Black Mirror Season 4 Round-up

Season 4 of Black Mirror, the TV programme designed to crush whatever part of your soul may have survived the past year, has landed back on Netflix just in time for 2018. As with the last season, below I’ve rated each episode from worst to best (in my humble opinion). I have to admit that I wasn’t really digging Black Mirror this season. Since coming to Netflix, it seems to have lost of a bit of it’s punch and, particularly in this season, individual episodes often take an unexpected twist seemingly for the sake of having a twist, rather than making sense in the narrative.

Watching the first five episodes, I felt a bit cheated. Instead of being left with a feeling of utter despair and a new found fear of technology, I was left with a feeling of ‘so what?’. It was only on watching ‘Black Museum’ that I felt as if I was actually watching Black Mirror – the show which has previously left me reeling on my sofa.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t the shock factor that makes Black Mirror what it is. A sudden twist or a blind reveal do not a good episode make. No, the successful episodes of Black Mirror turn the tables on us, the viewer. They do not force an agenda, but aggressively encourage us to interrogate our own ideologies. They do not pull off cheap tricks, favouring in depth character study and study life-changing technology on a micro-scale. The greatest episodes (think ‘15 Million Merits’, ‘Be Right Back’ or ‘White Rabbit’) investigate the horror of living in a world so close to our own. In its worst moments, it merely asks us to fear dying – a much easier concept to grasp.

So, from worst to best (and I am fully aware that this may be the most contradictory list to any others out there, but hear me out)


(aka drink driving is bad)

Crocodile is odd, to say the least. Part scandi-noir, part anti drink-driving campaign, it details how one minor mistake can alter the rest of one’s life forever. Mia (Andrea Riseborough) and Rob (Andrew Gower) are driving through snow capped mountains, after a big night out partying (drugs included). After hitting a cyclist on a deserted road, Rob quickly decides he would rather not go to prison, and Mia reluctantly assists him with disposing of the cyclist into a nearby lake.

15 years later, Rob and Mia meet again. Mia is now a big time career woman in the architecture world, and Rob has shown up to her hotel bedroom whilst she is away at conference. He’s feeling guilty about what they did and tells Mia he is planning to turn himself in. Mia, who now has an established career and a family, is not down for this idea. She, in a predictable turn of events, kills Rob in the hotel room and disposes of his body in a building site of what we assume is going to be a building she has designed.

So far, so Scandi-noir thriller. Unfortunately for Mia, a determined insurance investigator by the name of Shazia is about to make things a lot harder for her. Shazia is on a mission to get compensation from a self driving pizza van company and is collecting the memories of everyone who was around Mia’s hotel that night. I say collecting because Shazia has a sort of memory machine where she can record the subjective memories of the person she is interviewing. This is bad news for Mia as the pizza van incident happened mere moments before she killed off Rob for good. So what is Mia to do?

I’ll give you a hint. It involves Mia evolving from accidental bystander in a drink-drive fatality to full blown child murderer.

‘Crocodile’ got a lot of good press (some people claiming it was the bleakest episode of Black Mirror ever) but for me, it was far too predictable. There’s very little that is interesting about a successful white woman going on a killing spree to stop her life from being destroyed, and Mia’s downward spiral was etched in stone from the moment she killed Rob. It was also disappointing to never get a clear idea of Shazia’s character before she was cheaply disposed of. The brutality she and her family endure (a mixed-race family vs a successful white woman) at the hands of Mia also feels cruel rather than nuanced in anyway. Brutality for the sake of brutality is never a good idea. The reveal? Also predictable, but has made me think that having a guinea pig might be quite useful in future…

Hang the DJ

(aka Tinder is bad)

It’s a shame that ‘Hang the DJ’ has landed second to last on this list as I enjoyed the vast majority of the episode. However, the twist at the end only serves to do two things; firstly it removes any kind of sincerity the episode had, and secondly it’s the technological equivalent to ‘they woke up and it was all a dream’. Let me explain.

‘Hang the DJ’ revolves around the world of app-dating. Couples meet in the same restaurant, check their expiry dates on their app and go from there. When Frank (Joe Cole) and Amy (Georgina Campbell) are paired up, they get on pretty well but are only given 12 hours remaining for their relationship. Instead of having sex that night they innocently hold hands, a small gesture but one that solidifies their chemistry.  Over the next year or so, both of them are set up with other people that the system has chosen for them. Frank is in an incredibly unhappy relationship with a woman who seems to hate him for no reason other than the fact he was late on their first date, and Amy ends up discovering annoying ticks about the  man she is paired with. Eventually, after a series of short relationships, they are paired with each other again, but not for long. Frank, unable to stop himself from checking their expiry date though they had agreed not to, kickstarts their countdown clock which goes from five years to just several hours. Eventually, they both decide to try and escape the system, only for the audience to realise that the Amy and Frank we have been watching are merely a simulation occurring inside a dating app. The simulation has been run 1000 times, with 998 sims ending in the two of them choosing to reject the system to stay together.

Though Campbell and Cole are fantastic as the technology-crossed lovers, ‘Hang the DJ’ manages to completely undermine anything we felt for the characters with its final twist. We’ve become invested in these characters for the entire episode and to essentially erase them from existence to introduce the ‘real’ Amy and Frank left me with a feeling of ‘so what?’. It almost seemed like an entirely pointless exercise – though cynical of the system, the real Amy and Frank still choose to follow through on it.


(aka robot dogs are bad)

Episode 5, ‘Metalhead’ can be summed up as Maxine Peake running through various landscapes whilst being chased by K9’s evil alter-ego. It’s pacy, it’s racy and it doesn’t hold back. Two of the three characters in the entire episode are killed within the first five minutes, leaving only Peake’s Bella to try and survive her ordeal.

Peake does give a phenomenal performance (as is usual) as the isolated Bella running for her life. The stand-out scene in terms of tension comes when the robot dog traps Bella in a tree, revealing it’s only weakness: it can’t climb up the tree with it’s broken paw. Bella decides to wait it out and soon realises – with no verbal communication to convey this – that if she continually keeps it awake, it’s battery power will deplete. It works and Bella escapes, for the moment. Later, Bella comes across an abandoned house, home only to two dead bodies who appear to have committed suicide. Soon enough, the dog has tracked Bella down, and though she succeeds in destroying the machine, it leaves her with a final parting gift – a tracker lodged in her neck. Knowing that the tracker will lead even more dogs to the house, Bella makes the excruciating decision to end her own life rather than let the dogs at her.

Whilst ‘Metalhead’ is a fast and remarkably furious episode, it could do with a little more context. We gather snippets of information at the beginning – the pigs are all dead because of the dogs – and Bella speaks on the phone to various unknown people. In these moments, it’s hard to care much about the conversation because we have no idea who Bella is talking to. Are they other survivors? Is there a safe refuge? How many humans are left? Is someone controlling the dogs or have they risen up like a robo-rebellion? At the risk of ruining a bit of the mystery, ‘Metalhead’ is lost in a bit of a void.

I think ‘Metalhead’ would have made an incredible feature film. I am just not sure how I feel about it as part of the wider Black Mirror universe. Perhaps this is me being pedantic, but it makes little sense in the wider world – how does it fit in to the chronology of previous episodes? As a stand alone film, the lack of context would have been exciting and would have kept viewers wanting more, but in the middle of a series? It felt like something was missing.

Page 2 for the next three episodes!

LFF 2017: Funny Cow Review

Adrian Shergold’s Funny Cow is a mixed bag. Just a side note – I am probably going to focus this review on a very, very small part of the film because I feel like it’s the part which has resonated in my mind since I saw the film, and not in a good way. That’s not to say that the rest of film wasn’t good – I actually found it to be a refreshing and nuanced portrayal of a woman coming to terms with her own trauma through humour. There is a just a particular moment within the film which completely altered the way I viewed it, which I will focus on more later.

Maxine Peake plays a female comedian (whose only credited name is Funny Cow). The film takes us through her life, going backwards and forwards all the way from her childhood, to a TV interview she is giving about her life. No matter how tough things get, there is already an understanding from early on that things are going to work out for her. And things do get tough…

From being elated at the premature death of her abusive father, to meeting and marrying a violent husband, to subsequently trying to curb her mother’s alcoholism – Funny Cow is a film which seeks humour in the darkest of moments, and it’s really quite good at it. Peake’s character has a complexity that is rarely seen in female characters. She spends most of the film trying to laugh her way through traumatic events, only to discover that she cannot right all of life’s wrongs with a funny joke. She plays the ‘clown’ expertly, but is also heartbreaking to watch at points – especially in the scenes with her alcoholic mother (played by Lindsey Coulson). Shergold subtly shows the cyclical nature of abuse through these two characters – both mother and daughter become moulded into ‘victims’ by the people around them. The daughters release is comedy, the mother’s release is drink, but they are two sides of the same coin.

So, what’s not to like? Well…

Before Funny Cow (I really, really wish she had an actual name) takes to the stage, she becomes enamoured with stand up comedy after watching comedian Lenny (Alun Armstrong) perform, albeit very badly, at a local venue. His act, proceeded by a low-key strip tease act, is without many laughs. His material is bad. His delivery is bad. He’s also, and this is a pretty key theme later on, pretty racist. Let’s be clear though, the racism isn’t the reason why the audience don’t laugh – he just isn’t very funny. Regardless, Funny Cow is impressed. Not with his actual jokes, but at the idea of making people laugh and getting paid to do it.

Later in the film, Funny Cow is given the opportunity to take Benny’s place at a similar show. It’s a spontaneous decision – Benny is ill and there is literally no-one else to do it. And though she has been faced with a few men telling her that women simply aren’t funny, the worst that happens during her debut stand up show is one shouty drunk guy, who is quickly reigned in by those around him. Funny Cow can hold her own, and a lot of her initial set is bouncing insults off him. The tables have turned and the humour comes from the lack of control this man now has. In any other circumstance, his heckling would be intimidating but Funny Cow is in control, and she is answering back.

After this, Funny Cow proceeds to tell a joke about an Englishman, a Pakistani man and a gay man. Only, that’s not how she describes the latter two. Clearly, I am not going to repeat this joke but the bottom line is that it’s an incredibly homophobic and racist joke, with added offensive vaguely South Asian accents. Of course, the audience in the good ol’ 1980s onscreen howled with laughter. Then I realised it wasn’t just the people onscreen who were laughing, it was the 2017 film’s audience too, all around me.

Shergold wants us to feel happy that Funny Cow’s got the laugh, that she is being accepted. We know this is the first step on her way to success, to being the person she needs to become. But why do we have to build a white woman’s success on the back of other types of discrimination? I know what the answer is already – ‘it’s just how things were back then!’. Funny Cow was written in 2017, not 1982. It doesn’t have to be that way, it’s a fictional story.  Using racist and homophobic jokes to elevate the main white, straight character is at best lazy, and at worst is a sign that this film only cares about white people. It is not interested in social progression or overcoming discrimination if you are not white.

Let’s be clear too, Funny Cow is an incredibly white film. In fact, there is one character of colour who is nameless, and doesn’t actually speak. Everyone is else is white, straight and cis. This lack of POC only kicks salt into the wounds.

Of course, it is possible Shergold wanted us to read this scene as Funny Cow doing what she needed to do to get those racist old white men on side. There’s no evidence that this is the case, though. There is no discussion of it in the film at all, she simply finishes her set and her career takes off. Simply writing racism and discrimination into a film doesn’t equal combating it. It’s only with critique of those institutions within the text that a film can really be seen to understand that ‘this is how things were AND this is why it was bad’. With Funny Cow we only get the first half of that sentence.

As you may have guessed, this means I have a lot of mixed feelings about Funny Cow. Maxine Peake is incredible, to the point that the film probably would not have worked without her. Instead of just tragedy (with a few laughs) Peake connects with the audience and invites them into her world. She’s a comic genius, bringing the (at times) underwhelming script to life. I also have to sing the praises for the production design team – Funny Cow  was consistently gritty and raw, mostly thanks to the attention to detail within the design. Taking us from the gritty Northern industrial landscapes, to Funny Cow’s outlandish reinvention with her peroxide hair and sporty red car is an impressive feat, and one that is pulled off impeccably.  

It’s not a bad film, like I said it’s actually quite a good film. Yet, it left a horrible after taste in my mouth and as much as I attempted to understand how Shergold could justify the rampant racism and homophobia, I just couldn’t get my head around it. I still can’t.