By Ian Zhang ’20
Created by Charlie Brooker, British TV show Black Mirror is an anthological science fiction series filled with haunting dramas that take contemporary issues and delve into the uncertainty of the future.
Each episode features a different story with different characters and stands in solitude with a different theme. However, it is all connected via a dark reflection of society’s relationship with the omnipresence of the mainstream media. With no end from the tragedy that Black Mirror presents, it leaves the viewers wanting more in place of the unattainable catharsis. Ultimately, its goal is to consider common predicaments that we experience daily in completely new and radical scenarios.
With a long run time per episode ranging from 50-100 minutes, the show is able to effectively draw the viewer in —with no theme music nor narration— simply beginning with the buzzing of a television screen. The overall minimalistic approach of the series is able to contribute greatly to a variety of twisted sociological standpoints, making the viewer feel as if she is part of the on-screen experience. Black Mirror flawlessly applies CGI, or often just clever camera positioning to heighten the construction of the storyline.
One of the most heavy-handed installments, “Men Against Fire”, episode five of the third series (2016), shows the faults of technological advances in warfare. With neural implants that enhance sensory input and provides tactical augmented reality information, the soldiers are ordered to exterminate mutants, seen as an infesting force and dubbed as ‘roaches’. With the neural implants altering the soldiers’ perceptions, however, the roaches appear as humans with a different DNA sequence and their screams and pleas for mercy turn into hideous screeching. In this sense, they are all unknowingly committing a mass genocide. Using high-tech methods to hinder basic human emotions and facilitate the slaughter of another, the neural implants convince soldiers to do the unthinkable. Criticizing drone-warfare, where lives are able to be taken with the flip of a switch hundreds of miles away, this episode straightforwardly tackles the ethical boundaries of technology in the military, showing the fearsome potential of an immoral army.
Although “Men Against Fire” is just one example, each episode is filled with grim concepts of the present tied to the future. Addressing modern day issues with acute rigor, Black Mirror is not limited in its expressiveness in which it chooses to express its concerns, opting for one of many worst-case scenarios. The simplicity of Black Mirror offers a warning to its viewers, using its signature twists to shock viewers into a higher awareness of their own actions and environment.
As creator Charlie Brooker puts it, the various stories “are all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.” Wasting no time on the details of how the technology works, Black Mirror dives straight into the jarring effect it has on life, focusing on the impacts rather than the means. Brooker’s vision of the future so closely parallels our present, it criticizes and cautions the viewers to look at how deeply intertwined information-based technologies are with daily life, especially regarding the social, political, and cultural atmosphere.
A bleak science-fiction drama filled to the brim with surprises, Black Mirror is a one-of-a-kind show. Peering through a lens both futuristic and familiar, it forces us, as viewers, to evaluate technology, unbridled media influence, and the outcomes they yield.