‘Black Mirror’ Toys With Reality

Since its release in 2011 on BBC, Black Mirror has accrued a cult following of sci-fi aficionados and reality TV buffs alike. Its unique premise, high production quality and psychological provocation make this show unforgettable. Each episode is an hour-long futuristic, theoretical evolution of technology.

The episodes are discontinuous, occurring in many disparate environments. One of my favorite episodes hypothesizes what would happen if a digitized cartoon character ran for leader. The details included in this parallel universe make viewers question their lives and beliefs.

Netflix recently commissioned a third season with 12 new episodes that will entice and taunt your imagination.

The first episode of the third season, “Nosedive,” hypothesizes a future in which people are digitally ranked on a five-point scale. This ranking is connected to an augmented reality contact lens and phone app, which allow the user to look around and see the rankings of those around them. People broadcast their lives through the app and receive reactionary ratings to their posts. The protagonist, Lacey, posts a picture of her coffee and cookie, and eagerly awaits the positive affirmation that accompanies the five-star ratings of her photo. She spends much of her day at work looking at the profile of her old friend from summer camp, Naomi, who qualifies as a “prime user,” according to the app, with a high 4.8 rating. Naomi is blonde and beautiful and projects her idyllic life picnicking with her boyfriend. The eerie similarities to current social media, such as Facebook and Snapchat, are clear, but the show takes careful steps to make its  reality separate by linking a higher ranking to better access to housing and transportation. The episode is called “Nosedive” because it describes Lacey’s social nosedive that occurs as she tries to improve her score to 4.5.

Spoiling the ending of a Black Mirror episode is to commit a  heinous crime, so I will refrain from divulging the twists and turns of the aforementioned episode, which is shot in bright and highly sterilized environments that look too perfect to be real. The hedges are manicured and sidewalks are immaculate. Everyone wears pleasing pastel shades of peach and lavender, and not a hair is out of place. This utopian reality is unsettling in a very relatable way. I implore you to watch and immerse yourself in the world of “Nosedive.” After watching this episode, you will look at your cell phone with a newfound unease.

The second episode of the third season, “Playtest,” plays with the expansion of virtual reality in gaming. Virtual reality headsets are becoming more available and inexpensive each year, with new ones having been released by Google and PlayStation in the past month. In “Playtest,” an American traveler picks up an odd job to pay for his flight home. His job search leads him to a renowned horror gaming company that is looking for testers for its newest fully immersive game. When he gets to the research facility, they implant a small node into the top of his spinal cord. This allows information to be extracted from his memories and melded with the horror game so that the game can learn how to scare him most effectively. This hypothesized technology is experienced as layers on top of reality in which mental projections manifest in three-dimensional forms.

“Playtest” employs drastically different chromatography and sound to that of “Nosedive,” which is in part due to different direction. There are repeated symbols of the traveler’s subliminal fears that can be identified after watching the episode for a second time. It is so psychologically stimulating in part by the music and sound effects, which emit a certain low groaning tone when one of the traveler’s  subliminal fears begins to bubble up into reality. Again, I won’t spoil the ending, but if you like psychological probing and multi-layered reality (think Shutter Island and Inception), then Black Mirror surely won’t disappoint.

The first two episodes demonstrate the wide breadth of the show in terms of pace, chromatography and overall vibe. This season is particularly vibrant and spans many different environments and time periods, including the neon grooviness of the ‘80s in episode 4. So far, Netflix has released six episodes, and it will release the second half of season three later this year. That means it’ll only take six hours for you to watch this season, which isn’t a Game of Thrones type of time commitment. All of the seasons hold a high standard of cinematography and are each as mind-bending as the last. The show holds a strong 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, so don’t just take it from me. Black Mirror is a sharp and engaging examination of our greatest anxieties and curiosities and will hook you after one episode. Stare into the black mirrored screens (laptop, phone and television screen) around you for too long and you too will fall down the rabbit’s hole.

Grade: A

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