Sean Kilpatrick and I love the heck out of Black Mirror (as much as Sean can love anything. Once I asked him to assess his suicidality for the day and he glibly answered, “always 10/10, but there’s still work to be done.” For comparison, I hover ineffectually between 4-6.) In honor of the unexpected dropping of season 4 on Netflix last week, Sean and I have collaborated to bring you an episode by episode breakdown. [Warning: We give everything away but you should be prepared for that in any case, why are you reading about television.] First some opening thoughts from SK:
The winding down retro era bred an intense blend of satirical irony and dark mainstream absurdism, sprinkled on some hyper-reverse-sincere non-sequiturs, assloads of truly immoral and iconic tongue work, and mashed it all through a colander of barbs meaner than any catharsis right as the sole quality aspect of our postmodern anti-pathos brought its best bleak. Charlie Brooker’s off the wall black comedy version of a TV Guide crammed another sharp aesthetic beneath the swiftly closing door of that culture (now disappeared as a nostalgia). Already a Gen X hero, Brooker was allowed to pen a neat show or two and slowly became, with his Wipe series, Britain’s Jon Stewart, if Jon Stewart hadn’t failed to be the ouroboros-level fuck-it-all dark commentator from hell the news should fear. Instead, America (at least we had Penn & Teller: Bullshit!) got what it deserved, another bought, partisan piety stooge as talented as his handlers, who blipped a little fart when he dipped out, including that more talented right-hand man of his in the cooler, more ironic costume currently hosting your by number suck-a-duck evening blab fest. Brooker introduced Britain to the real version of a tongue so serrated no throat can have it and people applauded, because taste must exist there. Committing the big entertainment crime of using fantastic language to stab a point across worked much better than the typical smug, crowd appeasing dick pat. Brooker jeered with you, at everyone, at everything, basement hellhole to basement hellhole.
SK: All that to say: Brooker had long developed the pedigree to produce a masterpiece. How TV Ruined Your Life, one of the best cultural rundowns ever written about our fusty contemporary quagmire, outlined, with flawless philosophical dread, every aspect of the artistic vision he then ran into Black Mirror, and Black Mirror is as close as widespread television will come to notching a fang in the massive glut that sustains it. With nods to, and on the shoulders of, Twilight Zone, if Serling then crouched down and popped your teeth slant with a hammer. Episode one of season four is a paean to that genre of film in which an office worker of ye ole white man’s burden explodes through a scathing revenge spree (A Shock to the System, Bruiser etc.). The irony built into that message would be blamed for its depiction alone these days, so Brooker exploits the office wimp / gamer loser / underdog, but creepy / lover of lame geek fanboy shit as entirely deserving of his ill-treatment, and the literally sexless (nevertheless by his making), homogenized corporate socialite winner drones are our heroes, which is its own PC horror reversed again as their hell equals his. For every social Brownie point Brooker skirts, I promise he will soon hurt you on par. More my problem that very little of what’s widely distributed winds up evil enough for me.
ML: Jesse Plemons is very attractive to me. In honor of Tommy, I’d like to suck on his head like a lollipop. I thought this episode was good sport. Fans of Star Trek will agree that it’s a show to make fun of mercilessly and also take deathly serious. Cristin Milioti gives a fine comedic performance—do the blackmail pictures get saucier after the PG underwear? They better.
ML: Episode 2, Arkangel, a.k.a. How I Met My Mother and Smashed Her Face In with an iPad. The story begins with Rosemarie Dewitt numb from the waist down during her pregnancy, no father present. She can’t push anymore so they painlessly pull the baby out of her; can this woman do anything right? The first time watching, immediately after the delivery it seems like they’re setting up a baby bait and switch, but that’s wrong. What we have instead is a nervous nelly Mother. From day one, she is a walking, neon “Slow Down!” sign. The Arkangel technology lets her see everything her daughter does and filters out the bad stuff.
When little girl Sara tries to stab her mom with a pencil, she takes her to a child shrink and he’s all, ‘of course filtering out barking dogs and swears will have a negative effect on her development, are you kidding us, destroy the Arkangel tablet.’
She doesn’t destroy the Arkangel tablet. Little Sara grows up to be a psychopath, or else it’s her Mother’s distrust that sets her off, and, as promised, the story ends with a smashed in face. I like this episode because of its moral, namely, bad kids are good (the bully from IT returns!) and Mothers worry too much. Jodie Foster’s the first female to direct an episode of Black Mirror so far. 22 of 35 iMDb users find that interesting. I suspect that Sean will be upset that mother lives.
SK: Look what happens when a stout christian father isn’t there to discipline the household. Or to kick some beer at the hamper and zombify all involved. Yet, you shan’t plug him in with a phone call to the state or a brain bot censor lord from Marx class 101, yon dizzy dames. Helicoptering clips every leashed-in brain. Cease to explain! (Anyway, thumbs up to net hysteria safety fetish Carlin-esque take down of snouting through your youngling’s panties, because everybody’s got a snout now.)
ML: This is a good, old-fashioned comedy starring Britain’s version of my sister with a chic haircut and her alcoholic man friend. We begin on the cliffs from I Know What You Did Last Summer, ‘he shouldn’t have been biking in the middle of the road like that, one, two, three, heave his corpse into the ocean in a sleeping bag, no sense ruining more lives, odds are the guilt will only crush one of us.’
15 years later and it turns out the man’s the one with a conscience. Haircut (her name is Mia) kills the man in a world where cops and insurance companies can plug your brain into a machine and replay your most recent memories. Therein starts a chain reaction of murder that seriously had me in stitches, oh my god, men women, and children, Mia cannot stop murdering people in order to preserve her idiotic career as an architect is it? And then done in by a hamster. You can’t win. I feel like people will complain that this episode is far-fetched, but so is projecting memories into a travel television, you dolts. John Hillcoat directs, the man behind laugh-riots like The Road and The Proposition. Why is this called Crocodile, did anyone find out?
SK: Great to see Hillcoat edge back toward Proposition and Ghosts…of the Civil Dead. He’s been showing me some over-complicated flowers and messes lately. The irony is played excellently straight, but one yearns for an Evenson-esque embracing of violence from her character. You know you’d be loving murder after victim number two and she’s talented at it. Palpate your talent.
Hang the DJ
SK: I’m recalling less and less of last season’s single stumble toward happiness aside from the downloadable heaven and cute girls, but romance can be forgiven on film (not in life) if done with this much manic chemistry. Film is chemistry. Cinema is romantic: it’s a business parade that aims impossibly for art. The actors feel born to mate. This is how harrowing a dopaminergic longing can splay itself through tête-à-têtes, so we’ll root kid-eyed and charmed because the bullshit has demonstrable gloss. Do them like this, if you must. More people should be talking about how beautiful the movie Strange Days is. E.T. should be famous for its lighting and no other reason.
ML: I agree with Sean. Every season gets one happy ending and here we are. Nice nods to Logan’s Run, complete with ubiquitous escalators. This is a better episode than season 3’s award-winning whatever. Just curious, do you think the couples in the dating algorithm simulation have jobs?
ML: Will they do another episode in the future where we find out who created the human-killing dog robots and why? Can the dogs swim to America. How soon can we expect them? This one is real artsy, directed by David Slade (Hard Candy, American Gods, Hannibal) in stark and scary black and white. We’ve got a gang of hardened warriors traveling a barren landscape, it better not be fucking zombies, am I right? The dog robots are scarier than zombies.
Soon there’s only one human left. The dog stuck a tracking device in her leg then runs her up a tree. She pulls a clever ruse involving robot habituation, look it up, but on a long enough timeline, robots always win. Sentimental people will be moved by the episode’s last shot, a box of overturned teddy bears, implication being that when there’s nothing left to live for you have to make up meaning, and then go on senselessly dangerous expeditions to fulfill the made-up imperative. Fine, fine. The stuffed bears make a stirring image.
SK: The bubbas from White God did well for themselves. Jaws in a kennel if the kennel was earth – ran by HAL in an Alien costume, plus Man’s Best Friend (whose ass it indeed is, Mr. Postman) plus Demon Seed meets Air Bud or Ghost in the Machine and Cujo and Terminator vs. Nemesis and Cyborg and Elevator to the Gallows and, shit, Hard Candy if the girl was a younger White Dog who loved the films Split Second and, okay, Romero and then Oliver Stone’s The Hand. Again, Brooker. Brooker!
SK: Some cry foul because Brooker is punching his own balls here. Quite intentionally, I’ll argue, to display them flattened till Brooker himself is some bloated and oddly effeminate southern dandyish belle / troll of a crypt keeper with ethno-masochistic intentions (as a rich dude’s concept) and increasingly overtly hate-wrung and disgusting (as applied upon our heroine). Anyone doing well is legally required to portray themselves this grotesque, but our presenter, evil white conniver from that insensitive and ironic generation who still think mean jokes are acceptable (Brooker) – and straight demonic (representational character) – is not merely a justice warrior’s foil (and the stories are great) because the revenge is personal, if socially pious, and brutal enough to appease sickos and internet badge wavers alike. In conclusion, Brooker did it again. He’s a god, I’m nothing, and very few reviewers will be capable of parsing (with any worthwhile take beyond whoever owns their site’s company, or whatever company already owns their try at a mind) nugget one from a brain warped this well. Update: You know the internet wants Brooker’s blood, but no dice on the tattletale hack-job plagiarism buzzfeed of late. Nice try. Pray the man never slept with anyone drunk and was asking how his partner felt every five seconds if sex occurred in his life. Pray that he also never accidentally bumped into anyone on the job, or, best case scenario, is a virgin, or, if partaking once in the sexual dome, used a proxy robot to orgasm.
ML: Brilliant move, an anthology inside of an anthology, has the makings of a perfect Tales from the Crypt / Darkside episode. This is the first time I recall we’ve seen positive evidence that the happenings from episode to episode exist in the same universe. Is that entirely possible? I’ll have to think about it. The ending of this one struck me with a tad too much heroism. Five stars for making me nearly throw up in segment one.