Season 4 of Black Mirror hit Netflix a few days ago, and this season is every bit as shocking, twisted, and bleak as the ones before it. Clocking in at six episodes, season 4 delivers an anthology of tales centered around futuristic technology or culture – as well as the dangers of such technological advances. There are a few instances in season 4 that have callbacks to themes or ideas from previous outings of Black Mirror, but none so heavy as to feel like the show is retreading familiar territory.
Some of Black Mirror’s best episodes have been those to which viewers can relate, surrounding ideas such as virtual reality, social media, and commentaries on society itself. Season 4 doubles down on this, and though it revisits virtual reality, the idea of recording memories, and digital consciousness, we are also given looks at new, potentially monstrous future tech by way of constant child surveillance, killer robots, dating apps, and online gaming. Though each episode is great in its own way, it’s the singular, personal stories inside each episode that makes Black Mirror what it truly is. That is to say, while an episode may deal with an aspect of future technology, it’s not exactly about said future technology. Dystopian futures and a fully immersive VR online gaming experience are just the backdrops of the worlds Black Mirror attempts to create, and the heart is in the characters inside those worlds. Black Mirror has never held the audience’s hand, and we’ve been placed into so many interesting situations and takes on the world that could honestly be extended into their own film franchises, shows, or novels fleshing out the world’s backstory. But Black Mirror isn’t interested in that; they would much rather throw us in blind and allow us to form our own conclusions and ideas. This is what makes Black Mirror a truly incredible piece of art.
Another wonderful aspect of Black Mirror is the difference in the tone of each episode. Sure, each one usually has some kind of twist or macabre happening, and more often than not a not-so-happy ending, but each story has a different feel. This season, we’re treated to episodes that truly stand apart from each other. For example, “USS Callister,” while definitely maintaining the sinister feel of the series, functions also as a borderline comedic episode, as well as an homage or love letter to Star Trek and other science fiction works. “Arkangel” asks the question “How far would you go to make sure your child is always safe?” working also as a teen drama/coming-of-age tale. “Metalhead” is a black-and-white dystopian survival story, and honestly may be the weakest of season 4, but it also spreads the message of doing whatever you can to make the ones you love happy. Black Mirror’s fourth season is full of stories that can double up on interpretation if you look hard enough.
“Crocodile” is the tense psychological thriller this season, and it does that job immensely well. From the very beginning, the episode grabs you and takes you on a ride of twists and turns, never relenting. The ending is by far one of the most interesting and unique we have witnessed on the show. “Black Museum” is a really strange episode that features stories within the story, almost as if these smaller stories weren’t fleshed out enough to warrant full episodes. This format works outstandingly well for the episode, though, as each tale is unnerving and true-to-form for the series. It’s fitting that this episode feels like a sideshow of sorts, as that’s almost exactly what the titular Black Museum is, and that final twist is one you may not see coming at all.
Finally, we get to “Hang the DJ.” “Hang the DJ” just might be my personal favorite episode this season. On the surface, it’s a love story; dig deeper, and it gets much crazier than what it appears to be. By the end of the episode, I found myself browsing Reddit to get other fans’ takes on the episode. Without spoiling anything, be prepared for an almost spiritual sequel to season 3’s episode “San Junipero”.
Black Mirror is a show in constant evolution, and that’s more apparent than ever in season 4. Some stylistic choices and almost gratuitous fan service in a few particular instances may bother some, but Black Mirror has delivered an outstanding fourth season that will leave fans wanting more – again. Season 4 may not be the home of the best episodes of the series, but it may be the most consistently well-done season thus far.