‘Black Mirror’ reflects our deepest, weirdest fears
The brilliant “Black Mirror” returns Friday for a third season — and its best one yet — on Netflix with six new episodes.
Charlie Brooker’s anthology series traffics in trippy, speculative fiction that often feels disquietingly too close to home.
“I didn’t expect to find myself living in the future, but here I (expletive) well am,” declares London police detective Karin Parke (Kelly Macdonald) when walking into a high-tech company that makes artificial-intelligence drone bees meant to replace the failing real bee population.
In the episode called “Hated in the Nation” — directed by James Hawes (“Doctor Who,” “Penny Dreadful”) — the old-school detective is investigating a string of mysterious deaths tied to menacing messages on social media. She’s assisted by the tech-savvy Blue (Faye Marsay of “Game of Thrones”).
The first to be murdered is a columnist who wrote a nasty article about a disabled activist, and the piece attracts the wrath of the public. When it is learned that the messages include the hashtag #deathtoll, millions throughout the country join in, with the name of the country’s leader topping the list of who should be killed next.
The episode may bring to mind the very first “Black Mirror” in 2011, called “National Anthem.” In that episode, a young member of the royal family is kidnapped, and the kidnappers demand that the prime minister commit a deeply disturbing act on live television to save her life.
Since then, the series has peered into the future to wonder how technology will affect us, we imperfect humans with our foibles, weaknesses and silly behaviors. Sometimes the episodes are funny, sometimes horrific and more often a weird combination of both.
The six episodes of season three, which makes the season twice as long as either of the first two, offer an impressive array of talent.
Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Pride & Prejudice)” directs the darkly funny “Nosedive,” in which Bryce Dallas Howard plays a woman obsessed with being liked who lives her life trying to please everyone so they will give her a good rating. It was co-written by “The Office’s” Michael Schur and Rashida Jones.
In “Play Test,” a thrillseeking American Wyatt Russell, (“22 Jump Street,” “Everybody Wants Some!!”) tests a video game so advanced it becomes a real-life horror film. Dan Trachtenberg (“10 Cloverfield Lane”) directed the episode.
“Shut Up and Dance,” from James Watkins (The Woman in Black”), is something of a blackmail tale. It finds a shy 19-year-old (Alex Lawther) falling into an online trap and then forced into some unsavory situations.
“San Junipero” takes a different tact, heading to the California beaches of the late 1980s, where two new arrivals (Mackenzie Davis and Gugu MbathaRaw) believe their lives will change for better. Instead, they find a sun-drenched world turned on its head. The episode, directed by Owen Harris (“Kill Your Friends”), is filled with touchstones of the decade, from video games to music.
In “Men Against Fire,” directed by Jakob Verbruggen (“House of Cards”), two soldiers (Malachi Kirby and Madeline Brewer) of the future use technology to protect frightened villagers from an infestation of vicious feral mutants.
The series is known for its surprises, so it’s best not to give away too much. There is a “Twilight Zone” vibe to the series, so you’re always waiting for the twists.
And in a real-life twist, Faye Marsay — who plays the techie in “Hated in the Nation” — announced recently she is quitting social media. While her “Game of Thrones” role has brought her fame, she has found fans now want to know too much about her and have become too intrusive. Is that an episode for next season?
Faye Marsay, Jonas Karlsson, Esther Hall and Kelly Macdonald in “Black Mirror.”