Some of us grew up with The Twilight Zone, but these days the kids are watching Black Mirror.
Black Mirror is an anthology series that now has four seasons under its belt (19 episodes in all) and the basic premise of writer Charlie Booker’s series takes our slight animosity toward technological advances and amps those uncomfortable feelings into overdrive.
The beauty of the series has always been in its view of morality, the human condition and our interaction with technology. If the implications of social media taken to extremes sends shivers down your spine, Black Mirror might not necessarily need to be on your watch list.
One of the standout episodes of Season 4 is its escape down the rabbit hole of love in a digital age and what form that may take in the future. Called “Hang the DJ” (it doesn’t involving hanging anyone by the way, that’s the name of a song reference) the episode is about a construct in which you date a series of people to sort out which one might be your perfect match. In the process if you decide to reveal to each other how much time you will spend with each partner, you ruin what might unfold. This is the writer’s way of saying that such AI/human experiments never take into account the chaotic nature of the human condition and that attraction to another person can’t merely be reduced to coding in a program. In the end, despite some of Black Mirror’s darker episodes, this episode is intrinsically optimistic.
Writer Charlie Brooker loves thought experiments that explore what make us human, usually in the context of simulated environments, the notion of digitising human consciousness and just how sophisticated artificial intelligence is becoming. Episodes usually bare out the fact that little good can come of pairing human flaws with highly advanced technology, and while this might be pessimistic, it plays with the notion that whatever we do, there is always the tricky question of the soul.
As stories about technology and humanity, the whole series of episodes work best when writer Brooker can guide us toward places of hope, even if sometimes those moments are short-lived in favour of irony in the closing moments.
The series is also at the top of its game when commenting on social media and pop culture, case in point is the hugely entertaining though dark episode with a Star Trek feel — “USS Callister”.
Other episodes in season four tackle its usual clutch of frightening extensions to our normal lives by taking a stab at the terrifying implications of virtual simulations, helicopter parenting via surveillance and insurance software able to recall actual memory fragments — and that’s just the first three episodes.
Black Mirror has always been about morality plays and the ethics of modern technology. They are essentially modern day parables. They are short stories designed to challenge and enlighten. The Twilight Zone got to tell 156 of them. Jesus told 70 of them. Here’s hoping there are more to come.
All episodes of Black Mirror are available to stream on Netflix now.