*SPOILERS LIVE HERE*
Let me start by saying this: I really enjoyed the latest season of Black Mirror. It tells some fascinatingly dark stories – and in particular, fresh and interesting stories about women.
What I especially liked is that while the episodes of course continue to explore the dangers of technology, the focus seems to be more on telling compelling and engrossing cinematic-style narratives.
If you haven’t seen the Netflix show yet, I strongly recommend that you get on it soon.
But despite it being a strong series, I still have a bone to pick with series creator Charlie Brooker: his absurd plot-twist endings are cheapening the show, and ruining what should be depressing and yet satisfying stories.
Let’s start with one my favourite episodes in the season, ‘Crocodile’. Set in a cold, desolate landscape, it tells the story of an architect, Mia Nolan, wracked by guilt over the cover-up of an accidental killing earlier in her life, and how she becomes more and more unravelled as she embarks on a bloody quest to keep her shameful past hidden.
I love this episode for its steady pacing, how it provokes interesting questions about the unreliability of memory and the stellar acting from actress Andrea Riseborough.
But, as anyone has seen it will know, the episode closes with an outrageously cheesy ending. After finding out Mia didn’t need to kill one of her victims because he was blind *exaggerated eye roll*, we also discover that she is ratted out to the police… by a guinea pig. Yes, really, a guinea pig.
It could be that Brooker is trying to add a bit levity at the end of a very dark episode, but the effect is to whip you jarringly from the overwhelming despondency of the episode. The absurdity of the ending overshadows the excellence of the story that’s been told before, making it all feels more than a little bit naff.
I’m not the only one who thinks this. On Twitter, critic Tony Fantano wrote: “Freakin GUINEA PIG MEMORIES is probably the dumbest plot twist in all four seasons of Black Mirror.”
And other Twitter users had similar thoughts on the episode’s ending:
In Episode 5, ‘Metalhead’, we’re treated to another thrilling storyline in which a woman battles for survival in a post-apocalyptic world against killer robot dogs, after she breaks into a warehouse to steal a mysterious item. The premise sounds a bit much but, in fact, the episode is exhilarating and again features some incredible acting, this time from Maxine Peake.
However, having built up the emotional pressure through the intense black-and-white episode, in the end it’s revealed to viewers that the item she risked life and limb to retrieve was… a teddy bear, presumably for her child.
I think I get what Brooker is trying to say here; that a mother will do just about anything for her child, but for me this obtuse plot twist ruined my viewing of the show. Wouldn’t it be better to leave it as a mystery and let the viewers’ own imagination fill in the blanks?
The only way this ending works is if it’s tied in to the final episode, in which we discover that people’s consciousness can be transferred to stuffed toys.
But even then, we don’t know anything about this in Episode 5 so, in the moment, we’re just left a little baffled about why the big twist is a box full of stuffed animals.
Finally, let’s talk about the last episode, ‘Black Museum’. It’s a powerful look at how white society has historically gained financially from the oppression of ethnic minorities, especially via the prison-industrial complex.
This is explained excellently by the writer and scholar Michelle Alexander in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. In her work, she explains: “It is fair to say we have witnessed an evolution in the United States from a racial caste system based entirely on exploitation (slavery), to one based largely on subordination (Jim Crow), to one defined by marginalization (mass incarceration).”
This episode is a collection of three stories and ends with the protagonist Nish (played fantastically by Letitia Wright) exacting her gory and twisted revenge. However, just like in the earlier episodes the plot twist that she is seeking to avenge her father (which you could see coming from a mile off) and that her mother is living inside her head (another somewhat predictable twist) to me just felt a little cheap. Let Nish get her revenge and ride off into the sunset – don’t get bogged down by clichés and the need to cram each little reference and call-back into every episode. It’s too much.
Now, Brooker has discussed his infamous plot twist endings and has suggested that he was deliberately trying to add in some hopeful elements to this latest season.
He explained to Digital Spy: “There is some more hope in this series. This season, the writing of it started in July 2016, so there were episodes being written all through the American election… and everything was looking horrible. I genuinely thought, I don’t know what state the world’s going to be in by the time these [episodes] appear, and I don’t know how much appetite there will be for nothing but bleak nihilism.
“If you’re living in a dystopia, you don’t necessarily want to look at another one. So I sort of thought, let’s maybe not make them all [depressing].”
But ultimately, I want my Black Mirror to be despondent and to hit me hard in the gut. I’m never happier than when I’m traumatised and left in a pile of emotional wreckage after watching a dark film or TV show. There are some shows you go to to be uplifted, or for a break from the weight of real life, but Black Mirror is not that.
So, let’s hope that the excellent, cinematic quality continues in the next season – but that the cheesy endings are left firmly in the past.
But what do you think? Which was your favourite episode of Season 4?