(Spoilers for season 4 all over the place!)
I watch Black Mirror for a couple reasons. I don’t really need it to get depressed; I can do that easily enough. (It certainly helps though.) I mostly want to:
1. enjoy some good entertainment
2. think about something new
3. get some tropes I can use to talk about future problems
And Season 4 only gave me #1.
“But Dan, it’s still giving me all sorts of weird takes on all sorts of futuristic-yet-everyday ideas” - no, this season’s not; it’s only giving you weird takes on one idea. That idea is: “what if we could interact with your brain as though it were a computer?”
To be fair, this is kinda maybe my favorite future idea. I really like thinking about this. Mostly because it opens you up to the kind of vast, sublime, terrifying futures inaccessible this side of the Great Old Ones. Also, it lets me have opinions, and because I have studied computers and also humans, I feel qualified to have opinions, even though I’m really not very qualified at all.
But they already did this idea, as completely as I think you need to, in White Christmas (that holiday special with Jon Hamm). The lesson you will hopefully learn from that episode: if you could access your brain as you do a computer, it is effing incredibly horrifying because you can basically torture them forever_._
This season, we’ve got: (for serious, spoilers)
- USS Callister. In which some nerdo creates a terrifying simulation in which he tortures some people forever (and he’s a supergenius so he’s thought of everything, except for the way that they get out of it.) Props, though, for: the scenes of the simulated people when the main guy isn’t in the picture. That’s an interesting side of things you wouldn’t normally see.
- Arkangel. In which helicopter parenting by tapping into your kid’s mind as if it is a computer is bad. This may be my pick for weakest of the bunch, because the mom is pretty unsympathetic. (Maybe because I’ve never been a parent? I dunno.)
- Crocodile. In which memory technology works like incredible magic. Surprisingly, brains=computers makes things scary and weird. And… guinea pigs have memory too? Upside: felt relatively un-normative. And the scenery! Holy cow!
- Hang the DJ. Ok, this one was really good. Surprise: they simulate your consciousness as if your brain was a computer! But the twist at the end is unexpected and great, and neatly answers your questions about “wait but don’t they like… go to work?” And the bit where revealing the time they have together makes it shrink was really cool; by learning that information, he does indeed change that information.
- Metalhead. As an episode of any other TV show, I’d think “cool sci-fi action movie.” As it’s Black Mirror, I was disappointed, because it didn’t make me think much at all. Plus, the twist of “it was a teddy bear!” just seemed dumb. Upside: the ideas of ways to fight the dog (throw candies at it all night, send the tracker down a river, paint) were pretty clever.
- The Black Museum. I do want to see more of the first vignette, “the pain doctor.” That offers at least a slightly different take on “brains = computers”, and its interesting and weird consequences. The second one (monkey*) and third one (guy getting electrocuted repeatedly) less so. Surprise: reproducing your consciousness out of a body is pretty bad because it leads to torture forever. Also, by killing Rolo Haynes, our hero does stop one crime - but 99% of the crime is still out there, in the thousands of consciousnesses trapped in the little “souvenirs” he’s distributed! And in taking a souvenir herself, she’s participating in the endlessly cruel infinity we’ve set up!
*this story especially can go take a hike, because it’s based on “we use 40% of our brains.” whoever wrote that one: go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.
So, 5 about brains=computers, and one about those Boston Dynamics robot dogs. Frustrating. Especially because brains=computers is a heckofa long time off. I guess that’s why I was so into episodes like “Shut up and dance” (and even “The national anthem”); it could happen tomorrow. Or “Hated in the nation” and especially “White Christmas”, which gave us a lot of new things to think about. I want to end an episode and go “huh, I didn’t imagine (technology x) would feel like that when it happened.”
(OTOH, there were some I could skip in earlier seasons too: Nosedive, 15M Merits, Be Right Back. Ok, maybe this season was fine, and I’m just holding this show to too high a standard.)
This is a Good Take.
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