Black Mirror’s season four is disappointingly decent


The glaring white letters of the TV show credits fade away, and all you are left with is a black screen. You are left only with yourself to stare into. A cold, unyielding, black mirror.

It is from this phenomenon that the title of the enticing drama, Black Mirror, was spawned. The sci-fi series has enraptured audiences since its 2011 debut on British television, and when Netflix purchased the show for the third season, the show’s reach only grew.

Each Black Mirror episode is connected not by plot but by central themes. Each episode stands alone: new storyline, new characters, and new demons in a new horrifying setting. Common tropes of Black Mirror episodes include futuristic technology and humanity gone amok. The pull of Black Mirror lies in its ability to weave story after story about disturbing, twisted tales that take deep-dive looks into the bare, unedited depths of humanity. That empty, shell-shocked feeling that every episode leaves viewers feeling is one that Black Mirror fans learn to crave.

And while many would crudely reduce Black Mirror to a show about technology, it is much more than that. Black Mirror simply uses technology as light with which to expose the true colors of the most crass parts of humanity.

With the December premiere of season four, Black Mirror fans were granted six brand new episodes to pick apart.

As a whole, this new season certainly is darker than ever, with some sprinklings of romance and humor. And as an avid fan of the show, it’s painful to say this, but I just couldn’t help but feel disappointed by season four.

Of course, that’s not to say there weren’t some episodes I enjoyed. But season four just failed to serve me those gut-punch episodes of the likes of “Be Right Back,” “White Christmas,” and “Shut Up and Dance.”

In fact, this season felt undeniably different– a hint of overproduction and commercialization in exchange for the rather raw quality previous seasons seemed to capture. One of the crowd-pleasers, “USS Callister,” is an embodiment of the newfound production value season four takes on. It borrows from some of the technology of “White Christmas,” entwined with a shiny Star Trek-esque backdrop and theatrics. It grapples with themes ranging from extreme fandom to torture to the depth of eternity. And while it intrigued me, I just wasn’t in love with it.

“Arkangel” followed, an episode that delved into ideas about parenting, a new concept for Black Mirror. This was one of those episodes that wasn’t inherently “futuristic.” Save the central technology being showcased, the characters live in a normal and familiar world. This technique of fusing nightmares into fictional worlds that are all too similar to the present day is one of Black Mirror‘s most powerful tools. The episodes that don’t rely so heavily on a sci-fi dream-world are the ones that feel eerily real.

That being said, I liked “Arkangel.” It follows the story of an overprotective mother inserting all-seeing cameras/censors into her daughter’s eyes as a protective measure. But of course, the well-meaning technology soon turn harmful. This episode was one of the better ones of season four, and it felt more like a “classic” Black Mirror episode– something that I found comforting and enjoyable.

“Hang the DJ” was an uncharacteristically sweet love story. To put it bluntly, it’s a clunky attempt at recreating the magic of the award-winning, season three episode, “San Junipero.” But I don’t care. In the midst of the endless stream of gloom, “Hang the DJ” was so refreshing. It was sweet and hopeful and void of the bitter part of the bittersweetness that characterized “San Junipero.” And while that perhaps robs this episode of the texture that makes Black Mirror so popular, I, again, don’t care. It’s a wonderful episode.

Nonetheless, the final episode, “Black Museum,” is probably the season’s strongest. It seamlessly interlaces three mini-storylines (similar to “White Christmas”) to make one truly unsettling episode. It takes on themes of technology and pain and revenge and justice and race– quite a lot packed into one episode, indeed. However, this episode still fails to feel dynamic. The choice to pin everything on one villain frankly detracts from the themes being discussed.

Regardless, the atrocities that were “Crocodile” and “Metalhead” dismantle the season completely. “Crocodile” is one of Black Mirror‘s most gruesome episodes not because of the plot, but because of its failure to make the main character likable or relatable. If you’re just watching a vile person doing vile things, what’s the point? I see what they were trying to do, but it flopped completely. Many Black Mirror episodes are hard to stomach, but most episodes have some substance to help it go down. “Metalhead” was an even greater failure, following a woman’s attempt to survive as she is chased by a robotic, monstrous “dog.” That’s it. That’s all the episode is about. There’s a feeble attempt to give the episode some meaning at the end with a weak “twist,” but that effort fell flat.

Simply put, the worst of season four is the worst of Black Mirror, and the best of season four is just decent for Black Mirror. It’s decent, just decent. I’d recommend Black Mirror newbies sample previous seasons before venturing into season four. As prospects of a fifth season remain uncertain, I sincerely hope Black Mirror is granted another season just so they can redeem themselves.