Series creator Charlie Brooker and star Mackenzie Davis take us inside the Netflix series’ best episode this season—and more. [Warning: Spoilers] “>
The result of Brookers continued meditation on our brave new tech-addled future is a new sixer of unrelated near-future nightmares that hit with more urgency than ever. Having greater resources at his disposal this time around means theyre longerthe riveting Hated in the Nation is a chilling 90-minute police procedural that, of course, takes even more sinister and unexpected turns involving the internet and honeybeesbut Brooker also seems more thematically ambitious in his third and biggest season to date.
Men Against Fire tackles the ugliness of incentivized war. Shut Up and Dance plays on paranoia over the privacies we unknowingly give up on the internet. Playtest ventures into the alt-reality escapism of gaming with dazzling visuals and a visceral gut-punch.
Black Mirror, streaming Oct. 21 on Netflix, is undoubtedly the best horror movie of this Halloween season. But critics instantly noticed a shocking undercurrent coursing through this new season: optimism. The hopefulness is particularly strong in its best episodes, the social media-obsessed Nosedive and the exquisite 1980s neon dream San Junipero, which have other crucial elements in common: Theyre both led by strong female performances and feature Bechdel test-shattering plotlines.
Half of this seasons episodes are anchored by fiercely written female characters, two by non-white stars, and one unfolds the most romantic thread yet in the series between two women. Brooker says that the diversity of this season came partly in the casting, and partly by shaking up the writing processand that the show is all the richer for it.
I was conscious that previously we had a lot of male protagonists on the show, he said. I remember thinking, Well, what happens if I just default to female leads for a while and see what happens? I also dont tend to comment on race in things that I do because I think it would be kind of patronizing. Its more interesting tonotdo that; to have the most diverse casting you can get. I dont tend to specify the race of characters. I quite often swap the gender of characters as well.
The Joe Wright-directed satire Nosedive hits closest to How We Live Today, anchored by an unself-conscious turn by Bryce Dallas Howard as Lacie, a woman clinging desperately to the fragile anxiety-ridden sanity wrought by a world driven by likes, people-pleasing, and her social-media profile. Brooker describes it as a pastel nightmare, one where Howards Lacie is trapped in a vortex of projection in which the faade of happiness and success belies the truest, bitterest, most human expression of all: that nobody is as perfect as they seem to be online.
But if Nosedive (and the also female-driven Hated in the Nation) are examples of how Black Mirrors capsule allegories can instantly change your perspective on firing off that next selfie or tweet into the ether, San Junipero is a different kind of rarified gem. Directed by Owen Harris, who also helmed the deeply affecting Be Right Back, the 1980s-set tale starsHalt and Catch Fires Mackenzie Davis as a shy young woman named Yorkie, who meets Gugu Mbatha-Raws hedonistic Kelly one night in an idyllic California seaside town and has her life changed forever.
For Davis in particular, San Junipero arrives in the middle of a run of high-profile science-fiction-tinged roles including The Martian, her not-sci-fi but sci-tech AMC show Halt and Catch Fire, and the upcoming Blade Runner sequel Blade Runner 2049, which she recently wrapped in Budapest. The showrunners initially had her in mind to play Kelly, but Davis gravitated toward the painfully reserved Yorkie, she told me. Maybe because I felt like I had done a Kelly in some capacity before, she said. I understood her, but with Yorkie Id never played a woman like this. I wanted to have some kind of interior experience with this person who wasnt comfortable in her own skin, this blossoming young female experience.
Between her Black Mirror stint and her turn as punk programming prodigy Cameron Howe on Halt and Catch Fire, Davis is still, like Brooker, not as wary of our brave new tech future as you might think. She mostly only lurks on Twitter and deletes apps on the regular. [But] what we talk about and think about so much on Halt is that theres so much goodwill in creating technology and new innovations, she said. Its to connect, and its to educate, to improve. The idea is often pure at heart and comes from quite an idealistic place. But the idea does not equal the execution and the intent doesnt equal the reality of a thing.
What I like about San Junipero is that it is very optimistic but it doesnt end with you going, Its bad, or Its good, Davis added. There is a darkness to it even though it is very hopeful. But it does show that everything comes from a very beautiful place. Of course we want to create a world where you have chances. But there will be people who pervert that technology or misuse it. You cant pretend that it will ever exist in the intended way.
Brooker himself reached a point of clarity in recent years, turned off from the alluring toxicity of Twitter so much so that he penned a warning against online outrage into Hated in the Nation. And last September, the news hed been waiting years to hear seeped into the international news cycle: The very first episode of Black Mirror, in which a British prime minister modeled after David Cameron is forced to have sex with a pig, had apparently come true.
The real-life David Cameron allegations did briefly make Brooker question if he was living in his own surreal Black Mirror-esque nightmare, he admitted. Genuinely, when that happened, it wassoweird, he marveled. But as much as Id love it to be true, I bet it isnt. I did that evening think that maybe the whole of reality is a simulation that I am imagining or is designed to fuck with me, which is not a thought that you should really entertain. Its quite narcissistic and mind-mangling.
He considered how politics might factor into the next season of Black Mirror. I kind of miss when everything was meheveryone was like, meh, and I fucking hated it. But now everythings either fucking brilliant or a disaster and politics has gone the same way. A few years ago everyone was complaining that politicians were all bland or the same and now youve got Donald Trump or weve got Jeremy Corbyn. I miss the middle. I miss the boring, bland middle. It felt more stable. Everyones just so fucking angry.
Theres definitely something in everything becoming so polarized, he added, furrowing his brow. But I dont quite know what the story is yet.
I asked the onetime videogame journalist what he makes of Gamergate culture since in this season he tackles gaming and Twitter, but not where those worlds so loudly overlap online.
I found [Gamergate] just inexplicable and saddening, he said. The fundamental thing at the heart of that, which I dont understand, is why its a problem critiquing the content of games. In the 90s, Duke Nukem was machine-gunning lapdogs. Even then it was like, Well, thats not great. Why its a controversial thought, I simply dont understand. Maybe there was an innate defensiveness of being a sort of traditional old-school gamer where youre being told that games are evil and violent, and I wonder if this reaction was at the core of it. It is a small minority of people who were very active in it. But no ones deleting old games.
Twitter, he declared to controversial reactions in his 2013 Channel 4 documentary How Videogames Changed The World, is the ultimate videogame, even if most of its 313 million active monthly users dont realize it. It encourages polarized debate; it means that you are rewarded for having an extreme point of view, he explained, unintentionally echoing anti-Gamergate critic Anita Sarkeesians theories on the psychological rewards of trolling on the internet. I think generally social media encourages you to be entertaining, and when I say entertaining I mean strident. It encourages that thinking and that expression. It feels like being in a pub at about 11 oclock at night when everyone could go either way.
The man behind Black Mirror, then, seems more cautiously wary of technology than necessarily for or against itand hyperaware of the fact that whatever the doodad, Twitter or Tinder or Oculus or beyond, these apparatuses only amplify the human impulses that have always existed within us.
San Junipero is the ultimate optimistic view of where we could end up, he mused of Black Mirrors most philosophically uplifting story yet. But I alternate between the two. I look at my kids, who are 2 and 4, and I look at the world theyre in. In some ways Im really jealous that the 4-year-old gets to look at something like Minecraft on an iPad at the age of 4.
I learned to find my way about playing Doom. I had a terrible sense of direction but playing Doom forced you to retrace your steps all the time, so I learned to find my way around London by playing it, he laughed. But I also had a lot of nightmares.
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