BLACK MIRROR Season 3 (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 6 hours 32 minutes

blackmirror3-poster

Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Alice Eve, James Norton, Cherry Jones, Wyatt Russell, Hannah John-Kamen, Alex Lawther, Jerome Flynn, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis, Malachi Kirby, Michael Kelly, Sarah Snook, Kelly Macdonald & Faye Marsay

After two seasons of three episodes and a twisted holiday special aired in the U.K., Netflix picked up Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi anthology BLACK MIRROR and approved two new seasons of six episodes. Some fans were worried that this new incarnation of BLACK MIRROR might be too Americanized, but Brooker has maintained creative control and then some! No longer limited by the conventions of cable, this third season of BLACK MIRROR does a whole lot of interesting new things. Brooker delivers five new nightmares and one misfire. Without further ado, I’ll get into the episodes themselves…

1-nosedive

NOSEDIVE: In a not-so-distant future where people rate each other through their daily social interactions, this episode follows a young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard) trying to move into an upper-class neighborhood. In order to do this, she must secure a high ranking and a friend’s wedding seems like the perfect occasion to up her social status. However, not everything goes according to plan. With networks like Facebook, Instagram, etc. allowing strangers to “like” you, this premise seems a bit frightening and more realistic than one might hope. I was expecting the story to go into horribly dark BLACK MIRROR territory, but I didn’t expect this episode to come off as funny and heartfelt. It eventually becomes both of these things. These qualities never go to an overbearingly cheesy extent, but they definitely milks laughs and an uplifting message about true freedom in a world where life is a popularity contest. A

2-playtest

PLAYTEST: An adventurous backpacker (Wyatt Russell) signs up to test an experimental virtual reality game. While the technology starts off as fun, it eventually morphs into something else entirely when a survival-horror game kicks in. Though the conclusion is flawed, this entire episode was chilling enough to hold my attention from beginning to end. Nightmarish imagery is employed to scare the viewer and a few moments legitimately made me jump (something that’s very hard to do in a TV show). Strong character development allows the horror to naturally shift from visceral to psychological with ease. Though the ending is a cop-out, it doesn’t dissuade from the sheer effectiveness of everything that came before it. If this episode had ended a few minutes earlier, it would have been perfect! A-

3-shut-up-and-dance

SHUT UP AND DANCE: My favorite episode of Season 3! An awkward teenager (Alex Lawther) becomes a blackmailed pawn after hackers record him through his webcam. In order to keep an embarrassing video off the internet, the teenager goes through with their increasingly strange demands. This episode is among the darkest that BLACK MIRROR has ever done (it ranks up there with WHITE BEAR and FIFTEEN MILLION MERITS for me). Excellent performances keep us feeling sympathy for the protagonists and frustration towards those victimizing them. The ending (complete with an unforgettable use of Radiohead’s “Exit Music”) is harrowing, generates lots of extremely conflicted emotions and will leave the viewer with plenty of material to mentally chew on. This disturbing episode is the one that’s haunted me the most from this season. A+

4-san-junipero

SAN JUNIPERO: In 1987, a shy nerd (Mackenzie Davis) meets an outgoing party girl (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in a strange town. However, things aren’t exactly what they seem and a timeless romance soon blossoms between them. The saving graces of this episode are attention to detail and a great soundtrack. That’s about it. I don’t want to spoil any plot details, because the connection to BLACK MIRROR isn’t obvious at first. However, even when stuff is revealed, I didn’t feel like this episode fit under the BLACK MIRROR label. Not every episode needs to be doom and gloom (see the bittersweet, heartfelt NOSEDIVE), but this was ridiculously cheesy and drawn out. I was bored and counted down the minutes until it was over. Though some fans and critics have been saying this is the stand-out of season three, it sticks out like a sore thumb for all the wrong reasons to me. It’s like a bad soap opera with sci-fi elements thrown in. This is the worst BLACK MIRROR episode I’ve sat through thus far. D

5-men-against-fire

MEN AGAINST FIRE: The second-best episode of the season follows a futuristic army in charge of exterminating mutant “roaches.” However, when one of the freaky creatures uses a strange device on a rookie soldier (Malachi Kirby), ugly truths begin to come out. This episode plays like an old-school TWILIGHT ZONE story cranked up to eleven with explosive action, a relevant message, and a bleaker-than-bleak final act that leaves certain details up for the viewer to decide. This diabolically brilliant piece of science-fiction would have made a fantastic feature, but for now, we’ll have to settle for a frightening, profound episode that stands in BLACK MIRROR’s top-tier. A+

6-hated-in-the-nation

HATED IN THE NATION: After a reviled journalist (Elizabeth Berrington) is brutally murdered, two detectives (Kelly Macdonald, Faye Marsay) investigate an emerging series of homicides that are linked to social media. Unfortunately, the case isn’t nearly as simple as it seems and things spiral out of control. I hesitate to give any specific details away about this episode, because it develops over the course of 89 minutes. The Season 3 finale is not without a few problems, as the characters seem a tad one-note and the police procedural aspect is conventional for the first third. However, plot developments do go into suspenseful and twisted territory. Executed with a nihilistic attitude and strange (all too plausible) ideas, this final episode isn’t quite up to the same level as a majority of the series…but manages to be entertaining, compelling and intense nonetheless. B+

7-end

BLACK MIRROR Season 3 mostly knocks it out of the park with five winners and one dud. The horror episodes are genuinely horrific, with the best easily being SHUT UP AND DANCE. Pretty much every story has something to say about modern life and our addiction to technology, with NOSEDIVE take a bittersweet note on what true freedom means. Though there is one bit of hot garbage in this third season, even SAN JUNIPERO has a couple of neat ideas that unfortunately become fodder for a cheesy soap opera. This third season is sure to please BLACK MIRROR fans and newcomers, even if there are a couple of episodes that aren’t quite up to the BLACK MIRROR level of excellence we’ve come to expect. A comedy, a horror story, a disturbing thriller, a corny romance, a dark wartime tale, and a sci-fi police procedural are all contained in this mostly stellar third season! Here’s hoping that 2017 brings a solid Season 4!

Grade: A-

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