What better way to ring in the new year than to be reminded that with each passing day, technology is advancing beyond our control and to extreme, terrifying limits? Netflix (perhaps cruelly) released Season 4 of Black Mirror on December 29; several Ringer employees chose to spend the holidays binge-watching the new episodes. Here are their thoughts on the best of the new season, the worst, and which haunting technologies Jeff Bezos is definitely already using.
1. What is your tweet-length review of Black Mirror Season 4?
Victor Luckerson: A highly bingeable set of episodes that feel a little less worthy of late-night dorm-room ruminations than previous seasons (though I really hope I’m not living in a dating app right now).
Donnie Kwak: Even the superficial eps is super official.
Daniel Chin: I’m really considering the Amish way of life after this season—let’s leave it at that.
Alison Herman: The highs—assisted by the kind of Netflix-afforded budget that lets you film an entire episode in Iceland that doesn't seem to actually be set in Iceland—have never been higher. The lows have never been more tiresome.
Alyssa Bereznak: The teddy bear wasn’t worth it!!!
2. What was your favorite episode, and why?
Kwak: I thoroughly enjoyed the visceral rush of “Metalhead,” which seems to be the love-it-or-hate-it one from this season. Backstory, shmackstory: Who needs context when a knife-wielding robot dog is bounding up the stairs to kill you? We’ve become accustomed to piecing together details of a dystopian future in Black Mirror, but a good old-fashioned chase is timeless.
Chin: “USS Callister” was definitely my favorite of the season, largely due to my love for sci-fi movies and video games. It’s a dark and interesting spin on Star Trek, and even Black Mirror couldn’t resist throwing in some J.J. Abrams lens flares.
Bereznak: I don’t feel great picking the episode where multiple people’s heads are bashed in by a Katy Perry look-alike, but “Crocodile” stood out to me. The episode’s central technology—a device that paints a fuzzy tableau of a person’s memories with the help of smells and sounds—felt non-threatening enough that it could pass as a necessary and useful forensic tool. But, like most technology intended to help society, forcing such a powerful gadget on people has unintended side effects. And in the case of the episode’s main character, it pushes her from being an unlikely murderer to a calculated serial killer within the span of a few days. Yes, she made some initial bad decisions that the machine had nothing to do with, but as she fell deeper into her cover-up, the technology inspired a kind of Whac-A-Mole killing spree in an attempt to close a nearly impossible loop of peripheral human interactions. It’s a chilling illustration of the way a technology intended for good can have horrifying side effects in practice.
Luckerson: “USS Callister” (a.k.a. “Evil Star Trek”), which managed to be both harrowing and funny while raising important questions about how humans will appropriate the likeness (or the consciousness?) of others in the future.
Herman: Landry Breaks Bad (In Space!). Read all about it!
Surrey: “USS Callister,” which simultaneously pays tribute to and mocks the conventions of Star Trek in a way that’s darkly funny, occasionally frightening, and thoroughly engaging. The episode makes my top five for the entire series. (It also served as a twisted Fargo Season 2 reunion for Jesse Plemons and Cristin Milioti, which was a fun little bonus.)
3. What was the worst moment of the new season?
Luckerson: The banter by the museum owner in between vignettes in “Black Museum.” That whole episode was a mess tonally.
Herman: When Rosemarie DeWitt is literally bludgeoned with a piece of technology in “Arkangel.” Black Mirror has done on-the-nose metaphors before, but never for itself.
Kwak: The one detail I found a little too convenient was that the secretive tech god Robert Daly would be so careless as to leave his balcony door unlocked in “USS Callister.” I also found the ending of “Black Museum” to be a little too pat, bordering on cheesy. But overall I liked the episode.
Bereznak: I thought the conceit of “Black Museum” was interesting, but I really hated the vignette about the doctor who grew to love pain. This season of Black Mirror felt very violent! (See: the aforementioned “Crocodile.”) I could’ve done without the gratuitous self-mutilation.
Surrey: “Crocodile” was a total snooze that also included infanticide? Yeah, hard pass.
4. What was your favorite moment?
Surrey: The ending of “Black Museum” was quite cathartic, even if the anthology-within-an-anthology, techno–Tales From the Crypt episode dragged on a little bit. If you’re watching the series in the order as seen on Netflix, it’s a great way to cap off the new season: somewhat optimistic, after (mostly) being subjected to bleak-AF nihilism for six episodes.
Chin: The reveal of Nish’s character and her revenge in “Black Museum” couldn’t have been more satisfying. The way Rolo Haynes preyed on desperate people was disturbing to watch (though he was admittedly a very good businessman), so I couldn’t help but enjoy seeing him face a cruel justice.
Luckerson: The opening sequence in “USS Callister,” complete with the desaturated color palette that made me wonder if my television had suddenly sprouted old-school rabbit ear antenna. It was a jarring way to enter a fantasy that would eventually turn into a nightmare.
Kwak: On a macro level, it was awesome to see so many female protagonists as well as black and brown characters in roles big and small. (Could we add some yellow next season, though?) Also: Rosemarie DeWitt was tragically good in “Arkangel.”
On a micro level, I was amused that Daly blew on his Infinity chip like it was a Nintendo cartridge when it stopped working. Some things never change.
Bereznak: Sure, “Hang the DJ” was a less-colorful “San Junipero” knock-off, but the final escape scene was exhilarating enough to make me weepy. Maybe I was desperate for something good to happen after a streak of dark episodes? I don’t know, it’s the dead of winter here in New York and my tear ducts are vulnerable.
5. What was the scariest piece of technology introduced this season?
Surrey: POST-APOCALYPTIC ROBOT DOGS.
Bereznak: Every piece of technology was terrifying in its own unique way. (I am now convinced an aggrieved coworker is torturing a digital copy of me somewhere.) But the dogs in “Metalhead” felt like the most threatening to my mortal being.
Herman: “USS Callister” rightfully stops on the goofy side of awful stuff Robert Daly could do to his coworker-playthings, but the possibilities of what are essentially sentient voodoo dolls are … dark.
Luckerson: The robotic dog in “Metalhead” because the smallest monsters are often the most terrifying. Especially when they can execute gruesome headshots at will.
Kwak: I’m not a parent, but I know enough of them that I could see Arkangel actually being a marketable product. I feel pangs of anxiety when someone touches my phone for five seconds, so the idea of Arkangel is terrifying.
Chin: Find My Friends is already scary enough, so “Arkangel” was an especially disturbing episode to watch. I don’t like the idea of anybody being able to pinpoint my location on a map at any given moment, so being able to see through my eyes and filter my perception? Nope, no thanks.
6. Which one feels like the closest to becoming a reality?
Herman: I would be so much more into OkCupid if I knew every match percentage point corresponded with a Lobster-style story of finding love in a rigidly mannered dystopia.
Kwak: Jeff Bezos might already have robot dogs guarding Amazon warehouses. Ever heard of anyone robbing one of those?
Bereznak: Again, those dogs! Seriously, have you seen the Boston Dynamics video?
Google owns the company that makes those robots. This is exactly the type of technology that our military likes to co-opt for its own use. And honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon were currently working on a less-violent prototype to monitor the halls of its fulfillment centers. Jeff Bezos has been obsessed with training a fleet of delivery drones, after all. Won’t they need something to protect them? I am aware that this entire answer makes me sound like a Pizzagate conspiracy theorist.
Surrey: It was nice knowing all of you.
7. What new technological or digital craze do you want to see Black Mirror tackle in future seasons?
Bereznak: Our dystopian, HQ-ruled future, obviously.
Herman: If HQ hasn’t been unmasked as a Black Mirror viral marketing stunt by the time next season rolls around … that.
Kwak: I want to see a Black Mirror episode set in Asia—let’s say Seoul, with a plastic surgery gone very bad. Porn is always at the forefront of new technology, so there should be a parable about the future of fapping. And there has to be a cryptocurrency episode already in the works—some kind of massive Bitcoin crash that sends the world into chaos.
Luckerson: It feels like the show hasn’t really taken a swing at message board culture yet. I’d be interested in a story where online communities are actualized virtual worlds, kind of like what Facebook VR has in mind, and the darkest corners of the internet are given a sense of place. So the “If the Internet Were a Real Place” skit from Chappelle’s Show, but evil.
8. Is Black Mirror getting repetitive? How many more seasons should the series ideally go on for?
Surrey: This is the first year for me that tested the series’ longevity—a lot of people liked “Hang the DJ,” but I felt it was blatantly trying to coast on feel-good “San Junipero” vibes instead of having anything substantive to say about online dating. And how many pieces of technology can be attached to one’s temple before the idea becomes trite?
Episodes like “USS Callister” and “Metalhead” proved Black Mirror still has something left in the tank—and the show should always have something to critique and satirize as we get new technological and digital breakthroughs—but for the first time the seams are showing, if only just a bit.
Luckerson: If I can write a thousand tech blogs about stuff that actually exists, they can at least make a dozen more Black Mirror episodes.
Chin: Black Mirror will never get repetitive to me, because technology will continue to advance and therefore will continue to scare the shit out of me. Every season has had its missteps, but that’s bound to happen with any anthology series. I want this show to go on for as long as I live, and even then I want my digital copies to keep watching.
Herman: Black Mirror is an odd one; it doesn't take nearly as much advantage of the anthology series’ ability to continually reinvent itself as it should, yet once every three episodes, Charlie Brooker reliably knocks it out of the park. I’m willing to keep sifting through umpteen versions of “contact lens cameras are a very bad idea” if it means I get a “San Junipero” or “Metalhead” in the mix, but your mileage may vary.
Kwak: Has technology ceased to advance? I want Black Mirror to go on forever—or at least until I can affix a super-chip to my temple and participate in my own episode.
Bereznak: Black Mirror feels like it’s reached its expiration date because it already portrays much more elegant and dramatic versions of plausible tech-encased nightmare scenarios. Wired’s December cover story is essentially the real-life version of “Nosedive.” And things that would probably never make it past a Black Mirror pitch meeting happen on the internet all the time. Over the weekend, YouTube star Logan Paul posted footage on his channel of what appeared to be the body of someone who died by suicide, without much warning or sensitivity. He later took it down and apologized in a message written on his iPhone Notes app, that ended with the hashtag #Logang4Lyfe. But hey, I could go for one more season before a Twitter feud indirectly sets off a nuclear war and we all die.