Black Mirror – the zeitgeisty modern Twilight Zone that asks pub-conversation-fuelling what-ifs about tech, media, and society – is returning with a third season on Netflix in October. I got to see two episodes of the upcoming series at Toronto Film Festival 2016, and it's fair to say fans of the Charlie Brooker-created show won’t be disappointed.
There was some controversy when Netflix snapped up the worldwide rights to the new season (outbidding original UK broadcaster Channel 4), but that hasn’t affected the tone of the latest series. I saw San Junipero (episode 1) and Nosedive (episode 3), at an event attended by Brooker, the cast, and the directors. The episodes feel more cinematic than the previous two season and the Christmas special; they certainly held up on the big screen they were played on. Adding to that vibe is the fact that these episodes star actors you'll recognised from movies, such as Bryce Dallas Howard, Mackenzie Davis, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Alice Eve. The cinematography feels more precise and polished too.
I’ll kick off with San Junipero, written by Brooker and directed by Owen Harris (Kill Your Friends, Black Mirror episode Be Right Back). The episode opens with waves crashing on what appears to be a Californian beach. Mackenzie Davis’ shy bookish character, Yorkie (yes, Yorkie), enters a club, where she meets the outgoing and confident Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The location, the music, the entertainment (Bubble-Bobble, anyone?) scream ’80s, as does the overriding pastel colour scheme. It’s almost a little too ’80s, and like a modern Cinderella, Davis has to be gone by midnight. She returns the following week though, but once again has to shoot off before the clock strikes twelve. This being Black Mirror, all isn’t quite what it seems, but when the reveal does come it packs a hefty, unexpected emotional wallop.
Nosedive, which is directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Pan) and written by Rashida Jones and Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation), has a similar colour palette, but an entirely different tone. Unsurprisingly, given the writing talent, it’s a far funnier episode, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of darkness lingering under the surface. This one stars Jurassic World’s Bryce Dallas Howard as Lacie, an inhabitant of a pristine community in a world where everyone is ranked out of five stars on their every interaction (elevator greeting, social media post, coffee shop transaction) via an app.
The scores are accrued, giving every individual a current rating that’s viewable for all to see. Polite, over-friendly Lacie is doing pretty well, averaging a 4.2 score. But she’s going to do have to do better than that if she wants to move into a luxury apartment building, which is available only to those with a 4.5 rating or higher. When her social media superstar friend (Alice Eve) announces her wedding, Lacie spies an opportunity to boost her own ranking, and the rest of the episode follows her desperate approval-seeking mission.
Nosedive presents a reality that’s heightened, but not all that unbelievable today. It's really just uber but for life. Likewise, San Junipero plays with nostalgia and relationships in a way that feels genuinely relatable and will provoke plenty of conversation. Like the best Black Mirror episodes, they get under your skin in an unsettling way. Exploring concepts that aren’t all that far removed from the world we’re living in now, they leave you pondering ideas long after the credits roll. Honestly, I’m actually desperate to talk about the episodes with someone, but I don’t want to spoil the unfurling fun of each one before the new season premieres. When it hits Netflix on October 21, I’m certain there will be plenty of people wanting to talk about it…