Dark and Twisted: A Reflection on Black Mirror

Charlie Brooker’s award winning show Black Mirror has become the latest British TV show to make the ambitious leap across the Atlantic. Netflix released its new six episode long series last week, with all the hype and ceaseless Facebook ads that seems to follow most Netflix originals. Considering the brief yet crisp three episodes of previous series, finding double that number available was both fantastic and concerning news for fans. So many shows have tried and failed to stretch themselves to the demands of an American audience (looking at you The Inbetweeners) that this super-sizing could have meant diluting the show’s dark and brutal humour for something more palatable to a wider audience. But much to the light of long time viewers it’s just as clever, just as sarcastic and just as fucked up.

Each of the shows episodes, just like the previous seasons, creates its own dystopian universe. Some, like Nosedive and San Junipero, are set in seemingly distant societies, the first where class and status is defined entirely by your social media star rating, the second where the terminally ill are allowed to live out their last days in a paradisiacal but shallow virtual reality. Others, like Playtest and Hated in the Nation provide us with a world that is an exact copy of our own but with certain technological advances; whether that be hyper-realistic videogames or minute, bee-shaped drones.

Each one provides a reflection of aspects of modern society that exaggerates and distorts the image, leaving them warped but still recognisable. In fact, it is the eerie familiarity of these universes that makes them all the more haunting. As Booker himself puts it these worlds represent “the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy”. They are reminders that we’re just a few mistakes away from a reality as absurd as the ones he creates. The way 2016 has been so far though, these episodes may well be a slightly optimistic projection. The first episode of season one in fact performed something of a prediction; linking the Prime Minister and pigs in a more intimate way than many would have thought could have some basis in reality.

I watched this series in the way that seemed best fitting of the millennial age we inhabit; binge watching. The fact that this is exactly the brain numbing type of behaviour that the show seeks to parody is something that makes me both disgusted at my own lack of self-control as well as impressed by the show’s ability to hit the satirical nail on the head. It doesn’t just seek to critique technology and broader, ‘big’ society but also the viewer themselves. As the trailer for the series says “our true reflection is only revealed once the screen goes…dark”. Heavy going for a Tuesday night but once you’re an episode in, the strange, often elaborate plots keep the binge going. That and the fear of seeing your glazed eyes staring back through the blank screen at 4:30am once you finally work up the will power to stop.

In an interview a month ago Brooker quipped that “you would never create a character like Donald Trump because no one would find it plausible.”. So when the world woke up on the 9th of November to witness a xenophobic, fake tanned, business tycoon and reality TV star elected the president of the United States it really did feel like we’d managed to slip into and beyond an episode of Black Mirror. The show’s twitter responded to this bizarre and frightening discovery with this characteristically dry, yet somewhat panic inducing tweet: “This isn’t an episode. This isn’t marketing. This is reality.”. The boundaries, it seems, between even the most twisted dystopias of Charlie Brooker’s mind and the reality we live in are becoming not so much blurred as obliterated. The future is indeed black.