What Crocodile reminds me most of is that episode of Futurama where Leela wants to see herself be a bit more impulsive and goes on a rampant killing spree for seemingly no reason. Andrea Riseborough does her absolute best to sell Mia’s fall into an unhinged mess of a person. Seeing her vacant stare alone is enough to believe that she’s a lost soul. But time that should have been spent building her character is instead used to force her inside the world of Black Mirror. After The Entire History of You’s brilliant introduction to playing with memory, it’s come up time and again. And this episode, especially, it felt like a crutch to make a separate plot into a Black Mirror episode. Nowhere does Brooker feel more wringed out than here. Interestingly, Crocodile is the first to submit to the fallacy of memory, its key concept being a device, used by lawyers and the police that can produce memories on a screen but only as you remember them. A coat that you remember as being green, someone else might remember as being yellow. This detail only appears to exist however, to lead Kiran Sonia Sawar’s insurance adjuster to Mia and get her killed. Then that concept gets thrown in the bin when a hamster’s memory counts for legal means of arrest.
Something I’ve always praised Black Mirror for is its insistence to avoid painting its characters as ‘wrong’ or making them the ‘antagonist.’ Often, the most atrocious people are the ones that Black Mirror pushes its audience to feel the most sympathy for. Season 4 really fell off the ball on that one but Arkangel is possibly the most egregious example. It’s a shame that Jodie Foster gets such a great performance out of children here, that there’s not a larger focus on them here. Rosemarie DeWitt’s performance ends up feeling like a cartoon villain with how many shots open on her sitting in a chair, in a dark corner swishing her glass of red wine. There are some genuinely touching moments in this episode that bring home the complex relationship between mother and daughter, but any message becomes confused when the single mother slips her daughter an emergency contraceptive pill and drives her to extreme emotional malformation. As a talking point on parenting in the 21st century, it’s a great launch pad. There’s a brilliant scene where the moment the daughter (around age 8) is free of her mother’s watch, she’s watching porn and snuff films but, that’s where the cleverness ends.
Metalhead is simple. For Black Mirror fans who have come to love and expect its complex narratives and mind-bending plot twists, this is likely to be a disappointment. The episode plays out exactly as you’d expect and Maxine Peake’s performance is solid but nothing breath-taking. Brooker apparently intended the episode to be without dialogue, and that might have been to the episode’s strength, in at least making it more notable. Instead, what most people tended to focus on was the episode’s monotone scale. Clearly an attempt to capture the feel of old-school horror flicks, the choice would strike me as more pretentious if not for how cool it looks to see modern gore effects in black and white. What captured my attention more than anything was how well the Boston Dynamics-style robot “Dog” was utilised and managed to be a genuinely intimidating threat. The robot’s design makes it feel like one of the most “real” things to come out of the show. For as much as I might disapprove of Netflix wringing Brooker dry, I can’t help loving when their money makes itself known.
#3: USS CALLISTER
The marketing for this episode was very clever. I knew many people who feared this episode would be nothing more than a Star Trek parody. I was one of them, though I expected a twist for the last scene. Thankfully, we got the twist right after the first. That sigh of relief coupled with this easily being Black Mirror’s funniest episode to date carries it a long way. The episode’s concept is horrific, lifting elements right out of White Christmas, the idea of a version of your consciousness trapped in cyberspace is still as horrifying now as it was then. Worse here is that now the ones in control aren’t only neglectful but downright vengeful. Jesse Plemons’s Daly is a sick and twisted individual, simultaneously evoking angry fan culture and the plethora of males in authority who abuse their power. In spite of this, his death feels like a cheap cop-out. A result from playing hard and fast with the rules of its world, the death is all too sudden and not nearly as satisfying as the fate of his character should have been. Perhaps, in particular as a result of, the wave of women who’ve made their voices heard recently, it feels cheated that Daly dies known to the public as a quiet, genius who liked to stare a little too much rather than a sick egomaniac that he was.
#2: HANG THE DJ
Hang the DJ will undoubtedly be unable to escape comparison to last season’s Emmy award-winning San Junipero. There are definitely similarities. Both have incredibly charming and charismatic leads. In particular, DJ’s Georgina Campbell delivers a stunning performance in a montage that exemplifies the shallowness of hooking up, without being needlessly cynical about what constitutes modern dating. Both land their audience stranded in a world that works on its own set of rules without explanation, riling up its viewers and challenging them to figure out the mystery before it’s revealed. DJ might even play this card better than its predecessor when our main leads end up asking each other the same questions and it takes over their lives. The answer, again, like San Junipero is strangely beautiful. Never, however, does DJ cling on to Junipero’s success. It stands proudly on its own two feet as one of the best episodes the show has to offer. Clearly Booker’s found a formula that works and as long as he’s able to pump the same amount of creativity and emotional vulnerability into them, I’d happily watch the next love story he tells.
#1: BLACK MUSEUM
All in all, I couldn’t help but feel that season 4 of Black Mirror was a little underwhelming. The majority of the episodes felt a little too forced, not as properly thought through. Actually, it was exactly what I expected after hearing about Netflix buying the rights but season 3 was some of the best collection of episodes in my opinion, so it’s odd to see such a large quality drop when the seasons were ordered together. Brooker has said that he’s eager for the show to continue but clearly the idea going into Black Museum was “If this is the end, we’re going to celebrate it.” The very concept of this episode makes it feel like a celebration for what the show has achieved in storytelling up until this point. It was disappointing to see only a few references to past seasons. Every short story is quintisential Black Mirror, though none strong enough to hold a whole episode on their own, they all strike an emotional cord and lull you in as the sick and violent nature of the episode ramps up. Letita Wright gives a cracking performance, which on re-watch, is full of brilliant subtleties and ramps up to an emotional powerhouse showing. The moment her fake accent drops, I challenge anyone to stop themselves from shouting at their screens. Like USS Callister, Black Museum plays loosely with its rules but what puts it above in my mind, is the why. In Callister, the world conspires to give these likable protagonists their happy ending. In Museum, it’s to put on a show, a show that only those with a sadistic streak will really appreciate. In the last moments of season 4, Black Mirror cheekily lands one more hit against its audience, by calling them out for enjoying the show in the first place.
It’s probably clear to see I enjoy when art can be meta, that I tend to think higher of something that makes itself into a spectacle, and that I believe good storytelling trumps everything. Those qualities are what makes this how I rank these episodes, but Black Mirror is designed to get into people’s heads. There are some stories which will land in other people’s brains and make them feel far more strongly than they will do me for what they’re able to read into it. So of course, I’d love to hear your reactions to these episodes and how you’d personally rank them.
by Reece Mawhinney
(Featured images from ‘Black Mirror’ courtesy of Netflix)