It’s been almost two years since the last Black Mirror episode, but thanks to Netflix, we’ve been gifted six more television think-pieces.
Black Mirror season 3 twisted our perceptions of truth, right and wrong, and forces us to look inward and consider our own actions. In each episode we’re presented with contentious topics that leave us with questions we can’t easily answer.
This article contains spoilers for season 3 of Black Mirror.
Synopsis: It’s Instalife! In the “Nosedive” world, the population has an online profile, similar to an Instagram profile, in which everyone has a score out of five. Ratings are given by other people, based on interactions as minimal as a chat in an elevator first thing in the morning. In the same way a credit score can affect whether you get a mortgage on a house, your online rating affects where you can live, work, what kind of car you can rent, and even if you get a seat on a plane.
Lacie, the lead character in “Nosedive,” is going to an old friend’s wedding in the hopes of increasing her rating, but as the title suggests, all does not go as planned.
‘How fake are you?’
“Nosedive” presents us with a reality not unlike the one we’re in now. People present themselves in a particular positive way, and are falsely kind to each other in the hopes of being rewarded. Maybe none of that is inherently bad, but an issue is clearly presented when Lacie’s coworker has dropped in ratings, and is being shunned for it. Additionally, Lacie gets frustrated about being 0.1 point away from a seat on a plane, and her visible frustration is punished by those around her.
The irony you expect from Black Mirror is presented at the end, when Lacie is incarcerated, and gets into a yelling, swearing, insulting match with the man imprisoned across from her. The catch? It’s the most free she’s ever been.
We do this all the time in reality. We present the most positive parts of our lives on Facebook or Instagram, and we pretend to like people with the goal of getting something out of it. You could argue that your friends, family, and followers don’t want to see negativity, and you’d have a valid point. However, the fact that you post anything at all says more about you than them.
On the plus side, we actually were presented with this people-rating app last year, and the app was lambasted on the internet. Evidently we are not okay with literally rating each other (or being rated ourselves), but there is something to be said for being more honest with ourselves and other people. You might feel a little freer in life if you just be you, instead of displaying yourself online.
Synopsis: Cooper is a 20-something man who’s unable to connect with his mother after his father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In an attempt to forget his current home issues, Cooper decides to travel the world, but a financial incident in London forces him to take on odd jobs so he can buy a ticket back home.
One of these jobs is at a video game company, in which the task is to try out a new alternate reality game. At the company’s building, Cooper is instructed to turn off his phone before the testing can begin. Something is then injected into his head, allowing him to virtually see the games. The first game he plays is Whac-a-Mole. For the second, Cooper is taken to a mansion in which he’ll virtually confront his greatest fears via a headset. Some of his fears include spiders, a childhood bully, and forgetting who he is.
At the end, we find out that Cooper hadn’t turned off his phone in the beginning. His mother called, which interfered with the device in his head, causing it to malfunction, and he died. He’d only ‘played the game’ for 0.04 seconds.
Did you call your mother today?
You know how sometimes your mom or dad calls and you say, “Now’s not a good time”? Well, unfortunately for Cooper, his mother called at a really bad time. There will be consequences if you ignore your mother! She just wants to know you’re okay! Okay?
In all seriousness, “Playtest” stresses the importance of facing your fears and telling people how you feel because you never know when it’ll be too late. Cooper ran away from his problems. He didn’t want to confront his mother about the disconnect between them so off he went to see the world. But he also wouldn’t talk to her on the phone, so she kept calling, as mothers do, and it resulted in his death. Of course, you probably won’t die if you don’t confront your fears, but it’s Black Mirror, so of course the worst will happen.
‘Shut Up and Dance’
Synopsis: After Kenny, a seemingly sweet and lonely teenager, installs malware remover on his computer, a hacker gains access to his laptop’s camera and records him masturbating to some ‘adult’ content. The unknown hacker emails Kenny instructions he must follow, else the video will be sent to all of his phone’s contacts.
Kenny reluctantly complies, and completes the tasks the hacker sets him. Along the way he meets up with Hector, blackmailed for cheating on his wife, and the two rob a bank together and drive to another location. There, Hector is told to destroy their car, and Kenny is to go into the woods to deliver the stolen money.
In the woods he meets with another of the hacker’s victims. The two are to fight to the death, and the winner takes the money. It’s also revealed that Kenny and this other man are pedophiles.
By the end, the hacker releases the info on all the ‘victims,’ despite them having completed the tasks. Kenny, who has won the fight, is last seen being cornered by police, about to be arrested.
Do you believe in vigilante justice, or a legal justice system?
The whole episode is spent feeling bad for Kenny and hating the hacker. How could someone do something so cruel to this kid? How quickly your mind changes though with the twist at the end. Your new reaction was probably, “Oh, well, whatever, he deserved it,” but who’s decision is it to give Kenny justice?
Each of the hacker’s victims had tasks proportional to their misdeed, which in theory seems great. But like every superhero show or movie, can you trust vigilante justice? Take the guy whose task was to deliver Kenny a cake: He’s being punished for being gay. True, his task was minimal, but he was outed to his family, thus punished just the same as everyone else. Would you say that someone who’s not out to their family deserves to be punished?
It’s easy to side with the hacker when he/she is blackmailing an obvious criminal or dirty deed, but there are lots of grey areas when it comes to what a proper punishment is for a particular misdeed. We all have our own opinions on what degree of punishment befits a certain crime, which is why there’s a legal justice system. Sure, sometimes that system is flawed, but would you still put your trust in a random citizen to make those decisions?
Synopsis: In this world, people have the ability to visit a virtual place called San Junipero. They appear as 20-something versions of themselves in San Junipero, despite their age in the real world. After you die, your consciousness is permanently uploaded to a virtual reality system where you can live in San Junipero forever. Living people can visit for five hours a week.
In the episode, we follow the love story of Kelly and Yorkie. Yorkie has been comatose for over 40 years, after a car accident in her 20s. She wanted to be euthanized, but her parents refuse to sign the papers due to religious beliefs. After meeting Kelly, herself an elderly woman in the real world, and falling in love, Kelly decides to marry Yorkie, thus gaining authorization to override Yorkie’s parents, and granting Yorkie her wish.
By the end, Kelly becomes ill, requests to be euthanized, and joins Yorkie in San Junipero where they live happily ever after.
Are you living in a virtual world, or the real world?
Despite its uplifting and unusually happy ending, San Junipero is quite tragic. It’s said that San Junipero is meant for therapy, to help those with Alzheimer’s. However, there’s a quick mention in the episode that people are requesting to be euthanized just because they prefer living in San Junipero over the real world. Is this so different from our current world?
People spend so much of their time online, whether they’re browsing the internet or playing a game, it’s essentially their own San Junipero. Physical interactions and going out are just as important as alone time inside. Moreover, it’s necessary to get away from a digital screen.
“San Junipero” seems like a change of tone from other Black Mirror episodes because of its love story premise with a ‘happy’ ending, but ultimately it’s just as darkly twisted as the rest. Virtual living should be an escape, not a way of life.
‘Men Against Fire’
Synopsis: In this military story, soldiers are implanted with MASS, technology meant to help soldiers carry out their missions and reward them for good behavior. The soldiers are fighting against roaches, humans mutated by some biological accident.
The story follows new recruit Stripe. Stripe’s first mission is to track down and kill roaches who have pillaged a nearby village. In an ensuing altercation, a roach flashes a green light in Stripe’s eyes. Subsequently, Stripe begins to see roaches not as pale, deformed monsters, but as they really are: humans.
As it turns out, this war against roaches is reminiscent of the Holocaust: hunting down people who are deemed genetically inferior, and MASS is intended to dehumanize these ‘roaches,’ making it easier for soldiers to kill them.
Now that Stripe knows the truth about the implants and the war, he’s given the choice of imprisonment, while being forced to watch back footage of him killing people on loop, or he can have his memory wiped. Stripe chooses the latter, and returns home to what appears to be a beautiful house, but in reality is a dump.
Can we be held responsible for ignorant actions?
“Men Against Fire” presents a couple of questions, neither of which are easy to answer. It’s true the soldiers don’t know they’re killing innocent people and not rabid monsters, but does their ignorance excuse their actions? Maybe these soldiers are victims too, and the only one to blame are those implanting them with MASS. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s easy to think the soldiers aren’t to blame, but if you were one of the ‘roaches’ being hunted, it may not be so black and white.
Then there’s the ignorance-is-bliss predicament. Stripe wasn’t given a great alternative to a memory wipe, so it’s no surprise that’s what he chose. In our reality, those choices aren’t usually so drastic, and usually it’s our choice. Certainly when information is so readily available at our fingertips, we can’t use the excuse of having been deceived like Stripe. We’ve chosen ignorance, if by inaction.
Choosing to look away could be considered a selfish way of living, but maybe you’d argue that there’s so much tragedy in the world, why let something affect you that isn’t directly related to you? Which side do you fall on?
‘Hated in the Nation’
Synopsis: A detective and her new partner investigate a series of murders caused by bee drones embedded in the victims’ brains. In their efforts to discover who’s behind hacking the bee drones, Parke and Blue discover that the daily victims are chosen based on a hashtag. Whoever has the most #DeathTo tweets mentioned with their name is the next victim, including a controversial journalist, a rap star, and an idiotic teen with poor taste in selfies.
When the public deduces their tweeting actually works, the use of the hashtag grows exponentially, and people begin targeting specific public figures. The next potential victim is the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Parke learns the identity of the hacker, and a motive: he wants people to face the consequences of their actions, instead of hiding behind online anonymity. It’s then discovered that this hacker has been collecting information on all those who have used the #DeathTo hashtag, and they’ve been the real targets the whole time. Parke and Blue are unable to figure out a way to stop the bee drones, resulting in over 300,000 people being killed.
Do you recognize that your online harassment can cause real life consequences?
You’ve heard it time and again: It’s easy to criticize someone through a keyboard, and if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it online. Yet people bully others online until the victims have had enough, and sometimes they even kill themselves.
In “Hated in the Nation,” you’re forced to reflect on your own online habits. It’s not about how bad someone is; it’s about recognizing how bad you can be. The question turns from ‘who deserves it?’ to ‘would you have done it?’ or even, ‘have you done it?’ Most of us wouldn’t directly kill someone who wrote a nasty article or posted a disrespectful selfie, but many more of us would tweet it. Is there really a difference there? Is the girl who stupidly takes an impudent picture much worse than someone who wishes death on another?
Naturally, Black Mirror presents this in an extreme, unrealistic manner (you’re online hate speech probably won’t ever get you killed by robotic bees), but the point stands. You don’t speak without thinking what outcome your words may have, so don’t type thoughtlessly. Words are words, whether verbal or written.