Like any boring loser with a free weekend, I watched the entire third installment of the great British sci-fi series “Black Mirror,” which was just dumped on America via Netflix.
In short, Charlie Brooker's brilliant series is at turns grim, sad, shocking, beautiful and devastating. I won't review all six episodes, for that's a lot of work: I'd rather have you check them out yourself. Especially if:
- As a kid, you adored the “Twilight Zone” or “Outer Limits” -- I'm talking about the original series, which are as old as your humble reviewer. A combination of science fiction and horror -- they offered a dollop of pseudo-philosophy just to mess with your mind.
- If you're at all interested in the technology revolution, which threatens to turn us all into gibbering barnyard chickens.
In Brooker's world, it's the government that commandeers the drones for ill will; it's the military that seeks to brainwash; it's commerce that turns you into pliant sheep. In reality, the actual danger seeking technological assistance emanates from other places.
"Black Mirror" (which is how one would describe the face of their smart phone), mixes and mashes the above -- dipping a sci-fi Twinkie into a fried glaze of technological horror.
The series succeeds in showing the invasive, suffocating, insinuating footprint of technology, and the casualties left strewn in its wake.
The current series asks these questions:
- What if the kind of rating system one uses on Uber drivers (and vice versa) were applied to every single action during your day? Life becomes a survival of the phoniest, as technology exploits the human need for love. For the main character, it doesn't end well.
- What if science solved the statistical facts related in Dave Grossman's great book about the psychology of combat "On Killing," which found that only 20 percent of soldiers in our first two world wars actually shot at the enemy? Everyone else either dropped their guns or fired into the air. Humans have an inclination not to kill other humans, so how does one remedy that? Brooker has a demonic answer, or rather, a demonizing one.
- What if a new video game played off your worst fears? This episode, featuring the great Wyatt Russell confronting his own personal terrors as a test player for the game, is easily the most frightening episode of the batch -- turning your own brain into a haunted house that one can find no escape.
- What if hacking evolved beyond the so-called noble ideal of transparency, and became an engine of extortion that forces victims into criminal acts? This seems to me, the most realistic prediction of the bunch. When a stranger has something on you, why not use that shameful information to make a few bucks?
- What happens when autonomous technologies are hijacked and used to kill? And what if such technologies intersect with the swarming but effortless hate one finds on the internet? You'll find out in the final, sixth episode. It feels like an over-the-top, smartly written, wonderfully gory episode of “CSI.”
It's all great stuff. But as Brooker succeeds in portraying our blind embrace of technology as anathema to love and empathy, he steers clear of something far more threatening to our own humanity.
In Brooker's world, it's the government that commandeers the drones for ill will; it's the military that seeks to brainwash; it's commerce that turns you into pliant sheep.
In reality, the actual danger seeking technological assistance emanates from other places. It was the extremely faithful who turned a plane into a missile using a box cutter.
That's a rudimentary marriage of technology to doctrine - and it ended thousands of lives, while inspiring others to think creatively about the apocalypse.
The desire to find a better life through martyrdom is not science fiction -- rather it's embraced by thousands, perhaps millions. And, already jihad attaches itself to the technologies we have come to love (cell phones enhance both explosives and cohesion among terrorists; chatrooms become temporary bubbles for intel transfer among terrorists; social networks spread the romantic, repulsive doctrine of ISIS with its many executions; and ISIS now employs drones against adversaries).
As our tools help us, these tools help them too. This would seem like a worthy topic, to tackle. What happens when the primitive replaces the sharp stick with a dirty nuke?
“Black Mirror” revels in unforeseen consequences -- through our failure to connect the dots in our rush to incorporate hardware into our soft lives, the dots disconnect us.
What happens when you upload technology into your brain? Or download yourself into an eternal computer? These are all fun things to think about.
But what of half-time executions at soccer matches? Elegantly filmed beheadings released on Twitter? Massacres documented on Facebook by would-be jihadists?
Those seem like gloomy plot points in a “Black Mirror” episode -- but it's all real. Such horrors are regularly documented in present day, not in any imagined future.
Which is maybe why none of it is in “Black Mirror.” The present is really worse than any future that Mr. Brooker can envision. Perhaps he realizes that technology in the hands of religious fanatics might end up being a very short episode, ending in the first act, with no opportunity for a new season.