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ON TV: BLACK MIRROR Season 4 Episodes 4-6 Review

Article by Frank Memmesheimer

 

What follows is spoiler country. Read at your own risk.

 

S4 E4 “Hang the DJ”

Frank and Amy sitting in the tree
k-i-s-s-i-n-g!
First comes love.
Then comes marriage.
Then comes…” 

WHOA, hold right there, sport. Frank and Amy are doing none of that if it’s not authorized by “THE SYSTEM”!

 

In a paradisiac and cultivated world that is surrounded by a massive protective wall, matters of the heart are not left to chance. “The system” couples inhabitants and informs both parties about their newly assigned significant other. A restaurant for the first date, choice of menu, overnight accommodations – everything is pre-arranged by the system for the strangers who are getting to know each other and are along for the ride. How far you go with each provided companion still is a matter of choice; the course of the relationship, however, is mapped out – expiration date included.

Enter Amy and Frank, both first-time users of the system and each other’s first pairing. They’re nervous, they’re the same way of quirky, and they instantly klick. Simultaneously activating their handled devices, their “Coach”, reveals the duration their relationship is going to last: 12 meager hours. When Amy and Frank part each other’s company, they don’t feel like putting an end to the delicate fondness that faintly began to grow, yet they obey the timer that mercilessly counts down.

Having to work out who you want to spend your life with is not a thing of the heart or the mind. It’s a thing of the past. “The system” takes care of that for you. Every relationship started and ended supplies invaluable data that helps optimize the search for and pairing with ultimate matching partners. Relationships are not matters of free choice; they’re matters of obedience to the system. “Failure to obey the system may result in banishment.”

“Hand the DJ” offers an interesting approach to the topic of predetermination vs free will. The idea of finding “the one” who is out there is myth (a pretty modern one at that) that has permeated our culture and thinking – and a bad strategy to go about relationships. Nonetheless, we’re obsessed with it. Making relationships work is actual work, it takes blood, sweat, and tears, and in the end, there’s no guarantee that things will work out. Imagine, just for a second, that there was a way to know for sure. Wouldn’t you go for it?

Frank and Amy trust the system to make the right choice more than they trust their own feelings and decision making process. They delegate their choice and responsibility to the system and part ways, only to be immediately matched with other partners, for better or worse. They endure relationship after relationship, fling after fling, pairing after pairing for the duration the system prescribes, all for the good cause of feeding valuable data to the system that eventually finds their ultimate match.

The value of each relationship decreases as it becomes nothing more than the next task to complete , the next hurdle to clear, the next hoop to jump through, in order to one day find your ultimate match. One day, if ever. Until then, two lives wasted. Why are we in the relationships we are in? How do we cope with relationships that end? “Hang the DJ” asks these questions but doesn’t allow its viewers enough time to ponder, as the next relationship waits for those who seek. Neither Frank nor Amy get a break after a breakup, there’s no time to mourn what ended or rejoice that it did. No time to learn from the experience. It goes on and on and on, and the two numb over to time. Sound familiar? Affairs of the heart are hard labour that takes time and needs healing. (Thanks, Dr. Phil. Moving on.)

When the system pairs up Amy and Frank once again after a string of bad relationships, they get a second chance to make it work and shake hands on not checking their new expiry date. Their relationship flourishes as they question the systems use and significance. When one of them can’t withstand the old urge to want to know for sure, events are set in motion that not only threaten their relationship.

Every episode of Black Mirror is like that famous box o’ chocolates that Forrest Gump keeps rambling on about. You can never be quite certain what you get, what kind of ride you signed up for until it is too late to quit. Some episodes creep up on you, only to surprise you when you least expect it, and leave you speechless, shocked, and questioning mankind. Others make you question your own life choices, yet others initiate worthwhile public discourse.

“Hang the DJ” is an episode that goes straight to the heart. Frank and Amy are instantly likeable. (Joe Cole and Georgina Campbell are two fantastic casting choices.) They’re chemistry is enough to propel a 120min love story easily. They’re decision to trust “the system” rather than their own feeling is a necessary obstacle on their journey to finding each other again. “The system” is an intriguing opponent, “Coach” a handy device to facilitate the confrontation (and a great tool to spill information about the fictional world), and the accessible discussions of choice and free-will versus submission and predetermination are worthy topics to wrap my brain around. “Hang the DJ” – an episode well done.

It was around the forty minute mark when I sat up and took notice. Something didn’t feel right. “Hang the DJ” had been too enjoyable up to this moment. Yes, Frank had just ruined his relationship with Amy for good, but I was certain they would turn their fate around and make it in the end. I was certain, even hopeful. And that made me wonder – we’re talking Black Mirror after all.

Bits and pieces of the episode began to oddly stand out during that brief moment of realization. I had to pause the episode to digest it all. To think it through. Then it hit me. I’m not going to spoil the ending for you but boy, have I been Black Mirrored. Charlie Brooker, “you magnificent bastard”, my hat’s off to you for this one.

To drive my last point home and demonstrate the magnificence of Brooker’s writing, I do have to reveal a bit more about the episode. (Read on at your own peril.) At the end of “Hang the DJ” there’s a glimmer of hope that love does conquer all.

We witness the “real” Frank and Amy set eyes on each other for the first time – a fateful meeting that is solely based on their decision to delegate their choice of perfect match to a system that calculates their compatibility rate based on the amount of how many simulated Frank & Amys (in 1,000 simulations) decide to take love into their own hand and not let a system decide their romantic fate for them. Oh, the irony.

A lesson learned:

Not sure what’s what? Pinch your cheeks. Get someone to hit you in the arm. Skip a stone over the nearest body of water. Do you count less or more than four skids? Don’t worry then, you’re fine.

MG Rating: 8,5/10

 

 

S4 E5 “Metalhead”

Shelf number 95-DY42 holds the item that leads a scavenging party of three to a fully stocked but abandoned warehouse on the edge of the wastelands. United by a promise but quickly decimated by an agile dog-like robotic hunting machine, the trio becomes a party of one as Bella’s companions Tony and Clark die quick but graphic deaths. The “dog” is an autonomous detect-and-destroy robot that shoots bullets and tracers, hacks USB-ports, drives cars if necessary, and doesn’t shy away from a knife-fight to exterminate its prey. It even performs an act of self-amputation to be able to follow Bella further. Someone clearly did not pay attention to Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics”.

Bella’s struggle for survival is lonely and futile, the “dog” superior: if not in resourcefulness, then in sheer strength and endurance and in numbers.

“Metalhead” is the first episode of Black Mirror that is completely set in black-and-white; a creative choice that visualizes the duality of the world Bella lives in. It’s not a bland world without colors, it is an unforgiving world where there’s no time to stop and appreciate colors and beauty, no time to rest, to think, to catch one’s breath. It’s a fight or flight world, one where life and death are seconds apart, a world peppered with wrong decisions and few right ones sprinkled on top.

The sound design is menacing, as tension is seldom relieved and the dogs poignantly amplified. Bella’s longing for human connection is only met by cued cracking sounds over the radio – seldom did feelings of solidarity and loneliness accompany each other so powerfully.

“Metalhead” is an atypical episode that lacks conflict between humans, and presents technology in a purely antagonistic way. The “dogs” are not ‘neutral’ machines that are misused by a misguided human, they’re pure evil: their purpose solely to hunt and kill humans. The group’s sacrifice is ultimately powered by love and goodness. Love conquers all, and when it doesn’t, it drives the most meaningful of undertakings, however reasonable.

A lesson learned:

Boston Dynamics, let the cautionary tale of “Metalhead” be a warning to you before they snatch their turn.

MG Rating: 7/10

 

 

S4 E6 “Black Museum”

With 3:11:47 to kill until her car’s battery is fully recharged, Nish seeks the shade and cool of what is the only attraction in the middle of a hot wasteland: Rolo Haynes’ World Famous Black Museum of artifacts that are linked to or directly responsible for unspeakably cruel and criminal acts. “If it did something bad, chances are, it is here.” The collection features prominent items and memorabilia that played crucial roles in this season and others, most notably the DNA gizmo form “USS Callister” (S4 E1), the bathtub from “Crocodile” (S4 E3), and the mask and uniform of “White Bear” (S2 E2), one of Black Mirror’s most impactful narratives. “Black Museum” light-footedly stems the task of situating the standalone stories of the anthology series in one (coherent) universe; thereby canonizing some of its most deadly items. What a lovely collection.

Collector and proprietor Rolo Haynes guides Nish through the exhibition and telling her the stories of several devices with great medicinal potential that were well-meant and took a turn for the horrific. The devices, all conceived by Rolo Haynes, who (expediently devoid of morals) spent his earlier career in med-tech, enticed their bearers to commit the unforgiveable or inflicted the unthinkable upon them. Haynes is an undiscerning brute, his inhumanity feeds from stories of bygone days.

“Black Museum” follows individual destinies that are influenced by pioneering medical technologies that in the present would (hopefully) be banned outright by every democratic government agency and authority available on ethical grounds. Those individual destinies, however, do not suggest a societal change in the (near) future or reflect grave living conditions of a majority of people, all of which made previous episodes of Black Mirror so intriguing and potentially foreshowing.

Haynes’s lifelong work of studying, mapping, copying, and preserving human consciousness is not a comment on similar contemporary aspirations, “Black Museum” not a cautionary tale that encourages a discussion about ethical boundaries in science – it’s an uninhibited psychopath’s playground. The use of technology in this episode serves as a pretext for telling excruciating stories – and in some cases even relishing in their disturbing imagery. “Black Museum” is visually nightmarish and obtrusive to a point that I found myself repulsed by it. As a categorical avoider of everything that echoes and celebrates the stuff of nightmares, I did not enjoy this episode. To the contrary.

Those involved in making the episode prove their solid craftsmanship with it. Take the writing, for example. The narrative arch spans wide and builds slowly, yet has surprises for you in store when you least expect them. As it weaves its seemingly disjointed anecdotes together, it leaves breadcrumbs and clues at every twist and turn. The finale brings openly together (and likes to rub into the viewers face) what was there (but undetectable) from the beginning. Brooker is in command of his art and craft, so are many others of those involved in making this episode. That’s not what I take umbrage with. It’s what they made that didn’t resonate with but bear down on me.

Keep a healthy distance from this one when your own nightmares are tough enough to stomach.

Lessons learned:

Don’t accept drinks from strangers.
Pioneering medical/technical procedures may be free of charge but they might cost you dearly.
Second generation test subjects don’t necessarily have a habit of living longer. Or happier.

MG Rating: 6/10

Personal Rating: 2/10 – for the craftsmanship of those involved. Not a fan of what they made.

PS: Looking for that real-life scare?
Here you go: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4977830/Girl-s-reaction-hearing-dad-s-voice-army-teddy-bear.html.
“Recording”, they say. I call BS on that one.

– – – – – – –

All six episodes of Black Mirror’s season 4 are available on Netflix as of December 29, 2017.

 MonkeyGoose and your local hermit strongly advice against binging this series. Instead, subject yourself to one healthy dose of well-adjusted dystopian disillusion per session to not risk mood swings or the urge to dispose of the latest electronic gadgets that were most recently gifted to you.

 

Frank Memmesheimer

Aspiring teacher-to-be, he spends his time reading and writing, watching and making movies, and paying close attention to beginnings and endings. Ever curious. Strives to learn something new every day. Looking to meet people who can teach him a thing or two. Loves photography, traveling, and everything outdoors.

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