Saturday, October 29, 2016

'Black Mirror' Season Three Episodes, Ranked

I first learned of Black Mirror back in 2014 when a Christmas special titled “White Christmas” was released; it ended up being one of the best things I’ve seen on TV that year.

“White Christmas” became the gateway for me to the rest of Black Mirror, as I sought and binge its previous two seasons.  It’s quite easy to binge, really, since each season only had three episodes – so, six episodes in all.  Moreover, I found it legitimately addictive to watch, since it felt like the spiritual successor of The Twilight Zone, a classic show that I extremely love.

I actually thought that Black Mirror was done already, since a season three didn’t come immediately after the Christmas special.  But much to my delight, it was announced last year that Netflix has decided to revive it, ordering twelve new episodes – that’s double the total amount (minus the Christmas special) of the previous seasons’ episodes!  These twelve were originally intended to be all packaged in a season three release, but were later divided into seasons three and four.

This October, season three has arrived, bringing the first six episodes.  I’ve recently finished watching them, and my overall assessment is that Black Mirror has remained as gripping, thought-provoking, and terrifying as I’ve last remembered it.  Still, let me briefly give my thoughts on each episode and rank them from least to best…

EPISODE 2: “PLAYTEST”

Synopsis: A young American traveler named Cooper is in London and needs cash fast.  He turns to an app to show him what nearby job he can take, sending him to test a high-tech augmented reality horror game.

Even if this is my least favorite of the lot, this is not at all a “bad” episode.  What’s so great about Black Mirror is that there’s really no such thing.  But “Playtest” could be my least favorite Black Mirror episode ever (it has been a while since I’ve last seen the first two seasons so I’m not quite sure yet).  I felt that I’ve encountered such premise and plot several times before already.  It has solid story execution and has an interestingly layered narrative, but it’s also predictable all throughout.  You can see its twist coming a mile away.

EPISODE 6: “HATED IN THE NATION”

Synopsis: A techno-thriller mystery tale that follows a pair of police detectives investigate a string of deaths that are linked to Twitter.

This is the first time that Black Mirror has featured a cop procedural narrative.  And I appreciate that.  It’s suspenseful and engaging.  However, I think it suffered a bit being the last episode of the season, since – at least, in my opinion – four prior episodes were superior to it.  I probably would have liked it better if it had been the first or second episode.

EPISODE 5: “MEN AGAINST FIRE”

Synopsis: It’s about a group of futuristic soldiers that are implanted with MASS, a device that helps them in their war against the humanoid mutants called Roaches.

I was able to predict the twist of this episode, but that didn’t significantly lessen the impact of the reveal on me.  “Men Against Fire” is a powerful metaphor on how war can condition or coerce its participants into carrying out horrifying acts without any contemplation, and at the same time, leave them broken.

EPISODE 3: “SHUT UP AND DANCE”

Synopsis: A young boy named Kenny is blackmailed by a hacker (or hackers?) that recorded him doing something inappropriate via his webcam.  The hacker then orders Kenny, along with other blackmailed wretches, to carry out a series of tasks – with each new task getting more sinister from the previous one – in order to keep his secret from being disseminated.

This is the most resonating and terrifying episode of this season since it’s the most realistic.  It doesn’t feature any science fiction-y conveniences, but only technology that exists and occurrences that are possible today (yes, hackers can access your webcam without you knowing it).  Thus, the disturbing scenario that “Shut Up and Dance” presents can very much happen in real life.

EPISODE 1: “NOSEDIVE”

Synopsis: Set in the not so distant future in which social media popularity has tangible effects on real life, a woman named Lacie Pound is determined to make herself be rated high enough to join the elite.

One of the things that make Black Mirror a relevant, insightful show is how it makes a rhetoric about an issue by narratively restating it into something over the top.  “Nosedive” is a great example of how Black Mirror does it.  It’s a brilliant critique on the stressful, pathetic, and hypocritical state of people obsessing with keeping appearances of perfection and happiness on social media, and pursuing virtual approvals (e.g. “likes” and “up votes”) instead of authentic meaningful interactions.  “Nosedive” doesn’t pull punches in striking these points home.

EPISODE 4: “SAN JUNIPERO”
Synopsis: I won’t provide a synopsis.  This is an episode worth watching without any prior knowledge on what it’s going to be about.

Hands down, this is the best episode of Black Mirror’s season three.  It’s stylish, moving, and extremely well-written.  I love the pacing of this episode.  It doesn’t rush on revealing what the heck is really going on with the characters and the plot.  It lets the viewer figure it out gradually, teasing him through periodic crumbs of clues.  And when the real deal of San Junipero (the place, not the episode title) is finally revealed, everything mindblowingly makes sense.  In addition, it also has a fantastic soundtrack that perfectly enhances the emotions of the story. 
     

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