‘Black Mirror’ Season 3 Review: Computer Blue

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Anthologies used to be extremely popular, but their popularity seems to come and go in waves, from the late 50’s-early 60’s high of “The Twilight Zone”; to the solid 70’s run of “Night Gallery” and the original “Tales from the Crypt” movie and its spin-off “Vault of Horror,” as well as the likes of “Trilogy of Terror” and “Asylum”; to the 80’s heyday of “Tales from the Darkside” and “Creepshow” and the resurrection of “TFTC” on HBO in the late 80’s.

Things petered out a bit in the 90’s, though Quentin Tarantino somewhat resurrected the subgenre to great effect with the cleverly connected stories of “Pulp Fiction” and the underrated-but-lesser “Four Rooms,” but overall, the subgenre fell out of favor for most of the early 2000’s. That changed in the late 2000’s with the underground success of 2007’s “Trick ‘R Treat,” which struggled early on before ultimately finding success on home video.

This led to a resurgence in the 2010’s with the likes of the “V/H/S” and “The ABC’s of Death” series from 2012, both of which led to further sequels, as well as the more recent “Southbound” and “Tales of Halloween,” both from 2015. Meanwhile, on TV, a new take on “Tales from the Crypt” was announced for next year, while the Brits got back into the action with “Black Mirror,” which premiered in late 2011.

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“Black Mirror,” in typical British fashion, received a decidedly abbreviated first two seasons, each numbering a mere three episodes, with a one-off Christmas special arriving in 2014. Now, Netflix takes over the reins of the show, releasing a comparatively whopping six episode third season, just in time for Halloween, with six more to come in a fourth season at a later date TBD.

So, which, if any, are worth your time? TBH, at a mere six episodes, it’s not exactly a huge time commitment, so it’s hard to imagine anyone not watching them all, especially if you liked the older ones. However, not all of them may be everyone’s cup of tea, so let’s break them down, with some helpful points of comparison that will let you know what you’re getting into ahead of time.

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Episode One: Nosedive

If you’re new to the series, this one may actually be the perfect place to start, as it is a nice way of easing into things and seeing if it might be something you would like. By way of contrast, I would NOT recommend starting with the very first episode of the first season, “The National Anthem,” which is enough to make or break certain viewers alone.

This relatively innocuous entry, however, features familiar faces in Bryce Dallas Howard (“Jurassic World”), Alice Eve (“Star Trek Into Darkness”) and Cherry Jones (“24”), with a script co-written by Rashida Jones and Michael Schur, of “Parks and Recreation” fame. Worry not, though, longtime fans, as creator Charlie Brooker wrote the story upon which it was based, and wrote or co-wrote the rest of the season’s episodes.

As Brooker’s dark sensibilities can be an acquired taste, “Nosedive” is nice way to ease into things. If you like this, then chances are you’ll like some of the others, particularly “San Junipero,” though rest assured, that episode aside, things do get considerably darker from here.

This one imagines a world in the not-so-distant future where social media isn’t just for fun- it actually counts towards one’s status in society. Each interaction one has with others, such as buying a coffee, or renting a car, garners one a “rating,” which can be good or bad, depending on how it goes.

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Even such things as bumping into someone or uttering a curse word can affect one’s overall score, with those on the lower end of the spectrum often shunned by most of society altogether. However, one can bump up one’s score by going out of their way to be nice to others and making it a point to interact with those with a higher score than you, if possible. (Those with lower scores might have issues with certain things, like securing an upper class seat on a flight or a high-end car from a rental agency.)

As you might have guessed from the title, “Nosedive” takes a look at what might happen if one had a particularly bad day, which resulted in their overall score tanking, big-time, and the affect that might have on an individual. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it was more or less a plot-line on TV’s “Community,” in the Season Five episode “App Developments and Condiments,” aka the one featuring the phone app known as “MeowMeowBeenz.”

Imagine that played straight, and you’ve essentially got “Nosedive,” though the episode is not without a sense of dark humor, as Howard’s character goes increasingly off the deep end. It’s a fun episode to start out the season, and if it’s not entirely indicative of what’s to come, it’s a perfect place to start for newbies.

Rating: B+

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Episode Two: Playtest

A more typical entry in the series, this one perfectly merges the light-hearted with the pitch black, with the tale of a young traveler (Wyatt Russell, of “Everybody Wants Some!!” and the son of Kurt and Goldie Hawn), who, in need of some quick cash to get back home, takes on a secretive video-game-testing gig.

A girl he meets, played by Hanna John-Kamen- who appeared in the previous “BM” episode, “Fifteen Million Merits,” though not as the same character- says she can get him even more cash if he can nab a picture of the new tech, which is from genius gamer Shou (Ken Yamamura, “Godzilla”). This proves easier said than done, as it turns out, and leads to some unforeseen difficulties.

Eventually, he takes part in a test of a new horror-oriented virtual reality game that plays on one’s own specific fears, thanks to its new, ground-breaking tech. Things go from there, as the poor guy has increasing trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality, culminating in a jaw-dropping twist-within-a-twist.

This one is kind of like a more horror-driven version of the “Tron” movies, with a healthy dollop of the movie “Stay Alive.” Though not without its lighter-hearted moments, especially early on, it gets progressively darker as it continues, so fair warning.

Rating: B+

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Episode Three: Shut Up and Dance

Here’s where things get really dark and ugly, as a teen (Alex Lawther, “The Imitation Game”) finds himself blackmailed by an unknown online presence, who captures footage of his, ahem, “enjoying himself” to porn and threatens to leak it to everyone he knows if he doesn’t do what they say. Along the way, he meets others in the same boat, including Hector (Jerome Flynn, Bronn from “Game of Thrones”), a married man who is caught procuring an escort online by the same blackmailer.

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As the things asked of them escalate more and more, all concerned begin to wonder if an end is in sight- much less a happy one. This one is one that actually rewards multiple viewings, as you see how deftly it was all set up in retrospect, and how certain elements you might not have seen coming were telegraphed ahead of time.

I’d say the closest filmic counterpart to this one would be the recent flick “Nerve,” only with much higher stakes, as the protagonists here risk it all to keep their secrets safe, not voluntarily for money, as in that film. It also features excellent use of the Radiohead song “Exit Music (For a Film)” in its final moments. Though dark, content-wise, this was easily one of my faves of the season.

Rating: A-

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Episode Four: San Junipero

Speaking of great music, this one has easily the most entertaining soundtrack, thanks to an 80’s-driven setting that allows for the likes of INXS, Belinda Carlisle, Simple Minds and The Bangles, among many others. If you’re a big fan of John Hughes and all things 80’s, this is the episode for you. It’s sort of like as if Hughes wrote a version of “Back to the Future,” in fact, and I definitely mean that as a compliment.

It revolves around Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis, “Halt and Catch Fire”), a withdrawn and shy girl who’s new to the hip titular scene, a coastal town which runs the gamut from discos to dive bars, with the requisite video-game arcade and movie theater in between, showing the latest hits of the moment- whatever that moment might be.

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She meets the wild child, free-spirited Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, “Beyond the Lights,” as well as, more appropriately, “Dr. Who”) and the two become fast friends- and possibly more. But will Kelly stay put- or will she leave Yorkie, finally coming out of her shell for the first time, high and dry?

You’ll probably see the main twist coming a mile away in this one, but the other twists not so much. This is easily the most heartfelt episode of the show ever produced, and not as dark as most episodes have a tendency to be, which is a plus, given how likable the main cast is here.

My only qualm? I felt sort of bad for the lone gamer, who just wanted someone to play with his own damn self. Beyond that, it’s the rare episode of the show to leave one with a sense of happiness, not unease- not necessarily a bad thing, given the tone of most episodes. For some, this will be an easy favorite, if atypical of the series overall.

Rating: B+

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Episode Five: Men Against Fire

The next episode envisions a world which has been invaded/infected by an alien (?) race known as “roaches,” which look like mutated humans and are supposedly aiming to wipe us all out- or are they? Making matters harder are civilian sympathizers who allow the creatures to hide out with them, in order to keep them away from the military presence sent to snuff them out entirely.

We follow two soldiers, Stripe (Malachi Kirby, “Roots”) and Hunter, aka Ray (Madeline Brewer, “Orange is the New Black”), as they head up a squad sent to eradicate the threat, by any means necessary. But is there more going on here than meets the eye? Stripe determines to find out, one way or another, come what may.

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This one mixes a sci-fi tale in the vein of “The Fifth Wave” or “Oblivion,” with an political-action bent in the vein of something like “Starship Troopers,” minus the black comedy elements, but not without the underpinnings of a WWII-type scenario. It’s not bad, but probably my least favorite of the new season overall.

Rating: C+

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Episode Six: Hated in the Nation

This one is the undeniable centerpiece and tour de force of the season. It’s a feature-length episode that could easily be its own movie, with some great, exciting set-pieces that are thrilling, intense and even a little scary. It may well be my favorite episode of the season, and definitely one of my favorites of the overall series thus far.

It revolves around a mysterious murder of a tabloid journalist type that would seem to be the first in a series of attacks against media personalities that rub people the wrong way for one reason or another. Lead detective Karin Parke (Kelly Macdonald, “Boardwalk Empire”) investigates, with new recruit Blue (Faye Marsay, “Game of Thrones”), a computer whiz, backing her up, with an assist from NCA agent Shaun Li (Benedict Wong, “The Martian”).

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Blue notices that the killer seems to be targeting people that have one notable thing in common: widespread and vocal online hatred. But might there be more to it than it seems on the surface? The answers may lie in a deadly hashtag that takes on disturbing popularity online.

The presence of bee-like mechanical creations factor into the wild mystery that serves up gore and thought-provoking insight in equal doses, making it a sort of combination of Sherlock Holmes and Michael Crichton, circa “Runaway” and the novel “Prey.”

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Just how culpable are those who spew hate online for real-life violence? Should they be held responsible if something happens for real? Is online bullying ever okay? These are but a few of the intriguing questions raised by the excellent episode, which I look forward to watching again soon. As with episode three, this one ends with a lovely song, this one “Fall Into Me” by Alev Lenz.

Rating: A+

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So, there you have it. A worthy set of episodes, to be sure, and a season that bodes well for future installments from Netflix. For newcomers, the order I would suggest would be 1, 4, 2, 5, 3 and 6. Although, if you want to end on a happy note, maybe go with 4 last. Some may only like 1 and 4, in fact, but those with darker tastes will love 3 and 6, so mix and match accordingly.

What did you think of Season Three of “Black Mirror”? Did you like the new batch as much as the initial run of the show to date? Are you looking forward to more? Do you think they made the right choice in doing twice the amount of episodes in a season? Do you prefer the lighter or darker episodes? Sound off down below, and hopefully join me for Season Four sometime in the near future!