We’ve had a lovely weekend in Cape Town. The weather was absolutely STUNNING. What did I do? I stayed inside and binged my way through Black Mirror Season 3 on Netflix. Initially, I thought that all 12 episodes were being released, but have since learnt that only 6 have been released, with the following 6 slated as part of a 4th Season, to be released in 2017.
Dammit! Anyway, here’s my list of the latest episodes from Season 3, ranked from my least favourite to my most favourite. Please note that this post contains spoilers, since I’m ranking the episodes, so if you don’t want any spoilers, please stop reading now, and come back once you’ve watched all 6 episodes. Also, please note that this ranking is subjective, because it’s like, my opinion you know?
Just in case you kept reading by accident, I’m placing the Black Mirror Season 3 trailer here to help you avoid spoilers:
#6: San Junipero
Synopsis: “Two tourists arrive in an unfamiliar town”
This really is a love story at its core, set to the backdrop of the 70’s? 80’s? Or was it the 90’s? It’s literally any time you want it to be. San Junipero is a simulation where people from all over the world can exist however they want in various decades through the ages. There’s no pain (unless you want pain), there’s no sorrow, only a bunch of really fun clubs and amazing beach houses.
There’s also the little detail that about 80% of the population have “passed over”. In other words, they are dead, and their consciousness lives on for eternity in the simulation. At the core of the story are two elderly women who meet in the simulation and fall in love; and while one prepares for her transition to forever after, the other contemplates whether or not that’s what she really wants.
This story is about love and what it means to be alive. At the core of it, I see San Junipero asking “What does it actually mean to be?”. Is “ever after…” really something we can comprehend?
While the questions this episode asks are compelling, I think it falls short of providing sufficient motivations for the characters’ actions, especially Kelly. I wasn’t inside her experience towards the end of the episode, and that’s why San Junipero rounds out this list at #6.
Synopsis: “An American traveler short on cash signs up to test a revolutionary new gaming system, only to discover the thrills are a little too real.”
Sounds interesting, and over here we get more detail straight from the start with the synopsis. The reason this episode is so far down my list is that we could see a conclusion coming a mile away. As soon as the main character, Cooper steps into the room for the tests, I was already filled with a sense of dread. Sure enough, things turned out pretty fucked up, but this was only ever going one way: down.
I have to give props to Charlie Brooker for how the details pan out in a most unexpected way, especially with everything he experiences effectively happening within a fraction of a second.
Additional props to director Dan Trachtenberg (Director of 10 Cloverfield Lane) for the way he uses the space in the haunted house to really propel the audience into that freaky-as-hell experience.
Unfortunately I don’t feel that Wyatt Russel sold the charisma of Cooper, but he did a great job with the parts where he had to act completely freaked out (which, granted was most of the time).
#4: Men Against Fire
Synopsis: “Future soldiers Stripe (Malachi Kirby) and Raiman (Madeline Brewer) must protect frightened villagers from an infestation of vicious feral mutants. Technologically, they have the edge – but will that help them survive?”
Ooh, this episode does a LOT! It provides commentary on war in general, and how arbitrary the ideals behind war are. It also does an amazing job of tackling the discussion around racism, as well as the current global refugee crisis. You can’t help but see that as you watch this episode.
Malachi Kirby does a great job of playing Stripe, a (kind of) fresh recruit at the center of our story. On his first major mission, he gets to kill a couple “Roaches”, which appears to be a group of people afflicted with some disease that makes them look like animals with weird teeth and shit. It’s freaky, and reminded me of the vampires in 30 Days of Night.
During the mission, Stripe gets flashed in the eyes with a green laser by one of the roaches, and it slowly affects his ability to function with the war technology embedded in his brain and eyes. Eventually the scales fall off his eyes and he realizes that the government are projecting the roaches in a certain way that makes them look terrifying, when in fact they are just normal people who have been identified as having weaker DNA; dirty blood.
The parallels to WWII, the Holocaust and the belief system that lead to that are quite clear here; but this can obviously be applied to any form of racism as we discover that the citizens who are not being affected with the same technology as the soldiers also show prejudice, even though they (visually) see these roaches as normal people.
Synopsis: “A social satire about identity in the social media age.”
Nosedive hits close to home for anyone who has ever derived some kind of satisfaction from the attention they get on social media; so basically all of us.
In this tale, everything our protagonist Lacie (masterfully portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard), her colleagues, family, friends and strangers (basically everyone in society) are granted certain privileges based on a social rating they’ve curated through the social approval of the people around them over time, based on the updates they post, and the impression they leave on people during personal encounters. Basically, a more digital version of the bullshit we deal with in real life.
The crazy thing is that access to basic services and products is often granted or limited based on one’s rating, which can get hectic when you can’t use an express line because you’re under 4.2 (or whatever). This episode actually had me contemplating one of my latest Instagram posts.
As she gets more caught up in this social construct, Lacie sets her eyes on a living space that’s just way above her rating; but the perfect opportunity arrives in the form of a wedding invitation from a friend (or was it an enemy?) who invites her to a wedding full of highly ranked people; the perfect opportunity to up her score. As the title suggests, things go from bad to worse as Lacie gets caught up in a series of unfortunate events, and nosedives to a putrid score.
I absolutely love Bryce Dallas Howard in this story. She’s just so good, that is all. In terms of the actual story, this one feels close to home because it’s so close to what we do every day.
We post on social media, and we derive satisfaction and a certain sense of what our social class is based on the amount of positive feedback we get from people we know, as well as complete strangers. Most of this attention doesn’t even mean anything, but we get addicted to the feeling of the attention; of being “liked”, even though there is no deeper meaning behind it.
#2: Hated in the Nation
Synopsis: “In near-future London, police detective Karin Parke (Kelly McDonald) and her tech-savvy sidekick Blue (Faye Marsay) investigate a string of mysterious deaths with a sinister link to social media.”
Hated in the Nation provides an amazing commentary on the consequences (or lack thereof) of what we say online. It’s a complex tale, but at the core is a guy using synthetic robot bees to assassinate people who trend the highest on a specific hashtag (#DeathTo); later turning the trick on the mob and massacring everyone who had used the hashtag in the first place.
While the idea of robot bees on this scale, and the skill used in the story to execute the plan are all a bit far-fetched, this episode, along with the rules created in this universe provide an amazing commentary on something that’s very real in the current day and age: Social media mob justice.
We saw this happen quite recently right here in South Africa, with a young girl who bullied another girl in a video. The whole internet turned on her, and she became the face of a number of memes and response videos. The bully became the victim of the mob.
I think this will provide people with a good place to start reflecting on what they do and say online, and that’s why it ranks in the #2 spot for me.
This episode was also the place where one of the greatest lines of dialogue ever surfaced:
My favourite line from @blackmirror season 3: "The government's a cunt. We already knew that." ????????????
— Childish Baneeno (@deeno15) October 23, 2016
On the acting front we’ve got a great cast all round, but the standout for me was Faye Marsay who you may remember as The Waif in Game of Thrones. I was really glad to see her in Black Mirror as she’s such a good actress, and she does a great job here. Kelly Macdonald also does a very understated performance as the lead investigator on the case, while Benedict Wong is great government suit.
#1: Shut Up and Dance
Synopsis: “When withdrawn 19-year-old Kenny (Alex Lawther) stumbles headlong into an online trap, he is quickly forced into an uneasy alliance with shifty Hector (Jerome Flynn) – both of them at the mercy of persons unknown.”
Oh my hat! Why is this crazy episode at the number 1 spot? It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Leading the way is an absolutely flawless performance by Alex Lawther, who plays Kenny, a timid, mousy young fella who has seriously fucked up by apparently being caught on camera (via his laptop) masturbating to inappropriate and illegal pornographic material.
The powers that be who filmed Kenny send him on a number of errands around the city, and we soon find out that he’s not the only one caught up in this network of people who have been blackmailed by something messed up they did. Kenny meets up with Hector, and they are told to rob a bank. Eventually they drop off the money and Kenny has to fight another random guy, all for the pleasure of the powers that be, encapsulated quite appropriately by the well-known Troll Emoji. The trolls out everyone in the story, and all their lives are ruined. What a shame.
So why does this one rank #1 for me? While all of the Black Mirror episodes from Season 3 continue to provide a commentary on technology, social norms, and what it means to be human, this one felt the most like it was made from the same fabric as the original series, because it made me feel uncomfortable, while being wildly entertaining at the same time. More so than any of the other episodes this season.
The 3rd season of Black Mirror has smashed against my face just the way I wanted it to, providing thought-provoking commentary on the human condition, and the society we’ve constructed. I’m looking forward to checking out season 4, and will be counting down the days.
What did you think of the latest season of Black Mirror? Do you agree with my list? If not, let me know which were your favourite episodes.
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