Black Mirror season four took its time arriving, but it was definitely worth the wait.
With six brand new episodes covering different takes on technology and humanity, Black Mirror’s fourth season is its most powerful yet.
Here we rank the episodes of season four – not an easy task, mind you, as they are all so insanely good! But, we try our best.
6 – Arkangel
I know, it seems disingenuous to put the Jodie Foster-directed episode at the bottom of the list. But among the excellent fare we have on offer here, Arkangel is the least innovative.
Single mum Marie (Rosemarie DeWitt) is terrified of losing her daughter, Sara. She decides to implant her daughter with an experimental system called Arkangel, one that can never be removed. Arkangel will allow Marie to see what her daughter sees but it will also allow her to activate a parental control, effectively blocking out anything that may cause her child to be terrified in real life.
This works fine for a few years until the child starts getting ostracised for her inability to participate in any stimulating activities or conversations. Marie then switches off the parental control and puts her Arkangel controller away… until 15-year-old Sara fails to inform her mother of her whereabouts one evening. Paranoid Marie brings the controller back online and sees way more than she would have liked.
Arkangel has the most low-key tech of the season; it is basically an implant and an app. The episode is primarily about a mother-daughter relationship with an overly controlling mother and a rebellious daughter. Though the acting is superb, the story is little more than a series of tropes, something we are regularly used to Black Mirror subverting. Despite its overt Black Mirror visuals, it isn’t anything we haven’t seen a thousand times on screen.
5 – Metalhead
Visually, this episode is stark – shot in black and white and set in a barren, apocalyptic wasteland. Aside from the opening scene, Metalhead focusses entirely on a sole character, Bella (Maxine Peake), as she tries to escape from a ‘dog’, a robot enforcer that looks like a cross between a roach and a canine.
We’re told nothing of this world or how it ended up like this. We don’t know who Bella is, who her companions are, or who she talks to on the radio. We still get a sense of a once-rich world and characters that have a deep connection to each other. Metalhead is, in a word, beautiful.
The strength of the episode lies in its sparseness. There is so little detail, but just enough for the audience fills in the gaps. Masterful direction from David Slade, whose credits include Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night and numerous episodes in Hannibal and American Gods.
Maxine Peake carries the episode and does a truly marvellous job. She imbues her character with knowledge greater than is shown to viewers. Over the span of just an hour, we learn so much about Bella – that she is kind, ingenious, has a strong will to live, but puts the safety of her fellow survivors above her own.
The only reason this episode is so low on the list is because the rest of the episodes are even better than this one. Metalhead’s stark beauty and simple, but well-executed, story is slow and immersive. Had it been a feature film, it probably would have won all the awards.
4 – Hang the DJ
The romantic episode. Amy (Georgina Campbell) and Frank (Joe Cole) have recently joined a dating service, controlled by an electronic romance coach. The two hit it off immediately but when they check the expiry of their relationship, they realise they only have a few hours. At the end of the relationship, they are sent to other partners for considerably longer periods of time.
Amy is initially pleased with her partner but eventually finds certain aspects of his personality irritating. Frank and his partner, on the other hand, are completely incompatible. The two abhor each other but somehow manage to make it through till the end of their expiry.
To Amy and Frank’s surprise, they are paired again. Amy is jaded and frustrated by this point, refusing to look at the expiry because she would rather live in the moment, but Frank is desperate to know so he can soften the blow when the relationship eventually ends. But, as the saying goes, curiosity killed the cat.
Hang the DJ is sweet and romantic. The chemistry between Campbell and Cole is undeniable. We don’t need to know anything about these characters because the actors sell the relationship to the audience so well.
This episode falls short of San Junipero-levels of brilliance by an ending that tries to be too clever. All in all, Hang the DJ is a good, strong entry into this series.
3 – USS Callister
It has been the year for space operas. Netflix dropped a new Star Trek series, Discovery, and Seth McFarlane’s Star Trek parody, The Orville, received great reviews. It wasn’t really surprising that Black Mirror would do an episode that somehow paid homage to the classic Star Trek.
Enter USS Callister, a very obvious parody of the original Star Trek. Captain Daly (Jesse Plemons) is the most daring and beloved captain in all of Space Fleet. His crew loves him, his enemies fall before him, the galaxy is safe because of him… until the game ends and Daly returns to his life as a videogame coder who has been side-lined within his own company.
Daly’s mundane life where nobody pays any attention to him or even likes him is interrupted when Nanette Cole (Cristin Milioti) joins the team. Nanette is a huge admirer of Daly’s work and is the only person in the company to pay him any heed.
This episode could easily have been a lovely, comforting story about a lonely man who finds the appreciation and friendship he desires from a kind woman – but it isn’t. Because Daly’s Space Fleet game is populated by the people he is surrounded by in real life… the same people who treat him like dirt in reality are obsequious and servile in the game. Things can only go pear-shaped when Daly decides to add Nanette to his game.
USS Callister is an interesting choice for an opening episode of the season. The comedic and over-the-top opening scene doesn’t quite give you an idea of what is to come later. This episode isn’t simply a study of human relationships; as it progresses, the episode goes into a full-tilt examination of toxic masculinity (especially within the gaming community) and the concept of ‘friendzone’.
This is not an easy episode to watch only because it hits far too close to home. Having said that, it is definitely the most exciting and action-packed of this season, if not the whole show. The crew’s daring escape attempts are edge-of-your-seat stuff. Hopefully, the lessons to be learnt from this episode will not fall on deaf ears. Added points for subverting our expectations and changing the story’s protagonist from a powerful man to a woman finding agency.
2 – Crocodile
Mia Nolan (Andrea Riseborough) is a successful businesswoman with a happy family. Her life is good and it seems to be getting better. While Mia is on a business trip, she meets Rob, an old acquaintance with whom she shares a dark secret from 15 years ago. Mia has moved on from the incident but Rob hasn’t and he decides to make a clean breast of it. Mia can’t allow it; her happy life will be in jeopardy. When Rob insists, Mia finds herself doing the unthinkable.
Insurance investigator Shazia Akhand (Kiran Sonia Sawar) is helping her client get his insurance claim after an accident. Shazia relies on a device that reads people’s memories of specific incidents, and she is a professional, through and through, keeping her clients’ secrets to herself, no matter how discomfiting they may be. Just when Shazia’s investigation reaches a dead-end, she finds one more witness – Mia. But can Mia divulge what she saw that night without sharing her secrets?
The acting sells this thriller of an episode. Riseborough chillingly portrays a woman too burdened by her own secrets to truly feel real happiness. Sawar is earnest and keeps our attention throughout.
I love the bleakness of the snow-covered landscape (the episode was shot in Iceland) – perfect for a murder mystery. In a longer format, Crocodile could easily have been written without the advanced technology. In essence, this story is about human frailties and thus, is universal.
1 – Black Museum
The final episode of season four is also its most ambitious. Black Museum is an anthology within an anthology; three stories woven into one overarching narrative.
Nish (Letitia Wright) is on her way to meet her father when she stops by at the Black Museum, run by Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge). The museum is a popular attraction as it houses several artefacts from serial killers. Rolo gives Nish a guided tour, stopping to discuss with her the more famous and controversial pieces.
As they walk through the museum, Nish, and the audience, learn about the infamous killer Dawson (Daniel Lapaine), a former doctor who used a tele-empathic device to feel his patients’ pain, until one day the device short-circuited.
We also see the sad story of Jack (Aldis Hodge) and Carrie (Alexandra Roach), a happy couple with a lovely son, torn apart when Carrie is left in a coma after being hit by a car. Jack is offered a treatment that will allow Carrie’s consciousness to live on in his mind. It sounds perfect until Jack’s physical needs start to get the better of him. As much as he loves Carrie, Jack doesn’t want her with him all the time. When Jack falls in love with another woman, he has to take certain steps to keep Carrie alive but out of his mind.
These stories have a common thread – the technology that Dawson and Jack and Carrie were given was developed by one person. And that person has hurt one too many people.
There is a bit more gore here than one is used to in Black Mirror but it works to the story’s advantage, making it more visceral for the viewer. As immersive as the plots are on their own, they come together to build a cohesive narrative. And that ending! So unexpected, despite being foreshadowed, and powerful. What a note to end the season on.
Black Mirror never shies away from addressing real-world problems through fantastical stories. Season four has tackled these issues head-on while also doing what many shows have failed to do – put women at the forefront of their own stories in each episode of an entire season. This is a significant achievement and hopefully we will continue to see this show push for more inclusive storylines in coming seasons.
Which were your favourite episodes of Black Mirror season four? Let us know in the comments below.