Black Mirror’s new season is its most charged yet.
Article contains spoilers.
Black Mirror is the show that, throughout the year, people just don’t stop talking about. The incredible series took on a life of its own with Brexit and Trump because suddenly, the horrific impossibilities were upon us. Black Mirror feels like the defining show of our time; it constantly explores the technical advances we make, often in juxtaposition to humans who repeatedly make the same selfish mistakes. It keeps giving dark twists that we fear, and now life itself has taken that same pattern. It’s the show we love and dread.
The return of Charlie Brooker’s hit series couldn’t have been timed better. Barely two weeks after white, geek, allocishet men cried over the liberal agenda of The Last Jedi, it was Netflix delivering a damning indictment of the state of humanity. Black Mirror has often been political in the past. It couldn’t be apolitical given its content. In previous series, the show has turned the ‘bury-your-gays’ trope on its head, shown a Prime Minister being forced to commit bestiality with a pig in the name of national security, and has even depicted a nightmarish world where class is determined by social media popularity. Throughout season 4 though, the focus was white entitlement.
The first episode, USS Callister, jumps right into showing up the bullshit of entitlement. It was a stunning episode, particularly in a year dominated by news stories of men being exposed for subjecting women (and also men) to abuse. Daly (Jesse Plemons) plays a disgruntled geek who is so abusive that he programs people into his own retro style game, where he can control them and even change them into monsters. He even committed sexual violence by removing everyone’s genitals. No-one is safe, whether it’s someone who rejects any notion of a relationship with him or someone who frankly just didn’t bow down to him, Daly will put them in his spaceship. The end is glorious as the crew come together and manage to delete Daly, beating the arrogant nerd at his own game.
The episode was powerful. Geek spaces still aren’t safe for women or marginalised people. White men often feel geek spaces are their playground that they’re losing control of. Well, they are. They shouldn’t be able to abuse and harass as they please and so it was a triumphant moment to see Daly, and all of his toxic masculinity, thwarted by a crew made up of women and people of colour. The only downside to an otherwise politically charged episode was to see Shania (Michaela Coel) turned into a monster while Nanette (Cristin Milioti) was spared. Shania was the only woman of colour, and constantly warned Nanette about Daly, but Nanette refused to listen. When Shania pleaded for mercy for Nanette, it was the woman of colour who was punished while the white woman was spared despite the fact that Nanette had repeatedly put them all in danger. This was most striking at the end of the episode, when Shania had returned to her body but Nanette was referred to as captain. Nanette had come up with the plan at the end, but she had risked them all. Shania should have been treated better in that episode, not just by Daly but by her supposed friend and ally in Nanette.
“White men often feel geek spaces are their playground that they’re losing control of”
However, the final episode, Black Museum did finally expose white entitlement at its fullest. While each artefact was particularly gruesome, nothing came close to uploading a black man’s conscious into a virtual projection so white men and women could pay to watch him be executed again, and again, even receiving a key-ring of his trauma. Black Mirror tried to shift focus from exploiting black trauma with such a disturbing story; they focused most of the screen attention on the white people reacting and framed it around their abusiveness than the trauma itself. Whether it worked is questionable and it wouldn’t be surprising if many people had to turn off, but the end story line delivers more than the start of the episode promised. Letitia Wright is stunning as Nish, who reveals that it is her father that Haynes (Douglas Hodge) has been torturing. Her revenge is brilliant as she frees her father from torture, kills Haynes and then gives his conscience the shock that her father was forced to endure. She even keeps the key-ring of his screaming face. It was a story line that highlighted what white supremacists fear – being treated exactly how they have treated people of colour. Nish freed her family from being made a spectacle for white people and it was the best ending the show could have given.
White women aren’t spared completely in the new series either, as Crocodile depicts a white woman on a murderous rampage to cover her own tracks. It’s often forgotten that white women are also upholders of white supremacy.
“It’s often forgotten that white women are also upholders of white supremacy”
The show itself is feminist, not just by content but by its castings. There were more people of colour cast in major roles, there was a depiction of bisexuality as casual and routine (as it should be) and women dominated every single episode. They led (or co-led) every episode and often also made up the other major characters around the lead.
Black Mirror might feel more predictable. It has lost its shine. When it first launched it was an entirely new concept but we’ve gotten used to it over the years. But that has freed the show. It can explore topics with more nuance, and really dig into the characters and its relationships. The shock factor may have worn off but that means that we can begin to appreciate it beyond that. Black Mirror has provocative content, but it seeks to make us think and to make us ask questions. In an age that is highly politicised, we still need a show like this and Black Mirror is laying down a challenge to all sci-fi stories. We don’t need more 80s style frivolous shows where the most significant diversity is CGI blue skin and there are gratuitous scenes showing space sex just to get jokes from allocishet white men. Sci-fi can be fun. It doesn’t have to be serious. But it does have to have reflective representation. The genre is pulling itself up, and it’s okay to leave some of the audience behind when all they want is to drag science-fiction back down.