“Black Mirror” Season Four adds some optimism with its technology-has-a-dark-side vibe

The show is as dystopian as ever. But there's a lighter side this time around


In the Season Four premiere, what we think is a lighthearted riff on the original Star Trek adventures turns out to be something much darker, and much more disturbing. From the episode trailer.

Alex Tsymbalisty, Perspective Editor

This past December, the dystopian thriller Black Mirror returned to Netflix for its fourth season. This, of course, meant a 6 hour binge only interrupted by a few minutes of quiet introspection about the state of our always-on, social media obsessed, connected world. So just like every other new Black Mirror season.

Or is it?

You see, this season is a bit of an outlier in the Black Mirror family–a black sheep, if you will. It still has all the essential aspects of a season of Black Mirror like technology (duh), twists , and plenty of commentary on the real world.

But season four has something new: hope.

Take the first episode, “USS Calister,” for example. Instead of the usual mix of dread and despair that typically ends in the main characters’ death, or worse, there seems to some sort of a happy ending. I mean sure, the crew end up being trapped inside the game indefinitely, but at the end of the day they all seem pretty happy about it.

The best example of the show’s newfound hope is probably in the fourth episode, “Hang the DJ.” It’s amazing how well made this episode is, from the acting, to the foreshadowing, and even the visuals towards the end. And even though there is a “twist,”  it doesn’t end in mutilation or an eternity of being stuck in a stimulation. Instead, it ends with love. “Hang the DJ” is easily one of the best  episodes in this season which is ironic given how different it is.

That’s not to say this season doesn’t have any traditional dark and depressing Black Mirror elements in it. In fact, it might even have too many.

What I mean by this is the constant use of the cookie, the white, egg shaped thing that the characters in episode after episode keep using to transfer consciousness and that appears in previous seasons. It’s used in about half of the episodes and is always used in basically used in the same way.

The cookie is never used poorly in this season, but it’s used so much that it makes the show a little predictable. When you see it you can pretty much say with certainty that the episode will be about mind transfer technology, and that kind of ruins the fun.

Still, despite this repetition, this season manages to live up to the hype. Especially the final, and in my opinion the best, episode, “Black Museum.” This episode, although based partially on a short story by Penn Jillette, is probably the most Black Mirror-ish episode in the season. But in addition to having a lot of classic elements of Black Mirror it also has the defining theme of this season: hope. At the end, the daughter Nish avenges her father and ultimately stops predatory electronic museum curator Rolo Haynes from profiting off of what can only be called digital torture.

It’s also interesting to note a more subtle theme of the episode which is “be careful what you wish for.” Haynes gives the minor characters what they wish for (to become a better doctor, to be with his comatose wife, and finally to provide for his family) with an interesting twist. This begs the question, “is it worth it?”

This theme can be seen in practically every episode. Sure, it’s easy looking in from the outside and saying, “no it’s not”, but when your own Rolo Haynes offers you a deal you can’t refuse are you really gonna say no?