Sunday, December 31, 2017

'Black Mirror' Season 4 Episodes, Ranked (Plus, Re: What Could Be the Show's Biggest Twist Yet)

Just like last year, I will be listing here the episodes of the latest season of Black Mirror in the order that I think is least to best.

But, before that, some thoughts: season 4 is as dark, delightful, and insightful as ever, but compared to the previous seasons, I think its set of episodes is the weakest.  I partly think it’s because its featured science fiction technologies feel a bit of rethreads of technologies previously introduced in earlier Black Mirror installments.  Several times, throughout the season, you would go, “Hey, wait a minute.  That’s similar to (insert old Black Mirror episode title).”  This somewhat lessens the sense of originality.

That said, something about the finale made me think this was intentional.  Maybe even brilliant.  Anyway, I will be tackling this later.  Let’s first get the ranking done…

Synopsis: Shot entirely in black and white, it tells the story of a woman being hunted by killer robot dogs (similar to those created by Boston Dynamics in real life) in a post-apocalyptic world.

This is my least favorite Black Mirror episode of all time.  Now, this is a well-shot, well-directed, and well-acted episode.  It’s legitimately suspenseful.  As a production, it’s taut.  However, it doesn’t feel like an actual Black Mirror episode.  The thing about a Black Mirror episode is that it’s like a fable in setup and structure.  And beyond the plot twists, regardless of whether the plot is complex or straightforward, it has a clear message – that’s why this show is like the spiritual successor of The Twilight Zone.  Well, this isn’t the case with “Metalhead.”  It doesn’t feel like a fable.  It has no twist or message, or if it has, it isn’t clear about it.

Synopsis: A single mother almost loses her daughter in the park one day.  Not wanting for this to happen again, she lets her daughter be implanted with a chip which allows her to track wherever she is as well as see and filter what she is seeing.

The story is almost too predictable.  But it’s nonetheless a riveting, thought-provoking story that cautions against helicopter parenting.

Synopsis: The Chief Technical Officer of a company that produces a popular virtual reality MMORPG (a la Ready Player One) creates a private mod based on a Star Trek-esque show he’s fond so that he can play out his fantasies of being a Captain Kirk-esque captain.

I thought it was going to be simply a riff and deconstruction of Star Trek.  But it’s far from that.  And way more disturbing.

Synopsis: A celebrated architect finds herself in the middle of an insurance investigation which threatens to unearth the secret sins of the past.

There’s a certain sense of predictability and simplicity about it.  And yet it still surprises and rivets in the end.  Also, this is probably the season’s most messed up episode.

Synopsis: While waiting for her car to recharge, a woman visits a nearby museum that showcases criminal technology artifacts and memorabilia.  Being the sole guest that day, she is given a tour by the proprietor, who then tells her the stories behind some of the articles he has collected.

It’s somewhat unique for being an “anthology within an anthology” episode.  And its twisted whole really works better than the sum of its twisted parts.  A gripping episode all in all.

But the most significant thing about it is that it may have the biggest Black Mirror twist yet.  By that, I don’t mean on the plot itself, but it has elements that have mindblowing implications.  I want to discuss this more later.  For now, let me just set where this episode stands in the rankings.

An amusing side note: one the characters in this episode is played by Aldis Hodge, who played Alec Hardison in Leverage.   And the name of his character’s son is... Parker!  Coincidence or an intentional tongue-in-cheek allusion to Leverage?

Synopsis: “The System” is a walled commune where an AI called “Coach” pairs couples and dictates how long their relationships would last.  After a series of relationships is analyzed, the ultimate, perfect match for each one is determined.  In this setting, first timers Frank and Amy meet.

The premise reminds me of The Lobster.  However, it takes a turn toward a sweet, funny, heartbreaking storyline and an unexpected twist.  It’s the most rewarding episode of Black Mirror season 4.  That’s all that needs to be said.

Now, let’s go back to the season finale and its astonishing twist (SPOILERS)…
“Black Museum” is packed with Easter eggs from, not only previous episodes of the season, but previous seasons as well.   And the mindblowing implication?  The Black Mirror episodes – at least, the majority of them – happened in the same universe!

Of course, the Easter eggs are probably just that: Easter eggs.  No deeper meaning than just-for-fun allusions for fans.

Still, the notion of a shared universe makes sense.  It answers the question why this season featured technologies that have some similarities with technologies featured in the previous three seasons, plus the Christmas special.  Same technological principles; different technological applications.  Same universe!  If this is so, then a retraction is in order in my part for my comment in the intro that this is the weakest season of Black Mirror, when it’s actually brilliant in this perspective.

If “Black Museum” had been intended as series finale, and had been a bit more conclusive about delivering a Split-like twist, it would have been the most perfect way to wrap up this incredible show.

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