Weekly Watch: ‘Black Mirror’
Allie Tollaksen | Monday, January 19, 2015
When I learned recently that all of “The Twilight Zone” is available on Netflix, I couldn’t queue up my favorite seasons fast enough. Scrolling through the menu, I recalled all my favorite episodes of my youth and was thrilled to watch them on demand rather than on a late-night whim in my childhood home. But while many still hold water, others of the myriad of episodes are less thrilling when you’re no longer watching them as an eight-year-old.
So if, like me, you’re looking for updated “Twilight Zone”-esque terror and eeriness, look no further than “Black Mirror.” Available to stream on Netflix, the British anthology series premiered in 2011 to update all the sci-fi satire of Rod Serling for the 21st century.
Only two seasons of “Black Mirror” are complete, and only six episodes are available on Netflix — three in each season, with episodes running from 40 minutes to around an hour. But what “Black Mirror” lacks in quantity is certainly made up for in its quality.
Each episode exists in its own futuristic universe with its own unique cast to tell a different story about the dangers and horrors of technology. From commentary on everything from digital consumerism to data and relationships, the six episodes tackle current concerns about technology, social media and voyeurism through smart satire.
As a result, “Black Mirror” plays out in a space between “The Hunger Games” and “Her.” The imagined futuristic societies don’t quite create a dystopia, but they don’t make a romance either. Instead, “Black Mirror” is sci-fi at its purest, creating relatable scenarios in a not-so-distant and not-so-unrealistic future and scaring us into thinking twice about technology today.
However, like my recent realization about “The Twilight Zone” episodes, “Black Mirror” is hit or miss. Stronger episodes accomplish everything the show sets out to achieve, terrifying its viewers long after the episode ends.
Others, however, fall just short. For example, the Season Two premiere, “Be Right Back,” starts off with an interesting enough concept — a pregnant woman’s fiancé dies, so she tries a new technology that allows her to “bring back” her fiancé in the form of a clone, using videos and data from his social media accounts to program the lifelike body.
The episode has the potential to give intelligent commentary on the limits of social media to reflect identity, but it spirals into a series of distractingly awkward dialogue and lackluster acting, and the rush to tie up loose ends of the plot detracts from its potential. In the end, the episode’s characters hijack the story, figuratively stepping between the audience and any poignant commentary.
Other episodes sidestep these pitfalls entirely and make watching “Black Mirror” worthwhile. At its best, the show juggles multiple themes without sacrificing the story or entertainment value.
In an episode called “White Bear,” the show accomplishes all of this. Beginning as an edge-of-your-seat thriller mocking society’s addiction to screens, the episode ultimately unleashes a great surprise ending that turns the whole program into an unexpected thought experiment.
“Black Mirror” may have a few duds, but its strong episodes more than make up for its missteps. A third season just premiered last December, and the show will hopefully hit its stride with a few more episodes under its belt. I can’t help but hope, like “The Twilight Zone” to which it is so readily compared, “Black Mirror” will stick around to scare for many years to come.