Back in 2011, Brit satirist Charlie Brooker created Black Mirror, and threw us all into a nightmarish glimpse at unique and twisted visions of the near future.
The first two seasons and seven episodes (including the Christmas special) were intense commentaries on modern life and the ways its might develop, with a pinch or two of sci-fi and hidden layers of horror.
The cast, subjects and creatives change each time and like every anthology series there are peaks and troughs but it’s still very much worth seeking out as a dense dark show. Now Netflix has snapped up the rights and produced six new episodes to kick off the first half of season three.
For those who might be worrying that the shift to Netflix will result in an utterly USA-centric vision well it’s fair to say that there are a few more Yanks in these episodes. Still the setting does shift around and more than one takes place this side of the Atlantic.
As for the episodes themselves, they still feel very much part of the landscape Brooker first started to cultivate and he remains a credited writer throughout.
Mostly, they’re rather good - pushing over into excellent territory from time to time. My favourites are the first and fourth episodes right now - Nosedive and San Junipero- though you don’t have to watch them in any particular order.
In Nosedive, Bryce Dallas Howard gives one of the best performances of her career as Lacie, a women living in a world obsessed with social status. Every person is rated out of five stars with their number fluctuating constantly. Sink too low and you might find yourself locked out of certain parts of society.
There’s a direct link to apps like Tinder and Facebook here and a satirical stab at the way we’ll take and retake that perfect picture into order to get the most positive interactions online. It’s not subtle but it’s not designed to be, instead bringing to the fore the dangers of this kind of mindset.
It’s easily the most structured of what the season has to offer, and anchored by Howard’s extraordinary and committed performance and the ending is just about perfect.
San Junipero is a different affair altogether and one that’s harder to talk about without spoilers. Suffice to say it stars an excellent twosome of Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (doing a flawless American accent) who meet at a bar at an important point in both their lives.
There’s a lot going on in this episode and while it has a necessarily scattershot plot that’s more to do with fitting into the demands of the sub-60 minutes running time. The leads are marvellous and it hits some emotional high points in a story that’s more about personal drama than the spectre of technology.
There isn’t a truly bad episode in this season but Shut Up and Dance was the least satisfying for me. While there’s a good sense of tension the narrative feels overly familiar and the movements of the finale a little awkward in their pursuit of a certain reaction.
The rest are always competently made and this third season also really raises the bar for the effects work. Playtest features some truly terrifying imagery which equals the quality we expect from movies and also has some interesting things to say about the current state of the video game industry.
Black Mirror season 3 has moved homes and, for the most part, continents but it remains most as dark and twisted as ever. The cast and creative sorts assembled are top notch and if the quality dips from time to time you always know there’s another episode to watch next. I’d highly recommend kicking off with Nosedive as Netflix suggests then ditching their order to keep the wonderful San Junipero for last.
The first six episodes of season three of Black Mirror are on Netflix from the 21st of October, 2016. The rest of the season debuts in 2017.