Finished: 15 January

I don’t always log the TV shows that I watch here, but as I’d added the latest episodes of Black Mirror on Letterboxd I thought I may as well collate those entries here too.

The fourth season kicks off with USS Callister, a near-feature length Star Trek spoof that’s rather on the nose at times, but it’s well-observed nonetheless and occasionally very funny indeed. It’s also a withering condemnation of men who abuse their positions of power, and a crowd-pleaser in the sense that it gives you the ending you’re hoping for (a certain odious character gets their come-uppance). It makes its points about online abuse, the anonymity of the internet and gamergate-style sexism smartly and clearly enough.

For the second episode, Arkangel, showrunner and writer Charlie Brooker and director Jodie Foster set their sights on the technology of parental locks and controls as well as the effects of umbrella parenting, and this really does seem like a terribly sad episode all round to me. The protective single mother who is central to this story experiences a traumatic episode during the opening scene, and so her subsequent behaviour regarding her daughter can certainly be understood with this in mind, even if it is rather extreme.

Arkangel has a brutal, cold ending, though it has nothing on Crocodile, an incredibly bleak story about a woman going to extreme lengths to cover up her part in an accident that happened 15 years earlier. The frozen Icelandic landscape – standing in for Scotland, I assume – helps to create and sustain the mood, and there’s a deliciously weird idea employed in order to give the episode a final (albeit ultimately unsatisfying) twist, but overall I found this one to be particularly cruel and unforgiving. Andrea Riseborough is very good in it, though.

Where the episodes Arkangel and Crocodile have revealed a new-found bleakness at the dark heart of Black Mirror (and that’s saying something given some of the more twisted episodes in earlier seasons), Hang The DJ resurrects the uplifting sense of optimism of the third season’s standout episode, San Junipero, and provides some welcome mid-series relief. A debt is owed to Yorgos Lanthimos, whose film The Lobster used a futuristic couples retreat as its primary setting, but Hang The DJ also recalls TV’s First Dates. Rather than focusing on the need to couple-up, Brooker and director Tim Van Patten tackle our increasing reliance on dating apps like Tinder and technological PAs such as Siri and Alexa, and the characters here seem to exist in a world where disconnected electronic voices and algorithms are more trusted than human instinct and personal thoughts. This episode has the sharpest script in the series, and it’s well-acted, so unsurprisingly it’s my favourite episode of the six.

Metalhead is shorter, simpler, stripped-back – and quite enjoyable because of that. Typically of this show, it feels ominously prescient or relevant when one considers the appearance of the Boston Dynamics-created robot guard dog in 2017, but otherwise this is a fairly straightforward genre effort in which a woman (Maxine Peake) is being repeatedly terrorised by a malevolent, relentless force, à la The Terminator or countless horror films. I’m torn on the choice of black and white here; it does make the landscape here seem less familiar, and therefore helps to sell a supposed post-apocalyptic setting… but it doesn’t look particularly good to my eyes, with a high contrast and bright exposure employed that I would usually associate (perhaps wrongly) with a degree of carelessness.

The season finale, Black Museum, is an anthology within an anthology. There are some intriguing ideas across three stories here relating to transferred consciousness, shared feeling and human beings as empty vessels, and Brooker’s deadpan style is manifest most obviously in a bizarre segment in which a character’s mind and soul is transferred into the body of a teddy bear, which I think could have been a standalone episode in its own right. I didn’t really go for the story involving the pain-seeking doctor, but points are scored for ending the season on such a bizarre note of triumphant revenge.

Overall this season is another mixed bag. The first two seasons, made for Channel 4, were three episodes long, and much stronger as a result – I think the transition to Netflix and six episodes per season means that some stories have been included that would otherwise have been dispensed with. I’m not surprised that fans have struggled to embrace the darker episodes, but they’re all of a decent standard… with Hang The DJ and USS Callister the standouts. (***½)