Geek Errant Reviews: Black Mirror Season 3

I know the move to Netflix is great. And I know you have your habits. But Do Not binge watch Black Mirror. Don’t do it. It’s amazing, I get that. You want to watch more. It is wonderful, but pick an episode, watch it, take a break. It deserves it.

Netflix has mostly got it’s original programming series designed to be watched in a sequence, sometimes not even paying attention properly.
Black Mirror is worth considering. Pore over it.
I’m going to go through the episodes for commenting, but I’ll be avoiding spoilers for the most part where I can.

Episode 1, Nosedive, feels like the weakest of all the episodes. The episode feels like a retread of various generic social media horror stories. (A passing familiarity to the MeowMeowBeanz episode of Community doesn’t help matters)
Saying that, it functions well as an introduction to the series. I imagine that was part of the pitch for its place as first episode in the season. Netflix viewers unfamiliar with the series for its stint on Channel 4 will be able to quickly ease in. In particular, the recognisable face of Bryce Dallas Howard’s role as lead is mesmerising, a fantastic portrayal of a breakdown from stress happening in slow motion over an hour.

Episode 2, Playtest, feels oddly overt in terms of horror compared to the societal commentary elsewhere in the programme. Based on technology of the near future, Augmented Reality is being utilised for creating the most realistic horror games possible. It partly might be how I like watching horror, but this episode was fine, but nothing special. The technology on display was more fascinating than horrifying for me, but I suspect that most people will enjoy this episode a lot more.

Episode 3, Shut Up and Dance, feels ripped from the headlines, though with a traditionally dark Black Mirror twist. Malware and online blackmail lead to some truly chilling places. A sterling performance from your lead actors gives another episode with a surprisingly easily assumed twist, though that by no means diminishes the story. This episode has the distinction of being the episode that left me feeling most unsettled afterwards. Deeply, deeply unpleasant from start to finish.

Episode 4, San Junipero, is astounding. A beautifully crafted and shot love story. As well as that, a script that is incredibly clever. Not only from a technological story side, but on a human side. Also the music is amazing.
Of all the episodes, this one may be one of the most positive, but also the one that manages to make the complex arguments about technology make sense from both sides.
If you only can watch one episode, or you haven’t been sold on the tech based storytelling, this is the one to go with.

Episode 5, Men against Fire, has a very aliens, sci fi vibe. Thematically, where Playtest had survival horror overtones, MaF definitely works from the military sim game viewpoint, aping games conventions like Heads Up Displays. The use of POV shots in particular sells this.
There’s a subplot about gratification for killing to tie in that has some really unpleasant implications as well.
This episode was the first where I couldn’t work out the twist and deserves kudos for that. It does go a little overboard in selling once the gimmick is revealed, but it still works well enough. Subtlety goes somewhere out the window, but for a good reason.

Episode 6, Hate in the Nation, is another Ripped From the Headlines episode, this time a solid 90 minutes to give the story space to breathe.
Social Media Furore surrounds a journalist who is brutally murdered after a hateful article of hers is published and reacted to, online. It’s very Katie Hopkins.
So how do you solve a murder when the entire country wishes them dead?
So a detective and a digital forensic specialist have to solve that.
There’s a tension between whether or not hate online is as much a threat as anything else in the real world. This is especially good with showcasing the ‘nice’ people who act threateningly online and why that matters.
And then the bodies start piling up as more people are affected in the same way.
Weirdly, more than any of the others, this is the most fantastical episode of the series. While the message is good (yeah, your actions online have actual consequences on people) it has a potential to get lost among the sci fi elements.
Speaking of which, the sci fi elements are terrifying looking. There’s a scene that could come straight out of the Birds. The Birds crossed with a technological nightmare of course. Overall, the added run time allows for a slightly better exploration of the ideas in play, I just kind of wish I didn’t find the core tech concept so distracting. This is the episode I wanted to like more.

Overall, Black Mirror season three is great, but it has some problems in the first series on Netflix. It feels like it pulls it’s punches a little, for the global audience. A side effect of this is that a lot of the episodes have cliched or “guessable” stories. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but when we’ve had Prime Ministerial Porkers (The National Anthem) and the Punishment Death Games (White Bear) as episodes in the past, it does have a tendency for the episodes to feel weak.
Finally, the episode order feels off. I know the series is an anthology, but the six episode run time ends up with the whole thing seeming disparate. 1 works well as a lead, sure. 2 then goes far too deep into horror straight away. 3 is gruesome, and realistic in the ripped from the headlines style.
4 is beautiful and heartbreaking. 5 has a gritty military vibe that doesn’t follow well from the brightness of 4. 6 goes back to ripped from the headlines realism.
None of these are deal breaking complaints. The series is still excellent. Partially it just seems that the adjustment to a Netflix home may take a little longer for some fans.
I’d have personally gone 1,5,3,2,6,4. But that’s just me. It doesn’t have to be watched in any sequence. Also, there’s some neat little Easter eggs implying that all of the series is happening in the same continuity, so pay attention to the tickertapes where you can.

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