Defining Humanity: A Review of “Black Mirror” Season Four

By Amanda Fuchs

Disclosure: There will be spoiler alerts!

From its humble beginnings in December of 2011, Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror” has grown into a hot topic of conversation; for many, the show offers a harsh look at what reality could become in our unprecedented age of technology. Released this past month, season four of Black Mirror is comprised of 6 new episodes with each ranging from 40 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes, following a different storyline and characters. Although each episode is unique in its own right, all six episodes play off the effects of technology on larger society–cautionary tales that we must take seriously before it is too late.

Two episodes from the season that demonstrate this theme are “ArkAngel” and “Hang the DJ.” Directed by Jodie Foster, the second episode of the season, ArkAngel, explores the very real possibility of tracking our children’s every movement using a microchip. Through Marie, a single mother looking to protect her daughter, Sarah, the system “ArkAngel” is introduced to the audience. Presented as the solution to every parent’s worst fears, the technology provides parents with a comprehensive overview of their child’s life; metrics such as health, heart rate, distress, and point of view are all available to the child’s caretaker, and can be closely monitored on the caretaker’s respective device. Yet parents can be much more than passive viewers. If they see something inappropriate or scarring in their child’s point of view, parents can opt to blur it from their child’s vision, morphing the image into a jumble of shapes.

The fourth episode, “Hang the DJ,” follows two characters living in a world in which dating is completely controlled by one system that ultimately finds everyone their perfect match. After being paired up for a date, Frank and Amy immediately hit it off. But according to the system that matched them up, they only have 5 hours until their time together expire and they are passed onto another relationship. Everyone trusts the system without question. However, when Frank is paired up with a woman he hates for one year and Amy spends 9 months in a dull, passionless relationship, the two begin to question the legitimacy of the service.

What do these two stories have in common? Essentially, both “ArkAngel and Hang the DJ” reveal the consequences attached to the technological advancements the future could hold. While in theory a tracking system for one’s child or a dating service with 99.8% accuracy may seem irresistible, there is danger in altering natural human behavior this way. Interestingly enough, both episodes have one character who expresses this sentiment: “I don’t know what people did before this system.” The statement evokes a sense of depersonalization; fear, sadness, and heartbreak are just as essential to human emotion as happiness, excitement, and comfort. When technology is used to suppress these feelings, life becomes meaningless.

Really, the technology depicted in “Black Mirror” may not be as far away as it seems. It is important that we take the show’s messages seriously and educate ourselves about the dangers of rapid technological advancement before we lose what it means to be human.