Black Mirror has a reputation for being one hell of a depressing show. The sci-fi anthology has been able to stretch its wings ever since it was acquired by Netflix, and the biggest example of that was the critically lauded “San Junipero” episode. It broke the mold for the traditionally grim explorations of mankind’s relationship with technology that the show is obsessed with. There was a dark optimism at the heart of that episode, and writer Charlie Brooker looks to have latched onto the idea of dark optimism for the show’s fourth season.
And for the most part, that works out well. Well, mostly.
Defeat the Real Monsters
So much of Black Mirror has framed technology itself as a danger. When really, the show is at its best when it presents enticing technology that is then abused by the fallibility of humans. A lot of season four takes this precept and runs with it in extremely satisfying ways.
Of all the episodes that do this, the season premiere “USS Callister” is the most successful. It’s a damning exploration of fan entitlement but with an uplifting center that proves people are what make great technology awful, and we have all the means available to combat that awfulness.
This idea of conquering poor or outright evil human choices are strung through most of the season. “Arkangel” is a look at the ultimate form of helicopter parenting and the damage such overprotectiveness can do. “Crocodile” is also a tale of how technology could be used to expose the worst in people but also bring them to justice. And the finale, “Black Museum” is an anthology of scarier tales that culminates into an ultimate victory that almost feels self-reflective of the series itself.
It’s Still Black Mirror Though
But, this is still a slightly pretentious show as most anthology series often are. I say that as an enormous fan of Black Mirror and the anthology format. “Hang the DJ” is a nifty and surprisingly heartwarming concept but feels like a less meaty version of “San Junipero.” And “Metalhead” is a stripped down action tale with very little to go on beyond its cat-and-mouse concept.
That’s not to say they aren’t good episodes. In fact, they were two of my favorites. It’s just that they don’t go too far beyond their initial idea whereas the other episodes do a lot of solid character work to earn their heavier moments.
Still, even episodes like “Arkangel” and “Crocodile” feel out of step with how the show as a whole wants to evolve. Those two feel like season one episodes. That might appeal to longtime viewers, but they don’t jive with the more rebellious and strangely encouraging tales that the show has begun to adopt.
Is Black Mirror Season 4 Good?
With an anthology show, it’s tough to lump everything together into one neat package. As a whole, I think Black Mirror is growing up a bit. It’s not drenched in as much vicious pessimism as previous seasons and there seems to be a willingness to focus more on humans than tech.
If I was breaking down each episode, the ratings would go like this:
“USS Callister” – 4.5/5
“Arkangel” – 3/5
“Crocodile” – 2.5/5
“Hang the DJ” – 3.5/5
“Metalhead” – 4/5
“Black Museum” – 3.5/5
By that account, the overall rating for the season works out to a 3.5/5. It’s a solid addition to the series but doesn’t quite make the big leaps forward that episodes like “San Junipero” and “USS Callister” promise. Still, I’m already aching for season five. That’s a good sign.