Black Mirror is a TV show that sees exciting new technological concepts of today turn into nightmares of tomorrow. The anthology series features isolated stories and visions of the future in each episode, leading to exciting and brutal depictions of technology’s dark side. The question is: Is this show just another entertaining blockbuster hit, or does its vision have more sinister roots in what’s to come?
Taking its name from switched-off screens of phones and devices, Black Mirror has earned universal international praise. Originally a Channel 4 production, later bought by Netflix in 2015, Black Mirror has taken the streaming service by storm, having just released its fourth season. To define the show by a genre isn’t easy, but there are definitely elements of science-fiction, thriller and drama; it’s really a combination of many genres, meaning there’s something for everyone. In our ever-developing society today, it’s easy for one to be swept away in the awe of new and exciting technologies, but take one look at Black Mirror and it’s not hard to come down with a rough case of techno paranoia.
Some of the technological concepts featured in the show appear to be exciting fantasies straight out of Hollywood, yet eerily possible in a world in which we continue to push the boundaries of science. The show toys with concepts such as: microchips embedded behind your ears that record all your memories, new virtual reality software that tricks the user into believing that they’re experiencing the game and a piece of technology that allows a doctor to physically feel their patient’s sensations in order to diagnose the problem.
Black Mirror usually takes an optimistic approach to each story, beginning with a short setup of the protagonist and an introduction to the central new technology in the episode that we all know will soon bite back in some glorious disaster. This naïve optimism is quite representative of many of us today when introduced to the latest scientific breakthrough, which in the show is soon followed by the inevitable doom of the protagonist in some shape or form. Most episodes end similar to that of a classic Shakespearean tragedy, with each of the characters being subjected to harsh trials which ultimately end in their physical or mental demise. It’s a warning to society.
Though the show has proven itself to be frightfully entertaining, there is something much more evident in its purpose: while experts around the world race to develop the next big scientific breakthrough, Black Mirror demands us to be cautious and cynical towards its implications. The show insists that we must regulate ourselves, to prevent science-fiction from becoming science-fact. The dangers of technology have never been more real, giving this near-future series an underlying relevance to its audience. Sure, one could simply watch the show for its unique storytelling and beautifully choreographed twists and turns, but one cannot avoid coming away with that core warning in the back of their mind. Black Mirror is calling out to the world, condemning the nightmares that await us further down the line. Most episodes are set in either the present day or a very near future, which reinforces the assumption that these nightmares are right around the corner.
Without dishing out too many spoilers, not every piece of technology in Black Mirror ends up going rogue or destroying its creator. There is a large amount of hope in the latest season, allowing for a fresh sense of relief for its viewers. This decision was made mainly due to show creator Charlie Brooker becoming unsure of the political climate at the time of its release on Netflix: ‘I genuinely thought, I don’t know what state the world’s going to be in by the time these [episodes] appear, and I don’t know how much appetite there will be for nothing but bleak nihilism.’ Though he acknowledges the change in tone throughout season four, the show’s core message remains. Fortunately for Netflix and Brooker’s team, they seem to have struck gold by achieving the perfect balance between entertainment and forewarning. As George Orwell’s 1984 served as a warning against totalitarianism, Brooker’s Black Mirror firmly asserts itself as a warning against technology.
Conor Capplis – Film Writer