Hang the DJ, USS Callister, Black Museum: How do Black Mirror season 4 episodes stack up against each other?

Pradeep Menon

January 04, 2018 13:50:04 IST

Like life itself, Black Mirror S04 has its ups and downs. Some episodes make things more outlandish than ever, while some others make you squirm deep inside, because of how plausible they seem.

While this season seemed to have a balance of hits and misses, each episode does have something offer.

Here’s how they rank, primarily based on just the sheer experience of watching them, over and above the bar of expectations that Black Mirror set for us.

6. Metalhead

Black Mirror

A scene from Metalhead.

It pains me to have this as the bottom-ranked episode of Season 4, because by itself, Metalhead comes across as a sharp low-budget indie action sci-fi film. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white — a first for Black Mirror — the episode has an old-school, post-apocalyptic set up, with just two characters (so to speak) for the most part.

Why it falters is that it just doesn’t appear to have the kind of complexity, intrigue and discomfort you’re used to from Black Mirror. You hardly get to know anything about the world being inhabited, and sentient machines are painted as an outright villain in this one. If you can’t get by an episode purely on the basis of some beautiful (sometimes depressing) frames, you probably won’t like this one at all.

5. Crocodile

A still from Crocodile.

This one has a crackerjack premise and some interesting technology at its core, along with the intrigue of intertwining story lines. However, it loses the plot after it goes from one accidental death to a series of hot-blooded murders.

The impunity with which the murders are committed would seem out of place even today, so in a world where machines can read and capture your thoughts as images, and this tech is used in law enforcement, the bloodshed comes across as incessant and overdone.

4. Black Museum

Black Mirror

A still from Black Museum.

A museum dedicated to mementos of dark, depressing incidents sounds like a delight for Black Mirror enthusiasts. Indeed, you get a bunch of different stories in one episode here. The way it is set up, you can guess where the episode is ultimately going from a mile away.

Still, as it progresses and you uncover each of the little stories, the episode keeps you hooked. The biggest problem with this one, though, is that even by Black Mirror standards, some of the technology shown here is just too far-fetched for it to give you those dreaded goosebumps - that feeling when something from dystopia feels too close to home.

3. Arkangel

A still from Arkangel.

We all know at least a few people in our lives who’d love to have Arkangel to keep tabs on their children. Imagine not only knowing where your children are at all times, but also having access to their health stats and being able to see what they see.

That’s what gives this episode heft, even though it peaks early and then just tapers for the rest of it. The thing is, you keep the technology out of it, and it comes across as just the story of a regular white single mom and her daughter. But then, that’s also why this episode comes closest — more than once — to giving you that familiar Black Mirror feeling: “Damn, this could happen very soon!”

2. U.S.S. Callister

A still from USS Callister

Nerdy goodness meets twisted evil in possibly the one all-time-classic episode from this season. From the opening scene, with grainy technicolour images in 4:3 that introduce us to a kitschy Star Trek-like TV show, to the closing scene that flags off a bizarre journey into the unknown, U.S.S. Callister keeps you hooked.

The episode reveals its cards slowly, so the protagonist and antagonist take time to settle in as characters before we know what’s really happening. With a thrill-a-minute, a solid ensemble cast and sharp pace, the episode is worth it all, its hat tip to sci-fi TV firmly in place.

1. Hang the DJ

A still from Hang the DJ.

I know this is a contentious one, but this one is up here just for the ending. No, not the polarising climax that everyone’s talking about, but the end of the intrigue, so to speak. What is this universe? What’s happening here? What kind of existence is this? Is this real or is it not? The questions keep piling through the episode, and the reveal creeps up on you without a warning. You may have seen stuff coming, but you didn’t see *that* coming.

There are also greater existential questions it asks. What is love, and is it really so hard to find a companion? What drives the episode, really, are the two lead characters, who you end up investing in far more than usual for Black Mirror — you’re as interested in finding out whether they belong together as they are.

Updated Date: Jan 04, 2018 15:13 PM