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My Black Mirror Season 4 Scorecard

Few things.  One, Black Mirror is my top 5, if not top 1 favorite show ever created, so I am a harsh judge and nitpicky.  Two, these were all rapid reaction grades, so I reserve the right to slightly alter my stance after a few days to think about it.  Three, I actually like hearing different viewpoints about TV shows/movies.  Usually I’m pretty firm on my opinion, but sometimes people point out things I maybe missed or misinterpreted that change my whole stance on something, so by all means hit me up @kmarkobarstool if you have some eye opening thoughts for me.

Four, don’t read this if you haven’t watched yet.  We’re entering the Spoiler Zone.

USS Callister

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Rapid Reaction Grade:  A-

Judging from Twitter reactions, USS Callister was very polarizing – although you could say that about basically 3 of the 6 episodes (2 were almost universally loved, and 1 was universally despised).  But I really loved the season opener and was pretty surprised to see some of the negativity about it right off the bat.  Some people complained about the length – it was almost a full feature movie length of a Black Mirror episode, which I can’t imagine anyone would complain about.  A lot said it was too cheesy –  I feel like that’s just totally missing the point of the episode.  And I don’t mean that in a “you just don’t get it way,” it’s just that it is so over the top corny and cheesy at parts that it is very obvious that they are doing it on purpose.  This fantasy world in Robert’s head is in such stark contract to his dreary existence in the real world, and also makes it that much more haunting when you find out what’s really going on in that “dream” world.  Once you learn that the crew members are actually completely self-aware versions of themselves and not programmed simulations, their fake over-the-top acting becomes even more eerie.

I have kind of a philosophical issue with the central premise though.  Mainly, how we as viewers are supposed to be rooting for the crew of the ship as the protagonists at the end.  How we’re supposed to be celebrating their “victory”

Daley is a creep.  He’s a pushover, he leers too long at women, he’s unusually cruel in his fantasies to overcompensate.  He’s so maladjusted that he can’t cope with the stresses of his life like an adult and resorts to a fantasy world where he can literally be a God.  At the same time – these people he is punishing are assholes and bullies.  They treat him like shit, they make him miserable, they trip him with gym bags, they refuse to show him any respect, they won’t even make him coffee.  They gossip about him and berate him and humiliate him constantly.  They are needlessly cruel and disrespectful.  They are dicks.

I get it, that the theme is supposed to be the “triumph” over white male nerd entitlement, kind of a response to the Gamergate stuff and the aggressive gaming/internet community.  I’d assume even some shades of Harvey Weinstein.  Male abuse of power is one of the most relevant and important subjects to explore right now.  Daley deserved to be destroyed.

But I’m supposed to stand up and Hip Hip Hooray for these dickhead bullies to literally murder the guy whom they relentlessly picked on?  Like, Daley is going to die in that chair.  He is unconscious, hooked up to a crashed simulation, with no friends to check on him and a Do Not Disturb setting on his door.  They killed the coworker they bullied and sail off into space with a pithy joke and the crowd cheering.

Let me just be clear though.  Getting bullied because you’re a little bitch at work doesn’t mean you can steal people’s consciouses and lock them in a never ending loop of watching their child be blasted off into space.  Big clarification.

Great ep though.

Final Grade: A-

Arkangel

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Rapid Reaction Grade:  B-

I think Arkangel was the episode I was most generous with.  All the grading I did rapid reaction, so after sitting on it and thinking about them for a while, the one I would go back and lower is Arkangel.  Probably by a lot.  The more I think about it the more….bad it was.

First of all it was EASILY the most predictable episode of Black Mirror ever.  Like you could read the 2 sentence Netflix description before pressing play and know exactly where it was going and what the message would be. I bet all of you did that.  I bet you all knew exactly how this story was SUPPOSED to play out over the next hour in a normal less smart show, and then were stunned when you were dead on.  That helicopter parenting and controlling your child obsessively can do them more harm than just letting them live normally.  Duh.   That’s so simple and basic and un-Black-Mirrory.  I mean it’s not to say there’s not an interesting premise there – they just didn’t do much with it.  The mom sees her high school daughter have sex and do drugs, freaks out, and the girl runs away.  The only even remotely “twisty” part was turning the parental controls on and smashing the mom over the head with the tablet.  But she didn’t even kill her!  At least end in a death, not a slight concussion and a hitchhike over a bridge.

I’m upset with my initial grade.

Please tweet me any redeeming qualities you found in it so I can try and be more positive.

Final Grade:  C-

Crocodile

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Rapid Reaction Grade: D+

I hated Crocodile.  I thought it was really, really bad.  I thought it rehashed the most simple, basic tenets of Black Mirror themes in a lazy, laaazzzy way.  The show is so effective because of the way it examines all the nuances of technology and where it could go in the future – there was no nuance here.  It was reduced to a story of a woman going around murdering people in cold blood.  That’s it.  The hamster twist even fell flat.  I felt no connection to any of the characters, I didn’t care about any of the stakes for anyone.  She murdered a motherfucking blind baby in cold blood and I was like “eh” because I was already so numbed out from such a bleak, downer episode.  Don’t get me wrong, downer can be good – I usually prefer it – but what’s the big commentary on society here?  That people will murder those that have dirt on them?

Nitpicking question I had – what’s the penalty for refusing to give your memories to an insurance investigator?  I know they said “you’re legally obligated to” which is great that they cleared that up – but to what extent?  I mean it’s gotta be what, a fine?  Even if it’s like, some jail time….if you know for a fact your memories are about to show you murdering people in cold blood, wouldn’t you just take that?  I would have to assume the law is immediate execution for not making your memories available, only explanation for why she would agree to it.

Final Grade:  D+

Hang the DJ

Rapid Reaction Grade:  A+

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Hang the DJ – the gem of the season.   Universally loved.  Noted TV guru KFC calling it the best episode of Black Mirror ever, which isn’t true but it’s definitely very, very good.

I think the thing the critics would say about it is that it’s not Black-Mirrory enough, in that it has a happy ending.  Humanity triumphs over technological evil.  You get to smile and hold hands and sing kumbayah, which is not a feeling you ever really get with the show…and kind of what turns people on to it.  I compared it to San Junipero in that they’re really the only 2 episodes you leave feeling good.  Personally I think that is good here, especially when it’s so well done. Like I said, I love dark and dreary and depressing, but there’s been 4 seasons now, 19 episodes I think – for 2 out of 19 to have a different style of ending, I’ll accept that.

Basically my very rudimental understanding of it is that there’s a big Tinder-on-steroids simulation system that does a thousand run throughs of you and your significant other and calculates how many times you “rebel” against the system.  If you rebel, you’re destined to be together, if you don’t, the app flushes you out and saves you the time and agony of a doomed relationship.  So these two rebel, “beat” the system, and meet in a bar where they can start a relationship with 99.8% chance of having success.     (Sounds pretty sweet if they could actually make that work for real).  A nice, happy, good old fashioned love story.

Now I could see if you’ve had an awful breakup lately, if you’ve been burned by Tinder, or if you just hate love in general – you’d probably tell this episode to fuck itself.  I can’t blame you there.

Final Grade: A

Metalhead

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Rapid Reaction Grade: B

What a controversial episode!  Lotttt of people hated this one.  KFC HATED it.  I’d say the majority of people who disagreed with my rankings were focused on my B for Metalhead.  NOT very well received by the public.

I liked it.  It’s not like I was even trying to be contrarian or anything since I gave it a B before even seeing any responses.  It was different.  It was short and to the point.  It was like a great “breakup the season” episode – not a ton of heavy thinking and barely any talking.  Just kind of a good old fashioned thriller about literally running for your life.

People complained there was no context, but I think it gave you all the context you needed.  It’s clearly a post-apocalyptic world, it’s very strongly suggested that the reason for the collapse was the creation of these killer dogs that humans lost control of, and the situation on Earth is so bleak that people are willing to literally risk their lives just to get a teddy bear for a sick and dying child.  It’s simple and touching.  That even as humans go extinct they’re still fighting for small gestures for their loved ones.  I don’t know, maybe that’s kind of lame.  I don’t really fight with anyone who hated it.  I just thought it was short and sweet.

*Interesting note that I read in something somewhere that I forget – Brooker’s original script had a man sitting in a mansion across a lake or something, and they show him controlling the killer dog, and when the woman is stuck up in the tree he goes to put his kid in the bath.   Now if THAT happened, I would have hated it.   Some big bad guy controlling robot dogs, like some sort of comically over the top villain.   I like it a lot simpler.

Also, and this may sound a little nerdy – I’m a big sucker for visuals.  The black and white was so cool.

Final Grade: B-

Black Museum

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Rapid Reaction Grade:  A-

If I know I’m going to be writing a review about something I desperately avoid reading any real, professional reviews because I want all my thoughts to be their own and not be influenced by the experts.  I’d rather they be dumb and just shooting from the hip, that’s what Barstool is all about.   So I don’t really know where the reviewers stand on Black Museum.  All I saw were a few tweets saying they “agreed with my A-” and a headline from (usually overwhelmingly negative) AV Club saying it was a “dud.”  So just going from purely my gut here – I really loved this episode.  Everything I said about Metalhead, this is the exact opposite – just pure, old school Black Mirror.  Wild, twisted, completely crazy technology advancements and how they change society.  Just straight up weirdness – and not just one, three!  Three separate storylines!  Actually…4!  4 separate storylines – including one with a twist!  A twist that – I think – you truly don’t really see coming.  I caught the twist like, 1 minute before it came, but if you got it early on you are a very very keen TV mind.

It was fun, over the top, just a great hour of television and the perfect way to cap off a season that experimented with some different things, some successfully, some unsuccessfully, ending it all with the winning formula that we know and love.

Went from an A to an A- because I didn’t like the middle storyline.  The dead wife in the brain plot, that whole story.  It was boring and I lost interest and the episode lost momentum.  Also, in a series full of wild technological advancements, this one made the least sense – who the fuck would ever want someone living IN their brain?  I don’t care how much you loved your wife.  If the technology came around to bring them back to life, absolutely.  But to put them sitting in a chair in your brain listening to and watching and feeling everything that you are?  That’s psycho.

Final Grade: A-

Overall Black Mirror Season 4 Grade:  B/B-

The B is because of my love for Black Mirror and the B- is my more realistic grading.  So I guess if I’m not being a coward:  B-.  Listen there’s been nothing out there that combines questions of humanity and morality with technology and fantasy and psychologically-thrilling suspense as well as Black Mirror does since The Twilight Zone – which is, coincidentally, one of my favorite shows of all time.   I don’t think it is “getting old” and I don’t think it’s losing its gut punch for the episodes that really work.

Having said that, it has been 4 seasons.  There is the possibility for viewer fatigue to start setting in.  It has absolutely exploded in popularity which means more fans making more and more noise, which ultimately leads to experimenting with different things to keep it fresh, and those things won’t always pay off.   At the same time, paradoxically, the season felt a little too light on risk.   Arkangel is the perfect example.  The definition of playing it safe while barely saying anything.  I would have rather they tried some completely wild twist and failed spectacularly rather than put out an hour of something you could see on NBC or CBS.  The fact that only 1 episode out of 6 made it into my top 5 Black Mirror episodes ever clearly says it’s not resonating as much, at least for me.   Looking forward to watching them all again and hopefully picking up some more appreciation.

Anyway like I said I love talking Black Mirror so tweet me your thoughts , cool facts, easter eggs and all that shit to @Kmarkobarstool.

My Updated Episode Rankings:

19) The Waldo Moment

18) Shut Up And Dance

17) Crocodile

16) Arkangel

15) Fifteen Million Merits

14) Men Against Fire

13) Hated In The Nation

12) Metalhead

11) Playtest

10) Nosedive

9) Black Museum

8) Be Right Back

7) USS Callister

6) White Bear

5) Hang The DJ

4) San Junipero

3) The National Anthem

2) The Entire History of You

1) White Christmas