Black Mirror has a tremendous knack for making you feel like a dick. Its satirical examination of our obsession with technology prompts you to aggressively nod your head in agreement, but then you download an app that controls your toaster and realise what a hypocritical berk you are. After the London Film Festival’s preview of season 3, I couldn’t even justify looking at my phone. A family member could have been trying to call me as an axe-wielding maniac hacked them to death and I would have ignored them through fear of looking like a tech-dependent drone – such is the effectiveness of Charlie Brooker’s latest series. It’s so brilliant it makes me angry.
“Nosedive”, the first of three episodes we were shown, was mostly responsible for making me want to give up on society and live in a tree. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), it’s set in a dystopian world where everyone uses an app to rate everything out of five. Your social standing is determined by your personal rating and if it drops too low you can’t even open a fucking door. Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World) plays a woman who is particularly desperate to be liked, wearing more fake smiles than you at a distant relative’s birthday party.
The superficial nature of our online personas – posting stuff that makes us look happy and omitting the misery – is perfectly encapsulated by the episode’s sickly-sweet, pastel palette. With the show moving from Channel 4 to Netflix, it can now convey its annoyingly clever messages with a level of artistry that wouldn’t feel out of place in a feature length film, which is convenient because one of the episodes is ninety minutes long.
But it still has that unmistakable Black Mirror feel. It’s as prescient as ever, and the reality they’re depicting is worryingly close to our own. Take me, for example; right now I’m nervously twisting my nipples, hoping that you’ll click ‘like’ on this review. It’s just like the show’s Twitter account profoundly states: “We’re all so caught up in our own minds, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s real.” Yes, I quoted a tweet; and yes, I see the irony in that, so fuck you.
Speaking of what’s real, the second episode shown, “San Junipero”, challenges perceptions of reality. It’s actually quite a light story by Black Mirror’s standards, which is to say it doesn’t completely throw you in a pit of despair and shit on you. Directed by Black Mirror returnee Owen Harris, it sees a socially inept girl (Mackenzie Davis) drift through various nightclubs in different time periods, suffering each era’s breed of music. She comes across a far more outgoing girl (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who disappears for a week every time the clock strikes midnight, like a post-modern Cinderella with a shit Internet connection.
I’d be spoiling it if I said much more, but it won’t hurt you to know that the episode’s message is a relatively promising one. Actually, that might hurt you if you were hoping to see the characters suffer and contract viruses from sex robots or something. But where “Nosedive” demonstrates how technology can be used to create personas, “San Junipero” focuses on how it can allow us to be ourselves. It’s almost as if someone very clever deliberately wrote these episodes to offer some balance.
The final episode, however, says ‘fuck you’ to balance. “Shut Up and Dance” is perhaps the most harrowing Black Mirror story yet, simply because it’s set in present day with technology that’s readily available to us. It follows 19-year-old Kenny (Alex Lawther), who unknowingly installs an app that hacks his laptop’s camera and films him having a wank. He then receives an anonymous text, threating to leak the footage to everyone in his contacts if he doesn’t follow a set of instructions. I suppose you’d call it spunk mail.
The tension builds with each new command until Kenny’s face resembles a pent-up bubble of anxiety. You can see the horror in his eyes as he agonises over the thought of everyone seeing him burp his load all over his keyboard. Yet the real horror of the scenario is its plausibility. It’s easy to imagine how this sort of thing might happen to people in real life as Kenny comes across various other men being blackmailed. Most of the series is set in America, but between director James Watkins (The Woman in Black) and writers Charlie Brooker and Will Bridges, they’ve made an episode so black it could only be based in England.
In a perverse sort of way, it’s enjoyable to see some of the men get their comeuppance, but you wouldn’t think Kenny was deserving of the same torture. That’s how this new series of Black Mirror grabs you: the twists are totally unexpected, it forces you to doubt your own judgment and even makes you feel guilty for being sympathetic. By the time it was all over, I hated myself.
Black Mirror Season 3 consists of 6 episodes and is available on Netflix from October 21.