The third season of “Black Mirror” is a jarring departure from the spirit of the previous two seasons, lacking the elegance and finesse that once made the show great. Though a lot of the same fundamental ideas that drove the show before are there, these building blocks are used to construct something that ultimately feels unoriginal, confusing and uninspiring.
“Black Mirror” fans know to expect the hourlong, episodic, mini-movie-like episodes to shed light on the dangers of technology and the social implications those consequences might hold. This is accomplished through the establishment of an intricate world of new tech that has already been implemented into the daily lives of the characters, and the rest is exploring major themes in the context of the world. While this new season goes through the same process of establishing this context, the glossy, high-end visuals make the characters within the world feel as cold as the technology that surrounds them, merely a conduit for the story’s broader commentary on society.
Previous seasons of “Black Mirror” featured rich and engaging characters who felt fully fleshed out — with real backstory, desires and conflicts. When these roles are reversed, the characters come off unconvincing and plain, which detracts from the story as a whole. And this is the fault of the writing: Audiences will be so caught up in the absurdity or just lack of an explanation behind the characters’ motives that they will forget how anyone got into a situation in the first place. The relentless need for the writers to make a point comes at the cost of coherency, relying on audiences to just go along with it. For instance, the third episode “Shut Up and Dance” follows an organization that pulls the strings on individuals by obtaining private information on them and threatening to release the info to close friends and family. But the actions that these victims partake in (from delivering strange packages to committing crimes) are far more severe than the consequences they would face had they just come clean, and the premise begins to break down until its blaring weaknesses become overwhelming.
In other cases, characters are written to be annoying for no reason. The second episode “Playtest” has Wyatt Russell (as Cooper) keep a constant dialogue full of corny jokes and blatant observation. In an attempt to portray an easygoing, gregarious character, the writers overshot and ended up with an annoying source of needless commentary. The scarier parts of the episode become completely washed out by the chatter from Russell and at no fault of his own. Russell is a good actor: The emotional climax was handled with seriousness and weight, but it was not enough to redeem the writing of his ridiculous character.
The most egregious crime that “Black Mirror” commits is dumbing down its content. In previous seasons, each episode seemed mysterious and nagging, with morally ambiguous concepts that demanded discussion among fellow viewers. Many aspects were left up to interpretation, and the fresh technology of the world in each episode provided a better way to communicate these new ideas. Nearly every episode of season three features a character that explains the concepts and metaphors presented in the episode, sometimes before they’re actually realized. The first episode, “Nosedive,” is the worst offender, with multiple characters explicitly describing the consumptive nature of social media and its inherent valuelessness.
Even if these moments were omitted, viewers would not have to dig very deep to find the bigger picture. Underneath the thin layer of near-future technology lies commentary on government surveillance, militarism and classism, which are all very important and complicated topics that have been covered extensively across a multitude of other platforms. “Black Mirror” addresses these issues with merely loose association — content with stating the fact that western civilization has these faults — but fails to elaborate or present a new angle. Even past episodes of the show have done a better job of exploring some of these same topics. For a show lauded for its innovative ideas and chilling presentation of challenges the future may hold, merely restating contemporary problems comes off as lazy.
The third season of “Black Mirror” is a bland, candy-coated restatement of topical issues that have been acknowledged for years. Hopefully creator Charlie Brooker has not run out of things to say, but Black Mirror season three strongly suggests that he has.
Contact Sam Gunn at [email protected].