Black Mirror series three is exactly as expected: a clumsy and blundering criticism of the modern world
The long-anticipated third series of Black Mirror was released on Netflix in October 2016, and reactions have been as divided as expected.
One of the main criticisms that Black Mirror has faced since its release in 2011 is that it can, at times, come across as a heavy-handed attempt to warn against technological advancements, social media and the true evil that lies within human beings. Perhaps I’m simply far too cynical of the show, but I feel that this criticism is more than fair. Brooker is always keen to emphasise that the show’s intention is not to simply finger-wag at technology, and yet this is exactly how the new series feels as a whole. The show speaks for itself, no matter how much the production and publicity team try to convince us that we’re watching and understanding it wrong. The main problem with the show is that it is so incredibly obvious in its message. Black Mirror is a little bit like Orwell’s 1984 — poignant and impressive when you first read it aged 16 — but much less insightful as time goes on.
Black Mirror at its best is interesting, subversive television which makes worthwhile viewing even for its harshest critics. Black Mirror at its worst is cringe-inducing, with poor dialogue and a complete lack of faith in humanity and technology — an attitude that is never going to endear itself to the younger audience. For me, the pilot episode of series three, ‘Nosedive’, was the worst possible way to introduce a new series. The problem with parodying social media, Instagram, and the narcissism and falseness involved in all of these is that they already parody themselves in the real world. Any semi-intelligent person can look at the Instagram of someone whose life appears to be perfect and know that it isn’t real life. Nobody really, truly bases their entire self-worth off these apps, because in general humans are self-aware enough to know that yes, social media is a huge part of day-to-day life, but no— it is not the be all and end all. It is this sort of attitude that makes Black Mirror appear clumsy and unrealistic. The ideas and critiques feel dated at times, and at other times remind me of the sort of warning videos that I was shown in school about protecting myself online. “Cover your laptop camera!”, “don’t cyber-bully people!”. We’ve all heard it all before.
Another problem with the latest Black Mirror series is that it is also blazingly clear how much money Netflix has pumped into the show. This has had a detrimental effect on the quality of writing and given the show a false, all-American glaze. The exact glaze that it intends to critique, some may interpret this as further adding to the authenticity of the dream-like dystopia projected, but in my opinion it is overbearing. As observed by a friend of mine, Black Mirror was at its best when it was a distinctly British show. Now it comes across as far too glossed, too Hollywood, and it has (for the most part) lost the ability to connect with the viewer through the premise that the same terrible situation or event or misunderstanding could happen to them. Netflix may as well make some spinoffs of The Truman Show while they’re at it.
This being said, there were some excellent moments in Black Mirror. If you can forgive the clumsiness of drone bees, (did anybody hear, the bees are going extinct? Well, now you know!) refugees made to appear un-human and a desire to eradicate undesirable genetics then the series does have its moments of greatness. ‘Playtest’, episode 2, is genuinely quite terrifying. The genuine humanity in episodes 3 and 4— ‘Shut Up and Dance’ and ‘San Junipero’ respectively— certainly had the desired emotional impact that other episodes failed to induce. Yet these episodes were still somewhat predictable, and all too easily forgotten.
Black Mirror has had its day, and I think that with each series the heavy-handed predictability of each episode has only increased further. Black Mirror was once a sickeningly honest glance to the future, to the moral deterioration of society that could one day become a reality, but it is now a parody of itself that is going nowhere fast. Somewhere deep down, I was hoping for Black Mirror to be as striking, emotive and original as it once was, yet I am not surprised that the third series did not fulfil these hopes.
Overall rating for the series: 2.5/5