Science fiction is a genre that can offer plenty of rich material to appreciate and enjoy. Not simply in terms of the same sort of storytelling as most genres, but rather in its potential for speculative exploration. It is a genre in which the spark of some scientific idea or technological concept can become a central focus. Through this focus, the story can then use that development as a way to examine a current issue or problem. This potential for exploration has allowed for science fiction to crop up with powerful material time and again, such as in the works of sci-fi author Isaac Asimov or in the anthology series The Twilight Zone. Now, a newer talent to take advantage of science fiction’s capability for examination is Charlie Brooker. A British satirist who has worked on numerous shows, he has now made his name in science fiction with his own anthology series called Black Mirror. Using ideas both inspired by plenty of current-day technology and by all-too familiar problems plaguing humanity, Brooker uses the series as a rather bleak outlet for examining the dark side of people and how they use technology.
The future is a time of great possibility. Of course, are all possibilities such great wonders? For instance, imagine a future where a piece of tech known as a “grain” can allow one to play back their memories with clear precision. Though this would be helpful in reviewing one’s mistakes, imagine the madness it might inspire in a husband paranoid about the idea of his wife cheating on him. Imagine a teenage boy caught in a moment of intimacy, his secret in the hands of hackers forcing him to comply with their demands or else they expose his secret. Imagine a woman buying a robot designed after her dead husband, only for the robot to not perfectly match the man she misses. It is situations like these that make for the meat of Black Mirror. Within these situations, the show examines how these technological developments impact people in their lives. Most often, though, the show sees how people can misuse technology. What should help to improve our lives and connect each other instead becomes a tool to disconnect from each other and harm others. Of course, it is not the technology that is inherently rotten. Rather, it is the people who use this tech that bring the real harm.
Black Mirror is a great new addition to the realm of science fiction. Its stories offer gripping narratives that tap well into our current world. From the concept of “blocking” people to internet shaming to influencer culture, the series taps into these concepts and uses them to craft rich stories. It also benefits from excellent performances and direction that work well in delivering the material. However, the series can sometimes get rather blunt in the messages and critiques that it delivers. Subtlety is not necessarily an aspect of the writing here. That said, it proves to be powerful even in its bluntness. Even if it is clear that the message is delivered in a blunt manner, the passion behind the message is clear. Its delivery comes through a well-crafted narrative, even when the central delivery point lays out the message in a heavy-handed manner. It is clear that the foibles and failures of humanity are all too clear to Brooker, and his series makes for a way to address these issues. Now, where should one introduce themselves with this show? After all, it is an anthology series. For me, I would recommend beginning with episode 1 of season 3, an episode known as “Nosedive”.
In this episode, it presents a future where life is rated on a five-star scale. Not only are one’s pictures and posts rated like this, but a person is rated this way in reaction to their day to day interactions. Of course, the better one’s rating is, the better their life is. One such person seeking to raise their rating is Lacie Pound, who seeks to earn a discount on a new apartment only granted to those with a great rating. She finds that she has her chance when an old friend, one with a stunning rating, wants her to be maid of honor at her wedding. Lacie leaps at the opportunity, seeing this as her shot for a better rating. However, incident after incident begin to chip away at Lacie’s rating, as this desperate trip progressively rips her life apart. I consider this a good introduction because it has plenty of the sharp punch that most of the show brings. It is a sometimes chilling view that offers not only a critique of how desperate some may be to receive “like”s in social media, but also of how people can downvote and reject the truth online in favor for only supporting cheery but fake images. However, its ending offers a more bittersweet note in its resolution in comparison to the usual bleakness and cynicism of the series, which means an easier attitude for new viewers.
Science fiction has always offered that ripe opportunity to explore human issues through the lens of technological development. Black Mirror is the latest offering to show that perspective, this time in a rather bleak approach showcasing how people can misuse and abuse technology.