Season 5 of Black Mirror dropped on Netflix last month. I just finished Season 4 and wanted to pause before diving in to those three precious episodes. I haven’t heard anything about a Season 6 so it could be a while before more Black Mirror is available.
But what the hell . . . I watched them anyway. And Bandersnatch – I got that in, too.
If you’re new to Black Mirror, it is a British television anthology set in the future or an alternate-present that explores the dark and mostly unintended consequences of technology. There are five seasons, each containing themes of warped political satire, dystopian Hellscapes, social issues, or relationships effected by technology. Each episode is independent so you can dive in anywhere, but if you start at the beginning you will be treated to call backs and Easter eggs that build on previous episodes. I started at the beginning and nearly stopped after the first episode, The National Anthem. It was a little over the top for me but I got back into the series - because I apparently don’t have enough excuses to binge Netflix - and I love it. Twenty-three episodes and one multi-dimensional film later, The National Anthem is my least favorite of the Black Mirror episodes. If you liked ABCs of Death, you may feel differently. If you haven’t seen ABCs of Death, do not consider this a recommendation.
Fifteen Million Merits is a good place to start. This episode gives you a flavor of the dark and twisted nature of the series and includes a terrific performance by Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya. The hauntingly beautiful music that defines this episode appears in every season of Black Mirror. Jessica Brown Findley (who I remember as Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey) co-stars and those memorable vocals are her own. Fun fact: this tune appears in Netflix original series, “Dead to Me,” performed by the original artist, Irma Thomas.. Coincidence? Me thinks not.
I personally don’t consider Black Mirror a horror series even though it is tagged as such. It is dark and disturbing with a few scenes that are downright scary, and that attracts horror fans. The line between horror and not-horror is different for everyone and I get asked all the time whether a certain film is horror – and why or why not. If you were to watch Playtest from Season 3 as your first episode, then you might think you had jumped head first into a horror series.
My favorite episode is probably U.S.S. Callister. The antagonist in this Star-Trek themed episode looks like Matt Damon if Matt Damon were to undergo some bad plastic surgery. My sincere apologies to Jessie Piemons. There is a sense of humor here that is not typical of the other episodes. Comedian Daniel Rigby, who is a dead ringer for Mark Wahlberg, brings a whole lot of satirical humor to his iconic cartoon character in The Waldo Moment. And White Christmas, sometimes billed as the Black Mirror Christmas special, is darkly funny thanks to John Hamm. I love John Hamm – so much that I’ve never seen a single episode of Mad Men. That doesn’t make any sense, does it?
Most of the episodes where relationships are at the center of technology have destructive consequences but San Junipero is an exception. Nosedive is sort of hilarious, not because it has a funny screenplay, but because it takes your rating on social media to a ridiculous extreme and pokes fun at social influencers and that felt like vindication to me. But then again, I recently visited the Manhattan Project museums in Los Alamos and the way housing assignments were made almost chilled me as if felt like a 1960s version of the same concept.
I have Metal Head and Men of Fire towards the bottom of the list and maybe the dystopian Hellscape that attracts so many viewers is simply not my style. I see both of these episodes at the top of other lists. Season 5 is drawing a lot of criticism with the Miley Cyrus episode rating dead last in a lot of reviews. I liked the Ashley Too episode and I think Season 5 is classic Black Mirror. And if we’ve learned nothing else by now, it is that Rotten Tomatoes, iMdb and movie reviews (like this) are ruining the experience for everyone. How many times have you planned to see a movie only to change your mind when a low score pops up on opening weekend? Don’t change your mind.. There was a time when all we had were three motion picture ratings to warn our parents of nudity, and we actually had to decide for ourselves if a movie was worth our time and our money. I swear I hardly ever saw any bad movies when I was a kid. That’s not a terrible place to return to in my book. So ignore my review and go make your own. Black Mirror is like Into the Dark in that each episode is independent and you can grab them at will whenever you have less than an hour available.
Except for Bandersnatch – an interactive, full-length feature film which is probably a misnomer since Bandersnatch is not just one movie. According to sources which I did not verify (even my insomnia doesn’t go that deep), the interactive movie has a trillion combinations and five different endings. The shortest combo runs about 40 minutes while the longest will demand over two hours of your time. I spent way too much time finding three endings and if you think that is extreme, know that there are flowcharts that nerdy obsessionists have created to calculate the permutations. My hat’s off to them. I dare you to watch just one time through. Better yet . . . I dare you to find the secret ending.