Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker ventures out of this world for Season 4
one-up a dark-edged sci-fi that’s already featured virtual-reality nursing homes, flying robo-bees and Prime Ministerial pig-shagging? That was the challenge facing
Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker as he sat down to plot out its fourth season. The answer, it turns out, was by being more ambitious. One new episode, ‘USS Callister’, sees the show blast into space; another, ‘Black Museum’, features three stories in one, which Brooker likens to The
Simpsons’ ‘Treehouse Of Horror’. With worldwide recognition and a place in the cultural lexicon secured — Stephen King has praised the show as “like The Twilight Zone, only rated R” — Black Mirror can afford to splash out. Season 4 will treat fans to a “gruelling thriller”, an “indie drama”, and one “quite playful” episode set in a “wonky society”.
For a self-confessed neurotic like Brooker, it’s the latest bold step in an often agonised creative process. He offers an example of the torments involved in piloting Black Mirror to the small screen. It was summer 2016, and the show was about to launch on Netflix, but Brooker couldn’t decide in what order the six episodes should air. “You know that scene in Swingers where Jon Favreau leaves a hundred messages on someone’s answerphone?” he laughs. “It was a bit like that. I’d send emails saying, ‘This is the running order!’ Then five minutes later, I’d send another one saying, ‘Forget it! I’m crazy!’” Part of his worry was over making the show accessible to newcomers.
As Season 4 looms, accessibility is less of a concern. “We can assume people know the nature of the show, broadly speaking,” he says. He’s not wrong. A protest sign at a recent anti-trump rally read, “This Episode Of Black Mirror Sucks”. Brooker is reluctant to give away too many specifics, but in describing each episode, the recurring theme is newness: to challenge himself, and the audience, with something surprising. For the ever-surprising Black Mirror, it’s quite an ask.
It’s a huge logistical challenge, too. Each episode is a self-contained mini-movie (“a full meal”, in Brooker’s words), with the budget to match. Season 4 was filmed in Canada, Spain and Iceland, with directors including Jodie Foster, John Hillcoat and Game Of Thrones’ Tim Van Patten. There’s the first acknowledgement that some episodes exist in the same universe. Its creator, however, remains his understated self. “In doing [Season 3], I became aware that a few more things are possible,” Brooker acknowledges. Now all he needs to decide is the running order.
Above: The Jodie Fosterdirected ‘Arkangel’. Here: Andrea Riseborough in John Hillcoat’s ‘Crocodile’. Below: Douglas Hodge and Letitia Wright in ‘Black Museum’.