Charlie Brooker has alluded to the notion that the internet is killing us, and as the new episodes of his anthology series Black Mirror prove, Mr. Brooker hasn’t changed his tune much since parking his vehicle for technophobic parables in Netflix’s garage. Since it first premiered in 2011, the series created a stir with its anxious outlook and gloomy takes on speculative fiction that range from ultra dark, horrific stories like ‘White Bear’ to the heartbreaking ‘Be Right Back.’ The series has proven successful enough to attract a wide array of talent, from Mad Men star Jon Hamm to former Agent Carter Hayley Atwell to occasional Star Wars player Domhnall Gleeson and more.
But the series’ popularity and the audience’s fascination with its offerings are due to more than the recognizable faces that pop up and typically espouse some kind of less-than-subtle condemnation about an always-on, hyperconnected society. It is more the way in which the series offers up its tales of that always-on, hyperconnected society in such a way the single-serving stories come across as simultaneously prescient and a direct commentary on the way we live now. There’s probably no better example of this than with the season 2 episode ‘The Waldo Moment,’ which with its depiction of an obnoxious cartoon character capturing the attention and adoration of voters reads in hindsight as though it foretold the 2016 presidential election.
Still, with only seven episodes under its belt since it premiered, Black Mirror has its share of misses to go along with the hits. A byproduct of the pointedness provided each individual installment by the anthological format can sometimes make Black Mirror come across more as scolding than elucidating, and the plotlines are sometimes too reducible to an “X is bad” formula – which often takes the form of “phones are bad” or “social media is bad”. The series’ standing grants it leeway in terms of a sometimes-facile analysis of technology’s negative impact on society, opening the door for certain episodes to repeatedly cross extreme technophobia with body modification along the lines of something in a William Gibson novel. This is best evidenced in the similarities between ‘The Entire History of You’ and ‘White Christmas,’ both of which splashed around in comparable waters in order level a point about emotional recall and hyperconnectivity.
As such, season 3 has a few advantages over the other two seasons (and a holiday special). This time around, Netflix made an order for six episodes, effectively giving audiences two seasons for the price of one, and Brooker has brought along a bevy or top-notch talent in order to convince those watching that the wait and the switch to – ironically, something as tech-centric as – Netflix was worth it. The season includes the likes of Halt and Catch Fire star Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in the surprisingly emotionally resonant ‘San Junipero’ and the humorous, brightly colored world of ‘Nosedive,’ which stars Bryce Dallas Howard in a like-and-upvote-obsessed world, and is directed by Joe Wright (Hannah, Anna Karenina). The two episodes are early standouts, as they not only deliver visually distinctive installments of the usually gloomy-looking anthology but also make a surprising shift in tone as well. Here the intersection of technology and interpersonal interaction finds interesting and unexpected avenues to explore that are somewhat off the beaten path for a series that’s as serious about causing anxiety in its audience as Black Mirror is.
With that in mind, it makes sense Netflix would make ‘Nosedive’ the first episode of the new season. Sure, it’s Netflix and because of Black Mirror‘s format it doesn’t really matter which episode you watch first or in what order you tear through the rest of the season, but there is probably a reason Wright’s offering is placed at the beginning. Part of it is the presence of Bryce Dallas Howard, which, when coupled with Wright’s vision of a future filled with empty ingratiating gestures in order to earn higher and higher social approval rating makes for an immediately attractive introduction to the season. It’s just the sort of thing Black Mirror excels at. And yet, at the same time, it’s exactly the sort of thing Black Mirror is known for, making ‘Nosedive’ a weirdly meta example of how the series can sometimes miss a more meaningful interaction with its audience in its pursuit of earning an easy like. In other words, ‘Nosedive’ is easily likeable in that it’s definitely entertaining, but it also strains at times to make a point that’s already pretty obvious.
Howard’s performance bolsters the hour. There is an ease with which she balances Lacie’s casual acceptance of the world with her desire for more and the simmering, unrealized frustration with her place in the new social media order. The constant effort to please and be liked and earn praise is taken to a frightening yet not entirely illogical extreme, and Howard makes Lacie’s titular plunge to the bottom rungs of society an entertaining descent that’s admittedly helped by the tacit understanding her fall is cushioned by the not-so-subtle implication that emotional liberation is greater than any five-star approval rating. Though the episode’s premise feels a little simplistic, the execution of it doesn’t. Wright and Howard imbue the hour with a sense of humor and visual style that offsets the usual grungy dread of a Black Mirror episode, and that levity actually carries through to the end, punctuating the episode with an uncharacteristic hope for humanity charged by what actually makes us human.
The rest of the season is peppered with a similar hopefulness that acts to counterbalance some of the more horrific avenues Black Mirror is prone to explore. ‘Nosedive’ isn’t necessarily one of the best hours the anthology has produced, but it makes for a terrific starting point to season 3.
Black Mirror season 3 is available in its entirety on Netflix. Screen Rant will have more reviews in the coming days.
Black Mirror season 3 is available in its entirety on Netflix.