Black Mirror: WTF Am I Watching This For?
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[All kinds of spoilers as of Season 3, Episode 3]

I consider the first seven episodes of Black Mirror – the first two seasons plus the Christmas special – to be, like, the original Black Mirror. It’s an arbitrary distinction that I use to demarcate those episodes from the latest ones that were ordered by Netflix and feature American actors. I am now beginning to watch the “new” Black Mirror episodes.

As I said when I first wrote about Black Mirror, most episodes left me sitting in stunned silence at the end, wondering how long that particular episode would haunt my dreams. After completing the first two three-episode seasons (and the Christmas special, never forget the Christmas special) there was a feeling of finality. I watched that. It’s over now. I can participate in discussions about it but I don’t have to watch it again. It’s how I felt about Dancer in the Dark, Requiem for a Dream, and Leaving Las Vegas. I’ve been disturbed. You win, Lars von Trier. Excuse me while I watch Billy Madison as a palate cleanser.

But now there are twelve more to watch. Twelve. It goes without saying that I am under no obligation to continue watching this show but I feel oddly compelled to do so by some duty to entertainment. I must stay current on my cultural references. Also, if I don’t watch, it would be because of cowardice because I do, in fact, fear each new episode.

Every time I log in to Netflix, there’s Black Mirror, staring at me from the “Trending Now” section. Watch me, Rob. Everyone else already has. You don’t want to be left out do you?

Fine. Jesus.

I’ve watched the first three episodes of season three and perhaps it’s my existing prejudice to the new episodes but I feel like something’s missing. They’re soul crushingly dark, don’t get me wrong, but that seems to be the extent of it. These new episodes are brutal but they’re missing the social commentary.

The first episodes dealt with our obsession with scandal and spectacle. We saw it in the people who giggingly gathered to watch the prime minister have sex with a pig but then turned away in shame when it went on too long. The artist behind the stunt commits suicide having lost faith in humanity. We saw it in the perverse pleasure the people took watching the woman at White Bear get repeatedly tortured. We saw it in the election of Donald Trump a cartoon character who “tells it like it is” but who actually just appeals to our basest instincts.

They also dealt with our obsession with technology taken a few steps too far. Replaying our lives over and over again, to win arguments, to relive happiness, to recapture what has passed. Putting so much out on social media that our minds are able to be downloaded and a new you can be shipped somewhere or used as a tiny personal assistant. We’re trapped in soulless job, pedaling away like hamsters in a wheel and our only reward is the validation of appearing for our fifteen minutes on some asinine reality show.

Those episodes cut deep. They felt like they were about us. These first three new ones don’t.

I’m going to start with “Playtest.” An American tourist needs funds to get back to America so he signs up to test a new hyper real virtual reality gaming system (or rather, it appears augmented but it’s revealed to have been virtual the whole time). He participates in a few games but then is taken to the real horror game, which takes him to his breaking point. But wait! He wasn’t, he’s back in the gaming CEO’s office! Now he’s home… to another nightmare. But wait! He’s actually at the very first chair where he started and he’s dying because his phone wasn’t turned off. Also everything you saw actually occurred in 0.04 seconds. It was scary. It was dark. But what was the deeper meaning? Don’t play video games so much? Be sure to turn off your phone? I think I missed it.

“Shut Up and Dance” wasn’t about the near future. I felt like that one took place right now. Anonymous hackers film teenage Kenny masturbating to porn from the camera on his computer and threaten to leak the tape if he doesn’t do everything they say. It leads him on a terrifying goose chase where he crosses paths with fellow people who are being blackmailed. The hackers say they will let him go once he does what he is told. He eventually ends up fighting someone to the death while being filmed by a drone for the prize money that he stole from a bank. In the end, the hackers reveal everything anyway and the life of everyone involved is ruined.

But also, twist! He was masturbating to child pornography. So, the guy we were rooting for was really a villain.

Again, it was shocking but was the deeper comment? Someone could blackmail you with the secrets you have online? With the number of hacking scandals (and my own fear of my computer’s camera), I knew that one already. And are we just supposed to be okay with the Funny Games-esque torture from the anonymous hackers?

“Nosedive” was my favorite of the new ones that I’ve seen. Lacie lives in a world where you rate everyone. It’s a Stepford world where everyone is extra nice to everyone else to keep their rating high. She finally sees a way to increase her rating at her perfect friend’s wedding. On her we there, we meet a truck driver who has cast off the need for any of it. Lacie finds freedom in prison while therapeutically yelling insults at a fellow prisoner, relieved to be able to express something other than perfect pleasantries. This one was closer to the first episodes. We see the desperation in living your real life as if it were the happy avatar you project on social media.

I’m this caught up in it and only three episodes in. I’m going to keep watching. God help me.

 

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