“It’s all a bit Black Mirror isn’t it!” is a phrase I’ve heard a worryingly large number of times in the last few years, to refer to all manner of things: increased CCTV surveillance, deepfakes, AI, and pretty much anything Elon Musk has ever done. Regardless of how many individual episodes most people have watched, Black Mirror has gained, and managed to hold on to, a position of immense cultural relevance for several years now, becoming not just a TV show, but a far broader and more abstract concept, understood by just about everyone. So why, when it should be more relevant than ever, is the latest instalment of Charlie Brooker’s series so astonishingly bad?

“It’s all a bit Black Mirror, isn’t it?”

The most frustrating thing about the new season is that, on the face of it, it’s full of promise. The basic ideas should be the building blocks for some really interesting television, but next to none of the episodes actually follow through. Joan is Awful and Beyond the Sea are perfect examples. The former tells the story of a woman sitting down to watch some TV on a fictionalised version of Netflix, and gradually realising that she’s watching a dramatisation of her own life; the latter is set in an alternative 1969, where two men complete a mission in space while ‘replica’ versions of themselves stay on Earth. Sounds about right, doesn’t it? The problem is that the thought-provoking social commentary that is ordinarily at the heart of Black Mirror is very noticeably missing. Despite the intriguing premise of a TV show within a TV show within a TV show, all we get from the first episode is a wishy-washy message about terms and conditions hiding some dark secrets. Instead of exploring the complex moral implications of having a clone live your life for you, Beyond the Sea ends up as a bizarrely gory narrative about cuckolding. Black Mirror’s ability to stick the landing, it would seem, is long gone.

Somehow though, that isn’t even the main issue. For a while now, my largest gripe has been the show’s insidious Americanisation, which began all the way back in 2014 when Netflix first bought streaming rights. Gone are the days when Black Mirror combined some of Britain’s most exciting rising stars and some of our most beloved household names, against the backdrop of eerily familiar English towns and our increasingly dystopian political landscape. Don’t get me wrong, there are some impressive American names in the new episodes – Salma Hayek, Aaron Paul, Zazie Beetz – but there’s only so much a good actor can do with a bad script, and this season makes that glaringly obvious.

“the show’s insidious Americanisation”

Mazey Day, for example, might just be one of the worst episodes of television I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching. I expected a hard-hitting critique of paparazzi, the public obsession with invading the privacy of struggling women, and the monetisation of mass voyeurism. Instead I got…a werewolf. It feels more like a poorly made Netflix Original horror than it does the product of Charlie Brooker’s creative genius. The settings feel too sanitised and too distant, the storylines too dramatic, and the acting just a bit too animated. Without the British charm that usually grounds the show in some form of reality, it all feels a bit too much.

'It feels more like a poorly made Netflix Original horror than it does the product of Charlie Brooker's creative genius'THIBAULT PENIN ON UNSPLASH

For a while, I thought the problem might actually be that the kind of plots we’re used to in Black Mirror now feel too close to the bone. These ideas used to seem like far off, unimaginable nightmares, and now they feel like your average Tuesday. Perhaps there’s a limit to how effective horror can be if it exists within the realms of immediate possibility. But Loch Henry proves that this isn’t the case, and that the problem is much larger. The episode tells the story of a couple attempting to make a documentary about a local controversy in Scotland, and soon turns into a much-needed criticism of the morally reprehensible, exploitative nature of the true crime genre. The episode isn’t perfect, and it’s not even the best in the series, but it avoids the traps that most of these new episodes fall into; it has a legitimate element of social commentary at its heart, a well-written plot, and actually feels like an episode of Black Mirror. Being forced to acknowledge that you’re watching a criticism of Netflix on Netflix also provides the unease and discomfort that I’ve always enjoyed getting from this series. This one’s unequivocally British too, which helps.


Mountain View

Gazing With Open Eyes at Succession

The saving grace of the season – Demon 79 – is not only endearingly British, but it feels like a hybrid of a Doctor Who episode and one of my more vivid nightmares. It’s got moral dilemmas, political commentary, and two brilliant central performances by Anjana Vasan and Paapa Essiedu, shining stars of several British dramas who ground this episode in a distant but recognisable reality. For the first time in five episodes, I felt like I was watching the TV show I used to love, and then I realised that was the end.

The depressing fact is, I’m certainly not the only one who feels this way. A new season of Black Mirror used to inspire long-lasting and interesting conversations online and in-person, with very few episodes getting any major criticism. Now it seems that the new season is, at best, passing people by and, at worst, getting panned by critics and audiences alike. I wouldn’t find this new season so detestable if it wasn’t underpinned by such an obvious flaw, one that people are pointing out in their droves on Twitter. Black Mirror has fallen prey to the idea that a bigger budget, more famous actors, and a highly sanitised American backdrop necessarily creates better television, and in doing so, has proven that the very opposite is true.