodations, but also who you are as a person.
While the episode points out the obvious problems (how shallow society would become), there are also subtle indications of more serious consequences resulting from a society based on ratings. In one scene during the story, Lacie gets her rating docked one full point and she receives a double damage multiplier from strangers. The lower your points, the less access you have to goods and services.
INTERLUDE: There’s an interesting analogy here of how society sometimes keeps the people who need the most help down. There are certain people in society who need help, whether it’s financial, medical, or psychological, but due to social stigmas we usually just frown on them and look the other way. Sometimes we even lock them up in prison and say “good riddance”. Often this is akin to holding someone’s head down underwater when they’re already drowning. In the world of Nosedive, the lower your rating, the less help you get.
Besides the obvious social divide (the upper class, who are affluent and good-looking, all have 4.5+ ratings), your rating basically controls your life. Now, boys and girls, when is it ever a good idea to introduce a system whereby people’s behaviour can be controlled? NEVER. Just like how airport security immediately got Lacie to leave the airport and make her life hell, we can easily imagine government agencies slashing ratings to get rid of unwanted people, even people who need social services the most!
And it’s not an exaggeration that Nosedive is the closest reflection to our world today. China has decided to implement a social rating system for its citizens, in a case where life imitates art, but the dangers are evident. This is another way to keep tabs on the citizenry and to control their behaviour, and it’s the complete opposite of freedom and liberty. As the episode Nosedive demonstrates, people under such a system act not out of free will, but to “play the numbers game” (as Lacie puts it). We do not want a world where people are fake in order to get good ratings, because how can you trust anyone then?
Nosedive warns us of a world where we judge people based on a number (and it isn’t just a rating, but can extend to likes and follows too). Dig deeper and you will see the broader implications of control and oppression. That is why Nosedive is a brilliant piece of storytelling: on the surface its about a woman trying to get to a wedding, self-destructing in a broken society along the way, but the themes lend themselves to heavy political and social questions. Combine that with a great story, fantastic acting (especially from the lead actress), and convincing world-building, and you got a solid piece of production right there. Nosedive is the number one episode of the number one television series ever.
This has been a gamobo review. Thanks for reading.