Well, it’s taken a few weeks to review every episode of Season 4, but we made it through together and here are my thoughts on the final episode.
Here, the writing team decided to revisit the format of my personal favourite episode, White Christmas, and tell three stories within a story. Did it work as well? In my opinion, White Christmas had more dramatic weight and the twists were less obvious, making for a more compelling story overall, but Black Museum has its merits…
A young British woman named Nish (Letitia Wright) runs out of fuel somewhere in middle America. While her car recharges, she decides to visit the nearby Black Museum, run by the mysterious Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge).
The museum has clearly hit a rough patch and doesn’t seem to attract many visitors, so Rolo gives Nish a personal tour of the exhibits. There are many artifacts that were important in other Black Mirror episodes, but these are just Easter eggs.
Rolo begins his first story while the pair examine a neural cap. This story revolves around a doctor who accepts Rolo’s help to reduce the amount of deaths that occur on his watch. Rolo works for an organisation that designed the cap, and test the prototype on the doctor.
The cap, when worn by another person, allows the doctor to experience that person’s physical sensations. He uses it at first to great effect, diagnosing patients quickly enough to save them.
However, things go awry when a patient dies whilst wearing the cap, which alters the doctor’s brain. He now craves pain; it turns him on, and so he begins to misuse the cap, allowing patients to suffer for longer so that he can experience pleasure from their pain.
The second story involves a teddy bear. Here a young couple of new parents are struck by tragedy when the mother becomes paralysed after being hit by a car. Able only to communicate yes or no, she misses her son growing up.
Rolo has another prototype treatment that allows her consciousness to be included within the father’s brain, but, as you might suspect, this doesn’t go well. Frustrated with the lack of privacy he’s granted, he gets Rolo to install a pause function, that blacks out his wife.
He pauses her more and more and begins dating another woman, much to the mother’s frustration. Under duress from his new partner, he gets Rolo to take his wife’s consciousness from his head and put it inside a teddy bear, the one from the exhibit.
Having finished with this story, Rolo shows Nish the main attraction – a sentient digital emulation of an executed serial killer. The idea was that people could re-enact the killer’s execution for their own benefit and it proved a hit.
However, campaigning from the killer’s family, who maintained his innocence, drives crowds away as the morality is severely questioned. As a result, Rolo begins accepting money from more nefarious customers to torture the killer in a different way. One customer tortures him for too long and the emulation becomes psychologically damaged, unable to respond.
I’ve left the major climaxes out of this summary because it would be far more effective to watch them again, rather than have me clumsily remind you of the events, if you have somehow forgotten.
After two lacklustre episodes, it was great to see Black Mirror’s signature dark-comic approach to storytelling return. Douglas Hodge does a great job as the creepy yet compelling Rolo Haynes, and Letitia Wright is great both as a vessel for the audience, and as a major player in linking the stories together.
The classic Charlie Brooker combination of a jokey tone while discussing quite horrible events shines through here, yet there’s a fair amount of dramatic heft, helped by the cinematography.
The location of the museum in the desert with its small dark interior makes the episode feel quite claustrophobic even though we often leave it to view the other stories. Each time we cut back to the museum and Rolo sweating profusely, you can almost feel the heat and the tension mounts each time, as we know, given how Black Mirror episodes go, that it’s all leading to something.
The episode also evoked Cloud Atlas, with its separate storylines and references to other episodes, although where the Wachowskis’ epic links its stories together spiritually and thematically, Black Museum links its stories together through the progression of technology and information available.
I make the connection, though, to highlight the sheer amount of work it must have taken to create this episode. Cloud Atlas was a huge project, with a huge crew and a nightmare-inducing planning schedule, and the sheer amount of cast and crew involved in this episode, which has seven main characters, four interlinked plots and locations and a number of different styles, effects and props required is astounding. In both cases, it should be noted that to bring it all together cohesively is the work of a genius.
However, the characters within the stories are not so well developed, especially those in the second story about the dysfunctional and tragic family. I found the main characters to be a bit annoying and holding back the plot, and in the end, I felt that I didn’t care much whether their character arcs were resolved.
Charlie Brooker has said that each episode of Black Mirror can take place in the same universe when he needs them to. With this very meta story, you can infer that the slightly omniscient Rolo Haynes is a metaphor for Brooker himself.
The character introduces devices into each of his stories that are questionable, but the subjects just accept them without thinking about the consequences. Brooker could be commenting on us, the audience, and our fascination with his dark worlds.
If Brooker is an antagonistic creator, and the audience are fools and perverts then moral arbiter Nish is perhaps series producer Annabel Jones, who in interviews often reveals that she is appalled at what Brooker comes out with, but runs with the concept and manages to use these ideas successfully and realise their potential.
If the Arkangel tablet that caused such pain can be ogled at as part of an exhibit, or the damning indictment of society that is Fifteen Million Merits can be enjoyed as a graphic novel, then does it say something about the human condition that we lap up these horrors for fun on the TV?
And if that is the case, should the creator be subject to his own inventions as a karmic punishment for letting his creation grow beyond his control?
Or am I reading too much into what could simply be a series of Hallowe’en tales with a sly wink at the audience?
All I can say is bravo, Mr Brooker, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Thoughts on Black Mirror
What will I do next, having reached the end of this review series? I could go back and review the 13 episodes from the previous three seasons, and I may well do that from time to time.
Black Mirror is a rare gift; thought-provoking and important social commentary. It is also darkly humorous and wildly entertaining. The series is bound by little and each episode can explore as many or as few themes as the filmmakers like. Each episode can be subject to hours of analysis, or viewed as a short entertaining film.
It is little wonder, therefore, that the Series has captured the imaginations of so many and become so popular and it is a joy and pleasure to be able to review, analyse and talk about a show that has so much to say and for the most part has wonderful production values.
I will sign off now with a definitive list of my personal preference for the ranking of all currently available Black Mirror episodes. I shall write again soon!
- White Christmas
- San Junipero
- Fifteen Million Merits
- Shut Up And Dance
- Hated In The Nation
- Black Museum
- Be Right Back
- USS Callister
- White Bear
- The National Anthem
- The Waldo Moment
- Men Against Fire
- The Entire History Of You
- Hang The DJ