Black Mirror Season 3 [TV REVIEW]
I had been looking forward to this for weeks. I’m a huge fan of Black Mirror, having been hooked instantly when watching National Anthem when it aired on Channel 4 all those years ago. Since that fateful evening I’ve watched them all with morbid interest, revelling in the black future Charlie Brooker has envisaged for us all. So, imagine my delight when hearing that not only was Season 3 coming, but it was going to be a Netflix exclusive, with the streaming site throwing their weight behind it. This past Friday finally arrived, and the 6 new episodes appeared on Netflix in all their glory. It was incredibly underwhelming.
From what I’ve read online this weekend, most people disagree with me. People have been falling over themselves gushing with praise for the gritty, dark futures imagined by Brooker and, whilst I agree to a certain extent, I must respectfully disagree overall. If I were to sum up the series it would be thusly; they’re good ideas, Brooker classics, but the executions are poor. The concepts are great, but the episodes are so boring it’s really quite hard to care.
The first episode, Nosedive, immediately showcases the big bucks that Black Mirror lives under – the star is Bryce Dallas Howard of Jurassic World fame. She lives in a futuristic society where people have a rating out of 5, based on their social posts and interactions with people. The higher a person’s rating, the more exclusive things they have access too – priority queues, better services, etc. It’s like Victorian times, with a rigid class structure, the only difference being that rather than being born it to it, you’re rated into it. It’s a great idea, however it’s one that’s been done before, and it’s not executed that well.
Howard started as a 4 point something rating, and in order to move in to a new house she wants to rent, she needs to become a 4.5 to get a 20% discount on her rent. What follows is her trying to raise her rating, but, as the title of the episode implies, her rating instead plummets. Through various events, some of her own doing and others unfortunate accidents, she ends up with a rating of less than 1. It’s interesting to watch her rating fall, but the episode suffers from one major flaw – there’s no explanation of what happens when you have a low rating.
Early on we see one of Howard’s colleagues unable to enter the office building they work in, as he’s fallen below a 2.5. That’s fine, but that’s it. Howard hitchhikes a lift off a 1.4, who drives trucks for a living, but she’s incredibly happy. Indeed, when Howard’s own rating falls so low, nothing happens because of it. The ending of the episode is because of her actions, and has nothing to do with her rating. It’s a great disappointment.
Episode 2, Playtest, was an episode particularly close to my heart, as it explores the future of gaming. We follow a guy whose father has just died, and whose mother is suffocating, so he runs away travelling. After touring the world he end up in London without enough money to return home, so he volunteers to be a guinea pig for a new form of video games – augmented reality (here things get a bit patronising as augmented reality already exists and isn’t a difficult concept to grasp, yet our main character really struggles with it for some reason).
What follows is a very interesting episode – he’s locked up in a house testing a new horror game, and it all gets a bit horrible. Eventually he has to opt out, say his safe word, as it’s too much for him – no blame here, I’d have quit a long time before he did. The episode ends with a couple of twists; the first one is great, really ties the episode together well. The second is rubbish, and unnecessary. Not only does it ruin the first twist, it makes most of the episode irrelevant, and ruins whatever message the episode was trying to get across.
Episode 3, Shut up and Dance, is a story as old as time (at least in the modern age anyway). Our main character’s laptop gets a virus, and the hackers get control of his webcam, and record him doing some unsavoury things. What follows is a series of tasks as blackmail, things the character must do to prevent the hacker from releasing the video. Along the way he meets a lot of other people, all who are operating under the same problem – the hacker has sensitive information, and is threatening to release it, unless they do what the hacker says.
As I said, the idea isn’t new, but this is one of the few episodes where the execution is good – it’s an old idea, but done just differently enough to be interesting. This was one of the better episodes, unfortunately until the ending. As with episode 2, there’s a twist which is great, really ties the whole thing together. Then there’s another twist, which overrides the first, and almost ruins the whole episode. The endings of each of the episodes in the series is really what lets the whole thing down. The American money really shines through – any and all subtlety has been removed. Charlie Brooker is a smart man, with smart ideas and he doesn’t dumb them down for his audience. Unfortunately, Netflix does.
Episode 4, San Junipero, the less said about this the better. I watched the whole thing with an idea of what was going on, but no idea of why it was happening, or why I was supposed to care. There didn’t seem to be any message, or really any reason for the episode. The less said about it the better.
Episode 5, Men against Fire, follows very much in the vein of episode 1 – it’s a great idea and better than the first episode. It’s incredibly original, but again the execution is poor. I found myself watching it wishing I wasn’t, and glad when it ended. It could have been such a great episode, but it just failed miserably on all counts. As with episode 4, the less said the better.
Episode 6, Hated in the Nation, almost saved the whole series. At an hour and a half long, it’s not so much an episode as it is a film in its own right, but it doesn’t suffer for it. It’s not an original concept – people being punished for what they’re saying online, being made aware their actions have consequences – but the execution is totally unique and the whole episode plays out brilliantly. For me, it’s easily the best episode of the series, and if the rest of the series had been anywhere near as good I’d be gushing over the whole thing.
There isn’t much I can say about episode 6 without giving it away, so I won’t try to. What I will say is it’s not a 10/10, but it’s really not far away. It could be argued it goes on too long, but only maybe by a minute or two, and it doesn’t detract too much from the whole episode anyway. This is the one episode definitely worth watching.
On the whole, Black Mirror season 3 doesn’t hit the heights of the first 2 – in fact it doesn’t really come anywhere close. What we get is Charlie Brooker’s dark visions of the future, but polished too brightly by Netflix’s money. It’s worth watching if you have the time, but don’t go out of your way – except for episode 6. If you only can find an hour and a half, skip the first 5 episodes and start here. If it’s the only one you watch, you’ll come away incredibly satisfied. If you watch the other 5 as well, not so much.
What did you think of Black Mirror Season 3? Drop a comment below with your thoughts!