In Series 1, Episode 1 of Black Mirror, the Prime Minister (Rory Kinnear) is threatened with the murder of a member of the royal family unless he publicly has sex with a pig.
“How,” you wonder for most of the rest of the episode, “is he going to get out of this?”
Black Mirror is British comedian Charlie Brooker’s dark comic assault on the modern world (heavy on the dark, light on the comic), and if I didn’t know him as a fan of video games and a man with a career almost totally made by television, you’d think he was the world’s biggest luddite.
Series 1 follows a trajectory of increasingly darker episodes. The opening episode deals with themes of voyeurism, the impossibility of containing information in a digital age, and even manages to touch upon the avarice of both politicians and the media for public approval – doing what’s popular instead of doing what’s right. Episode 2 is a dystopia built on gamification and corporate control. Episode 3 hinges upon a device that records all of a person’s memories, and the increasing paranoia a man has about his wife as he replays her interactions with another man again and again.
The most devastating episode, in my opinion, is Series 2, Episode 1 — in which a woman (Hayley Atwell) turns to technology to fill the void left by the death of her husband (Domhnall Gleeson). Without spoiling too much, the themes of this episode will be familiar to anyone who has a had a Facebook friend die. Series 2, Episode 2 sees some pretty masterful narrative control from Brooker, though it’s a chilling vision of humanity’s barbarity presented. And though Episode 3 never seems to have the same impact of the rest of the show, there’s a pretty good case to be made that it’s Brooker lampooning himself.
I personally found Black Mirror to be both difficult to watch and immensely captivating, though once I put a few days between myself and some of the initial episodes I feel like I was better able to come back and the watch the second series.
Your mileage may vary. Though if you’re looking to take a break from all the holiday cheer, Black Mirror is certainly the starkest, best break you can take.