The darkest show on TV—Netflix’s tech-dystopian ‘Black Mirror’—is itself a sign of hope for a human future

Michael Saler in The Weekly Standard:

DownloadCaution: Netflix’s Black Mirror may be hazardous to your health. This anthology series about the perils of modern technologies is one of the most captivating shows on television; with its talented casts, immersive worlds, and tricksy narratives, it approaches platinum heights in this new golden age of television. But be prepared to binge and cringe simultaneously, because it is also the darkest series being broadcast today. While laden with satirical humor, the often-harrowing episodes can leave an unsettling residue of anxiety.

The series premiered in Britain in 2011 with an episode, “The National Anthem,” that set the tone. An opinion-conscious prime minister is thrown into crisis when a popular member of the royal family (think Princess Diana) is kidnapped. Her terrified pleas for help are broadcast across the nation, together with the kidnapper’s condition for her release: The prime minister must have sexual intercourse with a pig on live television. The public ultimately supports this demand through their comments and “likes” online, driven as much by an unstated desire to witness the humiliating spectacle as by any concern for the princess. And it gets its wish. As the prime minister’s pained and sweaty exertions are broadcast, we see the viewers’ facial expressions change from amused disbelief to shock, disgust, and ultimately chagrin at their complicity in the dehumanizing spectacle. Those new to the series may experience a similar spectrum of emotions. “The National Anthem” may be the first episode, but it isn’t necessarily the best place to begin watching Black Mirror. Since it doesn’t matter in what order the shows are seen, the 2014 holiday special “White Christmas” or the third season’s “San Junipero” would each make a kinder—and more representative—starting point.

Black Mirror, which now runs to four seasons and 19 episodes, is unrelenting in its depiction of connectivity as a conduit for cruelty. A condemned murderer is repeatedly tortured in a privatized prison that doubles as a public attraction. A doctor with a malfunctioning brain implant meant to heighten his empathy to patients’ discomfort becomes so addicted to pain that he ecstatically slices off portions of his own body.

More here.