in reviews, television

Black Mirror: Season 4 review

When I watch Black Mirror, I’m really only looking for the show to do the following: Take my understanding of technology, extend it to its logical conclusion, and then twist it in such a way so as to make me question all my values. By this measure, the fourth season of Black Mirror is a resounding success.

I binged the entire season on the day it was released on Netflix. Here are a few thoughts on each episode:

“USS Callister” (S4E1): This episode refines ideas from Black Mirror Christmas special (specifically, the concept of enslaved computer programs), and combines them with commentary on toxic male fandom and unsafe workplaces. I love that it captures the feel of Star Trek — both original series AND new Abrams reboot (somehow). It’s clearly made with a lot of love towards the franchise, and felt like it honored Star Trek, while adding to it. The third-act suffers from incredibly far-fetched plotting but the episode’s very last moments are great. Grade: A-

“Arkangel” (S4E2): The lesson of this episode is that you must never parent too much. But never too little either. It must be precisely the right amount, lest horrors befall you and your family. This is the kind of episode that people who dislike Black Mirror often think of it as: facile, alarmist, and moderately ridiculous. Grade: D

“Crocodile” (S4E3): This episode is insane — nearly a self-parody in how over-the-top and dark it was. The premise is ludicrous. The ending is so stupid as to be insulting. It does almost nothing to explore the inner life of the main character and as a result, ends up revealing very little about technology or human nature. That said, it is gorgeously shot on location in Iceland and I will happily watch Andrea Riseborough act the hell out of anything. Grade: F+

“Hang the DJ” (S4E4): A wonderful, heartbreaking look at the dehumanizing effects of modern dating apps (with some dystopian aspects of The Lobster mixed in for good measure). Hell is dating other people. This episode is beautiful, though, and joins “San Junipero,” “Be Right Back,” and “The Entire History of You” as part of a excellent quadrilogy of short films about how technology impacts love and relationships (Thanks to Kyle Turner for pointing this out). Grade: A

“Metalhead” (S4E5): What happens when we piss off robots one too many times? This mostly thrilling episode (shot completely in black and white) tries to answer that question. A solid modern-day riff on The Terminator, with impressive visual effects. While it’s a decent genre exercise, it’s not as thought-provoking as the best of Black MirrorGrade: B

“Black Museum” (S4E6): How would advanced technology impact the fields of medicine and crime? This mini-anthology episode tries to answer that question by masterfully weaving together three stories into a main narrative that involves a girl visiting a mysterious and horrifying museum (loaded with Black Mirror easter eggs). I loved each of the vignettes and enjoyed the broader story as well. This is as good as it gets. Grade: A

Overall thoughts: If there’s one overarching theme for this season, it’s the concept that one day, computer programs will be able to experience consciousness, and therefore, pain. Our society will be ill-equipped to deal with this when it happens.

I think we got three great episodes (USS Callister, Hang the DJ, Black Museum), one good episode (Metalhead), and two outright terrible episodes (Arkangel, Crocodile). Any show would be great to rack up numbers like this, but for a show as ambitious as Black Mirror, it’s especially impressive given that we’re already into the show’s fourth season. I’ll be crossing my fingers for a fifth.

  • NameLessNess27

    I completely agree with all your grades except Metalhead. It was C- at best. Just a terminator rip off but with absolutely no twist. Hang the DJ was the best episode, Callister 2nd, and Black Museum a strong 3rd. You could talk me into Callister being the best. I’m a Trekkie and I enjoyed the humour in the episode.
    In a 6 episode season you should never have 2 complete bombs. That’s 33% of the season being trash. Add Metalheads as a bomb and now it’s at 50%.
    I expect 3 greats, 2 goods, and 1 so-so.
    I’m hoping S5 is as strong as S3.

  • DaanishSyed

    Was going to skip Crocodile until Anthony Carboni called it the best episode of the season. Conversely, I was going to skip Black Museum (which I’ve heard negative things about) until I saw you give it an A. Bottom line, as weird and varied as Black Mirror is, it’s probably best to just watch them all anyway, because they’ll probably hit you in different ways.

    The only one I’ve seen so far was USS Callister which was very good, but I wish they set up the plan a little better at the end, because I felt Plemons’ fate (as fitting and fulfilling as it was) seemed to come out of nowhere and was not properly set up. Excited to watch the rest, nothing out there quite like Black Mirror.

  • Crocodile is “What would a Fargo story set in the near future look like?” I liked it. It shows that eventually, technology will be too omnipresent for us to murder our way out of a problem.