Black Mirror, the Twilight Zone-esque series that caught the attention of folks everywhere when its first two seasons hit the streaming service Netflix, is returning for a third season now officially under the Netflix banner, and at least two episodes are at once classic Black Mirror and a bit of a departure. After seeing how well the British series performed, Netflix set creator Charlie Brooker to craft a new season’s worth of episodes to debut on Netflix, and two episodes just made their debut at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, where I got a chance to preview what Black Mirror Season 3 has in store.
These two episodes differ from previous Black Mirror installments in a couple of significant ways. Firstly, they both feature only American characters. And secondly, while Black Mirror is known for its bleakness, these first two installments are ever-so-slightly on the sunny side, offering a smidgen of optimism alongside a healthy dose of terrifying reality.
I’ll tell you right now I am not going into spoilers on either of these episodes, so fear not. Part of the fun of Black Mirror is the aspect of discovery, so I’m going to be as vague as possible regarding specifics while hopefully offering some thoughts on the episodes as a whole.
The first episode of Black Mirror Season 3 is titled “San Junipero”, and it was written by Brooker and directed by Black Mirror veteran Owen Harris, who was behind the Season 2 tearjerker “Be Right Back.” The opening conceit of “San Junipero” is simple: Halt and Catch Fire star Mackenzie Davis plays a mild-mannered, shy young woman walking the streets of an 80s town who wanders into a club and strikes up a friendship with a much more outgoing young girl named Kelly, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Plenty of fantastic 80s pop songs are played, there’s an arcade, and that’s all I’ll say about that.
“San Junipero” begins promisingly enough, but fairly early on I began to feel like I had figured out the classic Black Mirror twist, and thus started to wonder if the rest of the episode would simply be underwhelming. I was wrong. The “twist” is not the point, and Davis and Mbatha-Raw deliver a pair of terrific performances here that build to a surprisingly emotional climax. Moreover, the story itself is wonderfully original and tons of fun, so the way Harris threads the needle so to speak is a sight to behold, and he once again proves his knack for tugging at the heartstrings. So if you’re watching “San Junipero” and start to feel like you’ve lost interest, stick around a few more minutes—you won’t regret it.
The other episode shown at TIFF was “Nosedive,” which is certainly the most prestigious episode of the Season 3 bunch. Based on an original idea from Brooker, it was written by Parks and Recreation creator and The Office alum Michael Schur and Rashida Jones, the actress/writer behind Celeste and Jesse Forever and the aforementioned Schur shows. If that wasn’t enough, none other than Joe Wright—the filmmaker behind Atonement, Hanna, and last year’s Pan—is in the director’s chair.
The conceit of “Nosedive” is a little more complicated. It takes place in a near future where socio-economic status all depends on a rating system. People rate one another on their phones based on their interactions, be it their server from which they order a cup of coffee or the neighbor with whom they share an elevator. This results in an incredibly superficial world where the only goal is to be as pleasant and nice as possible in order to get a 5-star rating after each encounter, thus bolstering your own average. It’s like Uber, but for people and without the service aspect.
Bryce Dallas Howard stars as Lacie, a mid-level woman who really wants to be a 4.5 or higher so she can get this super duper condo that’s exclusively available to those with a rating in that range. She suddenly gets invited to be the Maid of Honor at the wedding of one of her childhood friends (played by Alice Eve), who’s now high on the social status chain and will be hosting hundreds of high-ranking guests. This bodes well for Lacie, who could use the rating boost and sees her speech at the wedding as the prime opportunity given that the audience will be full of “prime influencers.”
That’s the basic conceit for “Nosedive”, which instantly registers as timely for the superficial way in which we all use social media to present our best selves, all-too-eager for that “like”. Indeed, Lacie is seen ordering a fancy coffee and a cookie, taking a perfect bite of the cookie, promptly spitting it out, then arranging the half-eaten cookie next to her coffee cup for the perfect social media post. It doesn’t matter that she didn’t actually like the cookie or the coffee, all that matters is her post deeming them “Heaven!” got liked by a whole bunch of folks.
This episode is surprisingly free of too many visual flourishes from Wright, who has a knack for tracking shots and complicated camera moves. He wisely keeps everything focused on the characters, crafting a pastel-filled palate that mimics the superficiality of all social interactions in this world. “Nosedive” lacks the emotional punch of “San Junipero” and goes to some unexpected places as it builds towards its conclusion, but it’s immensely entertaining nonetheless.
Indeed, the lush world and bitingly hilarious script of “Nosedive” brings some much-welcomed levity to the Black Mirror universe. Don’t get me wrong, I devoured both of the first two seasons, but these episodes can be bleak, so it’s fun to get something that’s a little more colorful even if it still carries the same dark thematic weight as all the rest of the Black Mirror episodes. Even “San Junipero” is surprisingly cheerful, and while it deals with some very dark subject matter, it doesn’t overwhelm it.
I’ve only seen two of the six episodes of Black Mirror Season 3 so I can’t speak for the season as a whole, but these two that I’ve seen thus far are incredibly solid and refreshingly different. It’s still the same old Black Mirror of course, it just feels like it’s playing on a much larger canvas. And that, my friends, is a very good thing.
All 6 episodes of Black Mirror Season 3 will be available on Netflix on October 21st.
To catch up on all of our TIFF 2016 coverage thus far click here, or peruse our list of reviews below:
- American Pastoral
- The Bad Batch
- The Birth of a Nation
- Blair Witch
- Bleed for This
- The Bleeder
- City of Tiny Lights
- Deepwater Horizon
- Dog Eat Dog
- The Exception
- Free Fire
- The Handmaiden
- The Limehouse Golem
- The Magnificent Seven
- Manchester by the Sea
- A Monster Calls
- Nocturnal Animals
- The Promise
- Queen of Katwe
- (Re) Assignment
- Strange Weather
- Their Finest
- Trespass Against Us
- A United Kingdom
- Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey