How would you explain the television series Black Mirror to someone who has never watched an episode?
I would compare it to the classic Rod Serling show, The Twilight Zone. That series was a reflection of its times. Throughout the run of the show, certain themes were dominant. The Cold War and fear of nuclear war were a constant thread, as were the related subjects of the Space Race and the threat of Communist infiltration. Serling was able to deliver social commentary on the television set, as long as his message was thinly disguised through the filter of science fiction.
While modern creators do not have to contend with the same level of censorship that Serling faced, Charlie Brooker, the creator of Black Mirror, has achieved a similar feat in this show. Mirror uses science fiction, specifically in throwing the spotlight on technology, to comment on our current state of global affairs. Our relationship with social media is a recurring theme, as is the development of artificial intelligence. Brooker has said that the ‘black mirror’ is the ones we look into everyday: computer monitors, television screens and smartphones. And, it’s easy to see how each of the episodes ties into this.
Each episode is supposedly a standalone, but there are things that seem to tie individual episodes into a shared universe. I have begun to suspect that all of the episodes are in the same universe, only at different points along the timeline.
I watched all of the episodes in order. I will admit that there was a huge gap of time between when I watched “The National Anthem” and the second episode “Fifteen Million Merits.” “Anthem” did not appeal to me at all. It involved a Prime Minister being forced to have sex with a pig in order to save a young woman’s life. I found the episode off-putting, to put it mildly, and I probably would never have watched another episode if other people hadn’t kept singing the show’s praises. I’m glad I continued to watch. You could skip the first episode without missing anything, really. But, I would recommend watching it. In hindsight, it set up the rest of the series perfectly, and, also in hindsight, it’s kind of funny.
Not every episode is a winner. Again, like Twilight Zone. We can forgive the misfires because of the successes which hit the bullseye. The episodes “White Bear” and “Shut Up and Dance” had twists which challenged all of my initial assumptions about the stories. The effect was a visceral one. “San Junipero” made me cry happy tears, which is not easy to do. Several episodes convinced me that I need to spend less time on social media. Others made me question reality itself. Could I be living in the Matrix? I don’t believe so, but how could I know for certain?
If you like thought-provoking science-fiction, I would recommend Black Mirror to you as well. Good news: there are at least 6 more episodes on the way.