When the first season of Black Mirror, in that now distant 2011, the Channel 4 audience was faced with something completely unexpected. Of course, the TV series created by Charlie Brooker had a respectable precedent behind it such as The Twilight Zone. The “mentor” who already in the sixties had explored the limits, fears and vices of the human soul in a science fiction key. But if Twilight Zone, even in the revivals to come, has always stood out for its sci-fi imprint and hands interested in technology or the role of social media. Not only. Self Black Mirror opts, more often than not, for a verbose and interlocking narration, the one on which it rests The Twilight Zone it is a synthetic and stripped-down structure.
And it was, precisely, that cynical analysis of technology and its repercussions in society that represented the key to the success of Brooker’s show. Like an invisible thread, technology is the common denominator that has united all the episodes of Black Mirror, albeit in different ways: the transformation of private life into a public spectacle; love 2.0; consciousness in pocket format. Those mentioned are just some of the most obvious issues that, over the years, Black Mirror continued to eviscerate from different angles. Let’s think, for example, of episodes like “15 million celebrities”, “Free Fall” or “White Bear” in which the power of social networks has terrifying repercussions on the lives of individuals. Or the distorted vision of love that takes place in episodes such as “Dangerous Memories”, “Come back to me” and the masterpiece “White Christmas”.
Something, however, begins to jam in the practically perfect mechanism of Black Mirror when the rights to the TV series are acquired by Netflix. Therefore, whether it is due to an imposition from above or because, as unfortunately happens, success debases the art, Black Mirror has also started to go mainstream. That doesn’t mean the show lost in full its own bite or that there has been a collapse in qualitative terms but, simply, that the transition from a niche channel to a streaming giant has been perceived all right.
And if the third season remains, almost unanimously, a powerful, haunting and excellently executed collection, the same cannot be said for the fourth and fifth seasons. Excluding, in fact, episodes like “USS Callister” and “Black Museum”, the rest of the fourth season is made up of poorly managed stories and mice resumed until exhaustion. Even the “Metalhead” experiment convinced very few people, ending up becoming the most forgettable episode of the entire TV series.
Another semi-failed experiment was that of “Bandersnatch”, with which Black Mirror almost certainly wanted to dare too much.
The situation has not improved, then, with the fifth season, long awaited but very disappointing. The three episodes, made available on the platform in 2010, were flat, superficial and relied on a sterile script that does not do justice to what has been seen up to then. Black Mirror’s journey has always taken us to uncharted territories of the unconscious, confronting our innermost fears and the way in which technology increasingly controls and directs us. On this trip we found ourselves explorers, both frightened and fascinated by the distressing stories that Brooker has gradually told us. The fifth season lacks all of that, feeding the viewer like a tough kid.
We are light years away from the depth and expressive ambiguity of the first Black Mirror, which thus seems to have sold its soul in favor of the business. Faced with this bittersweet goodbye, with which the TV series has greeted us to date, the unexpected announcement of a sixth season brings with it legitimate fears and expectations. Arriving in June, four years after the last, the new season has already presented itself with great pomp, with a stellar cast (Aaron Paul, Ben Barnes, Salma Hayek, Josh Hartnett, Kate Mara) and a trailer that promises a lot . But will it really be like this?
The challenge facing the new episodes of Black Mirror is twofold. On the one hand, they must be able to overcome the unpleasant memory of their predecessors, bringing the TV series back to the quality with which we knew it. On the other hand, the new episodes stand out in a historical moment that in itself seems like an episode of Black Mirror. The famous saying “reality surpasses fantasy” is more true than ever and the paradox is that the show will be called upon to reverse this saying. The titles of the new four chapters have already been made available, the plots of which seem to take up some of the themes dearest to Charlie Brooker, once again the screenwriter of every single story.
This is not a reset but an expansion of the universe. The stories are still all Black Mirror style, but with crazy swings and more variety than in the past.
With these words, Brooker expressed himself regarding the upcoming new season, therefore promising both a return to the origins but also a renewal that can make Black Mirror a usable, attractive and coherent TV series with the current present. If in 2011, the show anticipated a world that soon became frighteningly realistic, we can’t help but wonder if once again, Black Mirror will be the oracle of 2023.