Black Mirror Season 3: Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

Black Mirror can at times be greater than the sum of its parts.

When a piece of media tries to tackle problems, or even potential problems, in society it sets out to do something counterintuitive. That isn’t to say the job is unimportant; media and mass media are placed in such a way that it is of utmost importance. The challenge is that media is entertainment, and being confronted by criticism can be hard, the opposite of what entertainment was originally created to do.

Black Mirror is an anthology series; in every episode a different scenario is played out in which tech goes awry. The show has been called by many a modern day “Twilight Zone”, a series dedicated to filling an audience with dread through stories which in many ways reflect society. The Black Mirror series episodes leave the viewer queasy but outraged at the current state of things.

The third season, the first bankrolled by Netflix, successfully continues that trend while taking tentative steps in new, worthwhile directions.

Across all the episodes Black Mirror’s creative minds demonstrate a deft hand at posing interesting scenarios in lush environments. Every shot in each episode feels crafted, chosen specifically. The visual language is also strong, in the first episode the work is full of cleek technology and pastel colors while in the second the locations seem lived in and perfectly suited for the tone.

The storylines themselves can vary wildly on execution. A common factor is commitment to long, uninterrupted shots of ‘hard’ moments. When other dramas might cut the camera to help relieve the audience’s uneasiness, Black Mirror keeps it going for 30 more seconds, they want you to feel uncomfortable. Sometimes this decision doesn’t play to the desired effect, instead acting as a buffer between the audience and a scene when it causes detachment and boredom in the viewer.

The scenarios are across the board intriguing, though the time it takes for the audience to believe that can shift anywhere between 5 minutes and half of the episode. If you tend to turn something off if it doesn’t grab your attention you’ll probably turn off a couple of the episodes, but sticking to the end regularly makes up for the slow starts.

The commentary Black Mirror wants to talk about covers a broad spectrum with varied criticisms. Some are highly specific, the final episode is built to condemn the mob mindset and anonymous lashing out of online social media users. Other episodes are broader, touching on the possibilities of augmented reality or criticizing the blind ambition of tech industries. There was a real danger here to make the stories inhuman and clinical, but at the center of each arc is a human character that acts as an enormous point of empathy for the viewer.

For fans of past seasons, a few episodes take Black Mirror into new, uncharted territory. One episode, rather than issuing a warning, imagines wonderful possibilities. Another is set in the here and now, throwing out the trappings of near-future to tell a dark, twisted story that could be happening to you or a neighbor. These sort of deviations from the traditional point to the future of the show, a promising one at that.

One problem viewers may have with Black Mirror, and justifiably so, are the points the series tries to make. Often they make strong cases for the ideas they want to spread, but the ideas are antiseptic, almost as cold as the antagonists in the stories. There is no room for redemption when the other options are all terrible. Watching it can be painful at times not just because of the subject matter but the mindset these views come from, one without much hope in fellow humanity.

Black Mirror is an incredibly well made, often excruciatingly poignant show that believes the worst about humanity. If everyone watched the six-episode series and took its messages to heart it would be hard to argue that things wouldn’t get better. But in telling stories to that end it often forgets to come up for air.

Black Mirror Season 3 is now available on Netflix.

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