Black Mirror is One of the Best Sci-Fi Shows Out There

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Quite recently, I was told to watch this British show called ‘Black Mirror.’ My friend described it to me as: “Think Twilight Zone, but in a techno dystopian setting.” I was sold on that phrase right away. Growing up, I was a fan of The Twilight Zone and it was my preferred medium for moral lessons over cartoon shows. Black Mirror is similar in structure wherein it’s a new plot and cast per episode. Each one with its own lesson to convey through macabre storytelling. No supernatural elements. More on science-fiction.

Somehow though, it feels like a lie for me to label this show as science-fiction because of how eerily accurate it depicts our growing attachment to technology and the disastrous consequences that comes with it. We live in an age where Google gives us the power to record and playback our memories. In addition, web applications attempt to recreate our personalities, so it can tweet for us post-mortem. At the height of all these technological advancements, we often ask ourselves: but at what cost? Black Mirror attempts to answer this by recreating a scenario where all the prototype technology we have now have kicked full gear and have fully integrated into our daily lives. There are episodes though that tackle the destructive technological habits we currently practice, so it’s not always a look into the future. At that point, the real question becomes: Is this the future or is it already happening?

[Minor Spoilers: Mostly synopsis style spoilers or like what you see in trailers]

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My favorite episode from the show so far would have to be the third episode of season one called ‘The Entire History of You.’ I think it’s worth noting that Robert Downey, Jr. bought the rights to this episode in particular to turn it into a feature film with Warner Bros. In this episode, almost everyone has a chip called a ‘grain’ implanted on their heads. This gives them the ability to record and playback memories. The screenshot above shows how it looks like when browsing through memories. In addition, you can also project this to a screen so that other people can watch. There are also other ‘neat’ features like you could zoom in and have the grain read the lips of people far from your peripheral view. You can even segregate them in albums like an iPod playlist. To clarify though, watching memories is called ‘redo’ and that doesn’t mean they can alter past events.

‘The Entire History of You’ shows us the consequences of having access to too much information and the destructiveness of our dependency on it. The episode shows instances where characters obsesses about every detail in their lives. From hours of meticulously deciphering the non-verbal gestures of the Human Resources manager during a past job interview to decoding what your wife meant when she giggled to a male friend’s joke. Is there such a thing as too much information? Is ignorance truly bliss? Or is moderation key? These are the sort of questions that this episode leaves us to reflect on.

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One of the things that really intrigued me about this episode was its resemblance to what Google Glass is trying to do. It is essentially the prototype to the grain. I remember the excitement I felt when I watched Google’s promo video for Glass. I loved the idea of being able to record memories into video and pictures. However, after watching ‘The Entire History of You,’ I realized how excitement for innovation often blinds people including myself to its potential repercussions. We often think that any cost is justifiable as long as it’s in the name of innovation. This episode has given us a lot of food for thought. When I see Google Glass now, I’m still excited but I have this strange feeling it will turn everyone into an ‘over-attached girlfriend meme.’

My other favorite is the pilot episode of the second season called ‘Be Right Back,’ and this episode plays with the whole idea of “LivesOn.” For those of you who don’t know, LivesOn is a web application that aims to let you tweet after your heart stops beating. Unlike others, The application doesn’t use pre-written messages. Instead, it uses an algorithm to recreate your personality by learning from your interests, tastes, and syntax from your Twitter account. This Black Mirror episode let’s us see a not too distant future wherein you can recreate the consciousness of your deceased loved ones not only through tweets, but also in text messaging, phone calls and so much more.

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This episode tackles not only the idea of a post-mortem digital legacy, but also the legitimacy of our online personalities. Impostors aside, most of us actually use our real names online. We tweet and share about things that interests us. We post photos and videos of fond memories on Facebook and Twitter.  We put ourselves out there with all these information about us. However, is it enough for a person or a computer to actually construct and know who we are? Or are our online personalities merely shells of who we are?

One of the key aspects that makes these episodes, especially the one’s I mentioned, intriguing is its eerie realism to how we are dependent and driven by technology at the moment. While we might not have these advanced technologies at the moment, the issues tackled are definitely relevant and real. The show has its minimal flaws, but at the very core, each episode delivers a unique and thought provoking premise for audiences to reflect on.

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The first season aired December of 2011, and the second one was just finished last month. I don’t think this show has made its way to US television yet, which explains why it hasn’t grown in popularity. Some of you may recognize stars of Downton Abbey appearing in separate episodes. Hayley Atwell, actress who played Peggy Carter in Captain America, is one of the leads in the episode I mentioned. The show’s score is amazing, as it reminds me of the simplistic yet evocative style of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

I’m not claiming that this is the best science fiction show out there, but I’m confident when I say that it is one of the best. One might call the show ‘pessimistic’ on it’s outlook on media and technology, but keep in mind that Black Mirror’s intent is to emphasize the repercussions we often take for granted. Essentially taking a dystopian approach to the narrative. It doesn’t call for audiences to be Luddites, but it raises important questions about how we live now and in the near future.


  • wevs

    You’re gonna think I’m a stalker now, but I simply love your articles. You always cover stuff that I find fascinating. We seem to share a liking for the weird and thought provoking, also Fable humor! I only recently saw a couple of episodes of Black Mirror with a friend of mine and I absolutely fell in love with it. Have yet to see the rest, but I’m sure I won’t leave disappointed.

  • James

    You should check out Charlie Brooker’s articles he writes for the Guardian in the uk

  • trashcanman

    You just made me reeeeeaaaallllly happy, Bedlam. This sounds like everything I’d like to see on tv but never get to actually see. Like Ghost in the Shell and the Twilight Zone had a baby. An awesome, awesome baby. Way to spread the word. Ima get me summadis!

  • Draugr

    I’ve got this queued up, but haven’t seen it yet, another endorsement bumps it up the list, though. πŸ˜‰

  • @wevs

    No dude, I would never think of you as a stalker. I really appreciate your thoughts on almost all of my articles. Yeah, I’m not quite normal. A typical conversation for me would be debating with a friend whether or not robots should have the same rights as humans in the future lol Let me know what you think okay? It would be cool if there was some platform where we could all talk about the stuff we like πŸ™‚

    @James

    Yes, I will check that out! Thanks

    @trashcanman

    Hey there! Wow, I just looked up Ghost in the Shell. Do you recommend I watch the anime or read the manga?

    @Draugr

    Awesome! Let me know what you think πŸ™‚

  • Mr B

    We Brits migt not be able to manage our economy for shit or have a world empire any more but dammit we can make good tv.

    As a previous poster suggested, youtube anything Charlie Brooker related- particularly his annual ‘news wipe’ and hilarious ‘game swipe’ In fact here’s a link-

  • @Mr B

    Thanks! I’m watching it right now. Mr. Brooker is really an intelligent and articulate man no doubt about it. I’m beginning to hold him in the same esteem as Christopher Nolan, Andrew Niccol, and classical studies author Robert Greene.

  • Draugr

    +1 to Charlie Brooker!

    As for GiTs, It’s pretty good, though I have my complaints (Though usually its the same problems all anime has, not anything entirely specific to the show.) I flip flop on how I feel about it.
    It obviously has roots in classic Sci-Fi literature. When it comes down to it though nothing beats the classics and this show just sparks my interest for them more than anything.
    (though let me be clear GitS is still enjoyable, despite my general aversion to anime.)

    When it comes to hidden sci-fi gems one that I recall is ‘the lost room’ It’s been a while since I watched it – I’d recommend checking it out if you can find it. – It’s been a while though so maybe Im looking through rose-colored glasses. Good sci-fi seems like it can be hard to come by sometimes so you gotta take it where you can get it, heh.

    P.S. It’s been a while, but if I recall second gig is pretty bland.

  • Eldge

    I never normally post on websites, however as a brit and unrealitymag fan, i had to let you know of another british show that has recently blown my mind as much as Black Mirror did!

    It is a six part series that has just finished on C4 called Utopia. WATCH IT NOW…you will not regret it.

    Im not even gonna give you a synopsis….just enjoy.

  • Mr B

    @benny

    The other thing I forgot to recommend. Check out ‘Dead Set.’ It’s a zombie outbreak satire set in a Big Brother situation (the horrid reality tv show).

  • @Draugr

    Thanks! It’s been a while since I’ve watched anime, but heck if it’s good science fiction then why not?

    @Eldge

    Oh that’s a show my friend wants me to watch too! Alright, bumping it up my list πŸ™‚

    @Mr B

    Read about that in Wikipedia! I have that on my list.

  • wevs

    @Benny Ghost in the Shell is indeed a great anime. I haven’t read the manga, but the anime is an instant classic for any sci-fi fan. Something in a similar vein is Paprika, it’s about a psychologist that has a machine that allows them to enter a patient’s dreams and I won’t say anything else, lest I spoil it.
    Last, but not least Cowboy Bebop. Chances are you’ve seen it, but it’s a really poetic show, in a laconic kind of way. I don’t even like anime that much and it’s easily one of my favorite series out of all genres.

    And on a completely unrelated note, I recently saw a mockumentary (if you could call it that) that I feel you might really enjoy. It’s called “Punishment Park”. Check it out if you have time.

  • Rob

    @ Mr B

    Mad props for recommending ‘Dead Set’, watched the first 2 eps last night and I already love it.

  • MarsV

    You should watch Utopia too, also from Channel 4. It’s awesome…