TV - Black Mirror Season 3

Flash fiction aficionado and wily word wrangler, author Marc Nash gives us his reflections on Black Mirror season three...

I was so desperate to watch the latest series of Charlie Brooker’s near-futuristic dark drama “Black Mirror”, that I even downloaded Netflix for the first time in my life, albeit for a free month’s trial which I will return unrequited to sender having watched all six 40mins to 1 hour long episodes over the course of a day and a half.

Why do I love this series? Because while the drama can be a bit patchy in places where you can see the plotting joints, the ideas on show are an unending tribute to the breadth of vision of the man. No one gets the implications and scenarios of technology like Brooker, the UK’s very own William Gibson, I can think of no higher praise than that. Brooker takes us down paths which mankind may well evolve and develop under the prod of our gadgets and obsessions. Brooker subversively suggests ways in which our brains will be re-wired by the technology we adopt.

I will say now that episodes 1 and 6 are the best, although very different in tone. Episode 1 “Nose Dive” is quite light and parodic of our constant interface with our phones and the tendency to experience one another through the phone’s lens rather than in the flesh. Its world is one where every human interaction is liked and memed, so that every person has a social media rating from 0-5 and life is a perpetual popularity contest. The main character is a striver, encouraged that to be able to upscale her accommodation requires nudging up that rating towards 4’s upper echelons. She seems to receive a boost when a childhood friend of almost perfect rating invites her to her wedding, which must mean ratings by association. But when her journey starts off disastrously with a cancelled air flight and in her desperation actual emotion breaks through, so a scene in public means she is temporarily penalised serious points. The subsequent road trip confronts her with difficulties at every turn, as she simply doesn’t have the requisite ratings to open doors on service. She descends into degradation upon degradation, but the ending is delightful, when the true emotions underpinning this whole popularity contest is revealed in all its hilarious satiric colours.

Episode 2 is “Playtest” and is perhaps the only one which offers little speculative insight into our technological behaviours. It is a fairly standard ‘volunteer road-tests new virtual reality game’ that is so lifelike because it predates and feeds upon his psychology. There are twists a plenty, but at each turn you realise he has not been released from his digital shackles but is still enmeshed in the game. Episode 3 is “Shut Up And Dance” where malware enables the control of people’s devices to be secured and any immoral behaviour is seized upon by blackmailing the sinners into what seems like a game where they are given instructions to carry out, with the threat of releasing footage of their digital indiscretions if they don’t comply. A young teenager is the focus here, but he is soon paired up with an adult played brilliantly by Jerome Flynn (yes him of ‘Robson & Jerome’ infamy) and gradually the consequences of what they are charged gets ratcheted up. The writing is excellent here, for though they are both in the same boat, the boy’s callowness means Flynn’s character constantly has to hector and cajole him in a strange kind of mentorship. The horror builds up and the ending is absolutely spiteful, none of the characters get off scot free. This episode is perhaps one where the drama actually tops the slightly lesser level of futuristic and technological speculation. However, one does detect a pattern of Brooker being obsessed with child abusers and payback, for it ran throughout series 2 and is a theme of two of the episodes here.

Episode 4 is “San Junipero", a brave but flawed alternate reality yarn that explores an intriguing notion of preserving life after death at least in a virtual way (returning to a theme from series 2). The lesbian couple at its centre aren’t terribly endearing which slightly takes the edge off the drama, but the idea behind it remained strong, if the execution of the plot was a bit hokey in places. Episode 5 is “Men Against Fire” which had a lot of positive things yet somehow for me didn’t quite build into something larger than its elements. Firstly it drew on research I’m familiar with, about how soldiers are actually quite reluctant to kill fellow humans even as an enemy, so in this episode soldiers are given an implant to help them over that hump. Their brains see the enemies not as humans but as “Roaches” and the military go hunting after them. The main character is a rookie soldier called ‘Stripe’, but something goes wrong on his first mission and his programming starts slipping. His antagonist is a female trooper ‘Raiman’ played brilliantly by Madeline Brewer, who has no such doubts and it turns into a deadly and well filmed conflict between the two. Brooker sets this somewhere in a notional Eastern Europe, where the villagers with accents demand protection from the Roaches, but as we learn the true identity of the Roaches, then you get to see that Brooker is alluding to the whole migration crisis and people’s fear of the outsider or the other. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t dig the whole, but there is certainly a lot to chew on in this episode.

And finally to the piece de resistance, the full hour long episode 6 “Hated In the Nation”. This brings together everything so successfully, the drama, the characters, the technological threat and weaves a flawless tale that is absolutely gripping and thought-provoking too. All the bees have died, but a tech company have managed to replicate them in artificial form to carry out their function of spreading pollen and life. However, their control is hacked and they become a devastating weapon of assassination. And who are the daily targets? Well they seem to be those who are the most unpopular in the social media stakes, a rap artist who is beastly to a 9 year old fan, a provocative Katie Hopkins-like journalist, the Chancellor of The Exchequer… The style is of a detective thriller as they try and hunt down the person behind this deadly campaign fuelled by hashtag votes, so that traditional criminal motives falter in the face of new psychologies whipped up through social media obsession. But it goes even further, as the twist in who the real targets are, ramping up the guilty associated with social media use, in what is a frighteningly all too credible turn.

So a really stimulating and provocative set of 6 new episodes. Yes the drama is a bit hit or miss at times, but I honestly believe the ideas on show and being explored completely make up for that. And if you only have time or access to check one out, make it episode 6, “Hated In the Nation”; you will not regret it.

Marc Nash is a fantastic writer who you can find peddling his wares, some hashtaggery (and fantasy football grumblings) on Twitter as @21stCscribe.

His books are available from Amazon here.

Images - Netflix