The six bingeable episodes of season four of “Black Mirror” are dominated by virtual reality anxieties, the foreboding presence of increased surveillance and most importantly, a kick-ass ensemble of empowered lady protagonists who lead the season with decisive clarity and confidence. Often cast aside as propaganda for the technologically weary, “Black Mirror” provides insight into the human condition while addressing the qualms of pervasive technology. The show has acted as a sort of prophet for current events and technological advancements, ranging from coincidence to straight-up creepy. In season two, showrunner Charlie Brooker predicted the rise of a flippant and profane TV star in “The Waldo Moment,” a piece of fiction that hits a little too close to home. Similarly, season three took social media celebrity to a whole new level in the episode “Nosedive,” reminding us of the power of a “like.” With a skill for honing in on the relevant and emphasizing the relatable, Brooker creates an alternate reality so close to our own, it becomes difficult to differentiate fact from fiction.
In expert fashion, this season takes on such issues as helicopter parenting, dating apps, toxic masculinity and the commercialization and curation of tragedy. Every episode tells a new story with a new set of characters in a new world with new laws of nature. The singularity of the stories makes every movement succinct, yet necessary; every conversation fleeting, yet memorable; every painful sequence short, yet powerful.
The first episode of the fourth season, “USS Callister,” plays like every nerd’s wet dream: the possibility to be the hero in your favorite science fiction franchise. The appeal of this episode is the expert character development. Every role and persona is crafted with the utmost care and attention. The episode is led by stellar performances from FX’s “Fargo” alumni Jesse Plemons (“The Post”) and Cristin Milioti (“The Mindy Project”). By day, Robert Daly (Plemons) is the nebbish coder at an emerging tech company, but by night, he is the charismatic and brilliant captain of the U.S.S. Callister, a spaceship reminiscent of “Star Trek”’s very own U.S.S. Enterprise. Daly’s fantasy is no dream; he is an active part of it through virtual reality. He has created the characters in his crew to resemble those of his co-workers. As Daly rules over his crew on the U.S.S. Callister with an iron fist, he cowers behind his screen at the office. The episode attacks Internet trolls, as well as subtle and overt workplace sexism and racism. Milioti’s Nanette Cole combats Daly’s misogyny with confidence, empowering women everywhere to stand up and be heard.
“Black Mirror” tapped the notable actress, producer, director and general rock star Jodie Foster (“Elysium”) to direct the ominous and pertinent “Arkangel.” The episode follows a nervous single mother (Rosemarie Dewitt, “La La Land”) who, after a traumatic incident, decides to volunteer her young daughter to try an experimental tracking device. The device keeps a tab on the child’s whereabouts while providing a creepy feature of looking through the child’s eyes. The device even blurs and obscures potentially harmful, damaging images and sounds — working in real-time to censor reality. The episode provides a biting commentary on helicopter parenting and presents the downfalls of editing reality for one’s child in the hopes of protecting them from the world.
The real star of this season of “Black Mirror” is the dominant and unyielding female-led cast. With incredible performances ranging from disturbing and nuanced (Andrea Riseborough in “Crocodile”) to poignant and twisted (Leitia Wright in “Black Museum”), the ever-changing characters and transitory narratives are worth dwelling on.