Once again I am breaking away from all that this blog stands for to review the second part of Charlie Brooker’s excellent TV show, ‘Black Mirror’. Firstly because I’ve already review 3 of the episodes that I was fortunate enough to see at LFF, so thought it was only right to complete the set. And secondly, because it is my blog and I do what I like! 🙂
The overall scope of this 3rd series feels a lot bigger; the stories are more widespread, grander, the cast is more star-studded, and the freedom of Netflix has provided Brooker to stretch his wings out from the strict time constraints and ad breaks of Channel 4.
Whilst there are undoubtedly some episodes which play with some new ideas, and are tonally very different to what we’ve seen before, this is still the Black Mirror we know and love. There’s dark, dark humour, technology, sci-fi, horror, and futuristic realities which are worryingly close to what we know, the further you delve into them.
I’ve already reviewed the episodes ‘Nosedive’, ‘San Junipero’, and ‘Shut Up & Dance’ here, so do go and check these out as well. As before, the following reviews will be spoiler free so please enjoy!
Well, Charlie Brooker wasn’t lying in the Q&A session at London Film Festival, where he mentioned that one of the episodes in the new series would be an out and out horror film. ‘Playtest’ is a legitimately terrifying look at a highly immersive virtual reality gaming experience, which might just make you think twice before you buy that fancy new gaming headset!
It plays out like a horror film, but with the compact running time of just under an hour, it has a tightness that most horror movies would dream of having. It utilises some pretty neat jump-scares, and fans of gaming, and particularly horror games will get a real kick out of it.
Director Dan Trachtenberg builds on the success of his feature film directorial debut 10 Cloverfield Lane, and does an incredible job of containing this story, keeping it driven and focused. His previous filmography utterly betrays him, because Wyatt Russell as the main character Cooper, is completely brilliant. He manages to switch between cocky naysayer, and completely broken human, at the drop of a hat, and it’s amazing to watch.
It uses the ideas of fear being in the mind, and is perhaps at its most terrifying when it plays on some very human and natural fears, as well as the supernatural. The supernatural elements are a little silly at times, but the final act is completely devastating in a way that only Black Mirror can be. It’s crushing, and I think it was brilliant, I just need to mentally recover from watching it now!
Men Against Fire
Out of all the episodes in this new series, this is the one I am struggling the most with. It is undoubtedly my least favourite out of all the episodes series 3, but Black Mirror at its worst is still a hell of a lot better than some other TV shows.
It feels like the ideas in it are a little half-cooked, and the reveal comes a bit too early on in the episode, which kind of makes everything which follows feel a little secondary. That being said, it is still a very interesting watch! It looks at the idea of whether the perception of enemies is real or just based on what we’re told, and imagines a terrifying futuristic vision, in which soldiers voluntarily surrender their humanity for the cause.
It’s quite powerfully and evocatively show, and there’s also some pretty neat video game style, first person shooter shots which work really well at placing you in the situation, and prompting you to question what you would do if this was your reality.
It is an episode which I think might benefit from a repeated watch, but rather frustratingly, I feel like it didn’t make enough of what was actually a really brilliant idea.
Hated in the Nation
The longest Black Mirror episode so far, ‘Hated in the Nation’ comes in at just under 90 minutes long, and it is really refreshing to see a fully fleshed out and realised story, which still packs a punch despite its elongated length.
The focus of this episode is on media sh*tstorms, and again whilst it is set in a future, it feels like a very near future. We’re first introduced to a Katie Hopkins-esque character who after making some particularly hateful comments in her news paper column, seems to thrive on the vitriol it generates from strangers on the internet. Things quickly take a pretty sinister turn however, and then we’re in a weird, futuristic, police, crime drama which feels totally like classic Black Mirror.
The combination of future tech, but with a very firm focus on the here and now of Twitter sh*tstorms, and the unrelenting power of social media makes this an incredibly compelling watch. Its very unsettling, and a clear warning about the unstoppable juggernaut that is social media. It’ll make you think twice about what you say on social media, and maybe even about hashtags. Also, never has something made you want to cry “NOT THE BEES!” this much since Nicholas Cage’s infamous scene in The Wicker Man. You’ll see what I mean when you watch it!
My one criticism is that the direction of James Hawes does make it seem a little too television-y. Yes, I understand it is still a TV show, but when you’re playing with the feature length format, it kind of gives you the excuse to make it feel a bit more cinematic, and I think that would’ve been interesting to see for this story.
Now that I’ve finished watching the new series, my ranking of the episodes is as follows…
6. Men Against Fire
4. Hated in the Nation
3. San Junipero
2. Shut Up & Dance
What do you think of series 3 of Black Mirror? Favourite episode? Let me know in the comments below!