When Black Mirror first aired in 2011, there really was no other show like it. It was filled with unforgettable episodes, such as Shut up and Dance and White Bear, that shocked the audience to the point where we felt betrayed by the reveals. It also gave us episodes that we couldn’t stop thinking about for other reasons, such as Hang the DJ and San Junipero, where we saw a more heartfelt side to the typically volatile world of Black Mirror. The intrigue that surrounded the dystopian drama was that each episode portrayed our apprehensive speculations of the near future, each a possibility that could be on our very doorstep. A part of the Black Mirror charm wasn’t just the threat of technology that it explored, but each episode was a moral and social commentary of our flawed society against a futuristic backdrop – it is this chilling, yet captivating combination that sparked thought-provoking conversations and held our attention for as long as it did.
So what happened?
The majority of Black Mirror fans would agree that at the heart of the show’s downfall is its Americanisation, which began when Netflix bought the streaming rights in 2014. Instead of rising British stars in eerie English landscapes, we found ourselves watching Miley Cyrus in a horror spin-off of Hannah Montana and Salma Hayek in a meta, legal battle regarding the CGI-generated version of herself. Although there are Americentric episodes like Nosedive and USS Callister that I have enjoyed, it is clear that the more recent seasons of the show have prioritised the cast over the plot.
The last season of Black Mirror released this summer did have some promising concepts, such as Beyond the Sea, where two men have clones of themselves live their lives on earth whilst they complete their mission in space. However, ultimately the storyline fell flat with its predictable and unnecessarily gory ending. Mazey Day would be an episode I wish I could unwatch purely because of how disappointed I felt afterwards. What led me to believe I was about to watch a dark, moral critique of the public’s disregard for privacy turned out to be a story about a werewolf. However, Loch Henry and Demon 79 were episodes that did feel like I was watching the old Black Mirror. Both having British backdrops, Loch Henry escalates from an exploration of a local egg conflict into a tale of murder and the exploitative nature of the film industry, whilst Demon 79 portrays the political dilemmas of being a person of colour living in 1970’s Britain.
To sum up the latest seasons of Black Mirror, it feels as though we have been given A-List celebrity names in exchange for cheap plot twists. Each new episode is striving for a dramatic flair rather than a sinister undertone that gave the show its distinctive quality in the first place. Black Mirror seems to be desperate to keep the intriguing, shock factor it once had, evident from the release of its interactive movie Bandersnatch in 2018. Yet, despite the array of plot options that audiences could choose from, the movie as well as the most recent seasons have been considerably underwhelming, leaving us not emotionally invested at all.
Black Mirror will always be an original presence within TV culture, but I think it’s time to accept that the show has lost its allure and its concepts have become exhausted. In true Black Mirror fashion, perhaps we should consult AI for some new ideas?