Charlie Brooker’s ground-breaking Black Mirror has returned on Netflix with six new episodes designed to shock, amuse and generally have you distrusting any form of technology.
The Showcase team settled in for a hearty binge and watched series four from start to finish, and this is how we ranked them…
(Our rundown contains some spoilers, so be sure to catch up with the latest offering on Netflix before ploughing ahead.)
6. Arkangel AKA One for the over-protective parents
The biggest star of episode two is the one you don’t see. Brooker brought in Oscar winner Jodie Foster to direct Arkangel, a cautionary tale following a mother’s struggle to see her child off into the big wide world. After having an experimental tracker installed as a child, young Sara grows up with her mother being able to see – and filter – anything she sees.
The episode’s interesting nature/nurture theme really comes into play when she reaches her teens, and although the ending wrapped up a bit too neatly for us, this still packs a punch on par with Black Mirror’s thought-provoking highlights.
5. Crocodile AKA I know what you hit last summer
We can’t work out whether it’s surprising or not that an architect going on a killing spree to cover up a 15-year-old murder isn’t the bleakest episode of series 4. In any case, Crocodile does a great job of both spinning a lie disastrously out of control and exploring the depths someone might stoop to in the fear-inducing scenario of having their memories accessed (put into practise here by an insurance worker looking for witnesses to a car crash).
However, what sets Black Mirror apart is its ability to take a seemingly implausible story and shock us into thinking that it could, in fact, become reality. Crocodile comes with a strong premise, but purely for the fact that we’ve been moved to such a degree by other episodes, we can’t place it higher up in our ranking.
4. Black Museum AKA the one that might just confirm that Black Mirror is a shared universe
Episode six hands us three mini-stories to get stuck into, all told via an overarching story of tourist Nish’s impromptu trip to a museum of cautionary tales from the dark side of tech. Curator Rolo Haynes – an utter slimeball played by Douglas Hodge, who you may recognise from BBC One’s The Night Manager – regales stories to shock and intrigue, but the episode’s twist lies waiting in the cruel third chapter (which ultimately serves up small but sweet justice for both Nish and the audience).
However, it was the museum’s surrounding memorabilia that intrigued us the most: eagle-eyed viewers will have recognised objects from past episodes of the series, which serve as Brooker’s clearest indication yet that our dystopian dwellers have been sharing the same universe all this time. That’s a lot of dangerous technology in one place, but one look at today’s state of affairs suggests that we’re not exactly cosy in our current surroundings...
3. Metalhead AKA Dogs are not your friend in a post-apocalyptic world.
By far the most stripped back episode of the series, Metalhead manages to drag an extraordinary amount of drama out of a remarkably simple premise. Shot entirely in black and white, we follow lone star Maxine Peake (Shameless, Dinnerladies) through a bleak post-apocalyptic landscape as she desperately tries to outrun a homicidal robotic dog intent on destroying her.
What we loved about this was that it wasted no time in getting down to the nitty gritty: you don’t need to know the ins and outs of Peake’s character, or even why the dogs exist. It’s all about the breathless, pulsating game of cat and mouse that ensues between the two, and we were gripped every step of the way. This approach was a new, shining example of Black Mirror at the top of its game.
2. Hang the DJ AKA What if Tinder, but too much?
Would you sacrifice years with incompatible partners if you knew it would pave the way to you finding guaranteed true love? That’s the headscratcher posed by this episode, in which members of a Truman Show-esque society meet for dates armed with a device that tells them how long their relationship will last.
However, a smitten couple are eager to see more of one another after their first date is cruelly limited to just 12 hours, and after numerous trials and tribulations they choose to ditch the system and flee their totalitarian surroundings. Following on from the Emmy Award-winning success of series three’s wonderful San Junipero, Hang the DJ serves as series four’s charmer: a moving tale with a beautiful ending that’ll stick in your mind long after the credits roll.
1. USS Callister AKA A lesson in NEVER giving that subdued co-worker the ol’ stink-eye
Black Mirror enjoys coming back with a bang. Following series three’s classic opener Nosedive, Brooker begins this new run with a stellar feature-length adventure delving inside the disturbing mind of a man thoroughly scorned.
We watched in horror as underappreciated computer genius Robert Daley (a gloriously creepy Jesse Plemons) shifts from social introvert to twisted puppet master, taking revenge on his co-workers by trapping them inside his own twisted virtual reality (a kitsch Star Trek-era universe aboard a spaceship captained by Daley himself).
Their self-aware existence is truly the stuff of nightmares, but Brooker still manages to inject a hefty dose of comedy into the episode via its satirical references and a typically hilarious turn from E4’s Chewing Gum star Michaela Coel. Basically, it’s everything that makes for a perfect Black Mirror story.
Trailer and behind the scenes
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