THE SERIES “Black Mirror”
WHEN|WHERE Starts streaming Friday on Netflix
WHAT IT’S ABOUT The fourth season of the future-shock anthology series “Black Mirror,” about the horrors of technology — still largely written by creator Charlie Brooker — has six episodes. They are: “Arkangel,” directed by Jodie Foster, about a mom (Rosemarie DeWitt), who implants a tracking device in her kid; “USS Callister,” about a code writer (Jesse Plemons) who creates a virtual “Star Trek”-like world; “Crocodile,” about a woman (Andrea Riseborough, “Birdman”) who has a deep secret to hide; “Metalhead,” about someone (Maxine Peake) on the run from a murderous metal thing; “Hang the DJ,” about a couple (Georgina Campbell, Joe Cole) who explore the ultimate dating app; and “Black Museum,” about a young woman (Letitia Wright) who gets a tour of a most unusual museum by its most unusual administrator (Douglas Hodge).
MY SAY As fans of this British import know, the term “black mirror” refers to that moment when you’re staring intently into a computer screen that suddenly goes blank. At this point, all that’s staring back at you is the dark reflection of an infuriated face. But “Black Mirror” the series isn’t only about this uneasy dependence we all have on technology. It’s really about our addiction, threaded out to logical extremes. Like most addictions, those of “Black Mirror” rarely end well.
What horrors does the fourth season have in store? There’s the mom who implants a device in her daughter’s head to pixelate life’s unpleasant little moments for her. There’s a diligent insurance adjuster who can tap directly into people’s memories. Or there’s the macabre museum where mind control is the star attraction. Where’s the horror in any of this? You won’t have to wait until the final act to find out (but you won’t want to miss the final acts either).
“Black Mirror” is built around an unassailable point: While our technology gets better, we humans remain exactly the same. Put another way, all of those primal needs that make up our primal interior lives remain in place, regardless of whether our iPhone is 3G or 4G. Technology advances at light speed while we remain stuck — per poet William Butler Yeats — in the foul rag-and-bone shop of our hearts.
This divergence is at the center of every “Black Mirror” story, and the center of every joke, too. (“Black Mirror” can be hilarious in a mirthless kind of way). But it’s the authenticity that makes the horror. Each game, tool, device or “killer app” from these six hours is hardly from the extreme outer edges of science fiction. They’re perfectly plausible. Surely there’s an engineer at Google wondering how human consciousness can be digitized. The entire human genome has already been mapped. How much longer before a precise facsimile of each of us can be uploaded into a virtual world?
And why not put a chip in your kid’s head so you can see what the little dear is up to every minute?
There are certainly good reasons why none of this should ever happen, but “Black Mirror” is pragmatic enough to know that if we can dream it, we can do it. And once hooked on whatever that “dream” will become, we’re not going backward.
Above all, it imagines the consequences of our techno-love affair, where we cede more and more of ourselves to the device cupped adoringly in our hands. The ancient Greeks knew all about this sort of obsession. Of course, neither Icarus nor Narcissus had happy endings.
BOTTOM LINE Each episode is a gem but — since you asked — my favorite is “USS Callister,” which borders on genius.