Ranking Black Mirror Season 3 By Likeliness to Occur
I must confess. Before last week, I had neither seen nor heard of Black Mirror, the Channel 4/Netflix production by Charlie Brooker. I must have scrolled through the title on Netflix, but nothing perked my interest enough to start watching. Hearing all the buzz surrounding the release of Season 3 got me to do a little research and I was shocked that I hadn’t discovered this sooner. The show seems tailor-made for me. It’s sci-fi, but with compelling characters. It’s centered around technology and (occasionally) politics, both themes I find incredibly interesting. And especially evident in Season 3, the show attracts hugely talented actors to focus each episode around. If you haven’t watched yet, do it now. If you’re anything like me, you won’t stop binging until you’ve gotten through all three seasons (and a Christmas special)!
Just to refresh, Black Mirror is an anthology format, meaning that each episode follows a different storyline and characters. Many articles I’ve read in my week of Black Mirror obsession have pointed to a shared universe between some or all of the episodes, but I’m not sure I buy into that. Season 3 focuses each episode on a ‘dark reflection’ of current technology. Because I’m so fascinated by technology, I thought I’d try and give a different take in my recap of the season. Instead of diving into each storyline too deeply, instead, I’ll rank the episodes based on how likely the somewhat dystopian futures (or presents) will occur in our lifetime. Needless to say, there will be major spoilers for all six episodes of Black Mirror Season 3, so make sure you’re caught up before reading. Here they are, from least to most likely:
6. San Junipero (S3E4)
Ranking in at least likely is Black Mirror Season 3’s fourth episode, San Junipero. At first, the episode appears to be an 80’s-set love story between Kelly and Yorkie, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis respectively. (Side note: I’m a big fan of Halt and Catch Fire, so I loved seeing Davis here!) As the episode progressed, I started to wonder what the “one week later” storytelling device was leading to and why it seemed like certain weeks spanned entire decades of music and fashion. I was sure we were leading up to some sort of alien reveal, but I was much happier with the route the episode took instead. [Last Spoiler Alert]
It turns out that Yorkie and Kelly are actually seniors, visiting the San Junipero system, a virtual world of servers that store the minds of deceased people virtually, along with those who attend during visiting hours on Friday nights. Their love story plays out in both the virtual and physical world, where they are married prior to Yorkie fully passing on to San Junipero (in a full-time capacity). This is an abnormally happy episode for Black Mirror, which made for a nice change of pace mid-season.
Now although there are endless online communities in the vein of Second Life where one can create a virtual self and live vicariously through it, the extent of the San Junipero system is far beyond current technology. Currently just a concept, mind uploading (or whole brain emulation) is the hypothetical process of transferring or copying one’s consciousness into a virtual form. Some experts theorize this would involve training an artificial replica of one’s mind to think and act how its original form did (similarly to the Cookies from White Christmas) while others see it as an actual transfer of one’s existing consciousness. Either way, I was unable to find anything in my research that showed this to be on the technological horizon, so it ranks as least likely to occur.
5. Nosedive (S3E1)
Nosedive takes place in a world where people are constantly rating each other, in both their daily interactions and online posts. These ratings contribute to a universal star rating for each person. Our heroine Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard), strives to improve her rating up to a level that will get her a discount on a new rental in a hip gated community. It's this goal that leads her down a path that ends at her former best friend's wedding, where she was meant to give a speech as Maid of Honor.
This episode was the hardest episode for me to place. So much of what Lacie experiences in her day to day life already happens in our world. People obsess over their Twitter followers, Instagram likes and other online metrics. Apps like Uber and Airbnb include a two-way rating system. Heck, I’d be thrilled if you shared this article and gave me some extra web traffic. (Shameless plug!) Trying to grow and improve your online presence has become a key personal and professional goal for a large portion of humanity. Entire industries are based on social influence! But, where the episode ends is why I’ve rated the Season 3 premiere so unlikely to occur.
As Lacie's day gets progressively worse, her universal star rating continues to decline. During her incredible final wedding speech, she opens up about how she truly feels. But, this yields a storm of low ratings that cause her to bottom out at a zero rating, which in this world means she is sent to prison. Even as much as today’s society values its online persona, I’ve yet to see someone arrested purely on a lack of five-star reviews. The closest parallel I could draw to this would be people losing their jobs based on inappropriate conduct online. But, that still isn’t being jailed. Even with the incredible world-building that went into this episode, it still seemed like one of the more unrealistic setups in the season.
4. Men Against Fire (S3E5)
This was my least favorite episode of the season, but I still really enjoyed it. That just goes to show what a high caliber show Black Mirror is. Men Against Fire follows Stripe (Malachi Kirby), a soldier in a futuristic army. He and his fellow troops are searching the countryside for their enemy, which they refer to as roaches. In his first mission, Stripe finds and kills a pair of roaches, which appear to be hideous humanoid creatures. But, in the process, he is exposed to a device which has him feeling a little off. He regains a previously muted sense of smell and starts to see things quite differently.
It turns out that device affected his MASS, a military implant created to improve soldiers' performance on the battlefield. It does this through several functions, including dehumanizing the enemy. They appear as monsters and their words become piercing screeches. Once Stripe clues into how the MASS implants are transforming how he sees the roaches, he tries to save two. Because of this, he is held in a psychiatric facility. A lead psychologist, Arquette (Michael Kelly), informs Stripe that the MASS implants were created to augment a soldier’s reality, meant to improve the frequency a soldier kills. It shows the soldier any humans with genetic deficiencies as horrible creatures so they don't think twice about shooting. So will we see this happen in our lifetime? My thought: yes, and no.
You may have heard of Augmented Reality (AR) thanks to a little App that launched this past summer called Pokemon Go. AR is when a virtual layer is put over the existing world. This can be through a cell phone application (like Pokemon Go) or many other platforms. Militaries both in our continent and abroad have already started implementing AR technology for soldiers. So from a purely technological perspective, having the AR platform implanted into soldiers isn’t unimaginable. But, I’d like to hope that militaries won’t go as far as to virtually turn their soldier’s enemies into monsters. So tech-wise, fairly likely, but my faith in humanity keeps this episode in the bottom half.
3. Hated in the Nation (S3E6)
Many experts say the end of the world is coming and it isn’t because of nuclear war or climate change. They point to a different disaster: the extinction of honey bees. Hated in the Nation fast-forwards a few years on this crisis where bees are extinct and a company, Granular, has manufactured Autonomous Drone Insects (ADIs), miniature drones that pollinate plants in place of bees. They even look like bees and live in hives!
The episode also addresses the virtual hive-mind created by public social networks, like Twitter. It paints the story of a hacker, Garrett Scholes (Duncan Pow) who takes control the ADIs and instructs them to murder one person daily. The catch is that the target is controlled by the daily use of the hashtag #DeathTo. Whoever gets the most hits, takes the hit. Detectives Parke (Kelly MacDonald) and Blue (Faye Marsay) work to stop this hacker before each day’s target is killed. In the end, Scholes flips the script and gets the ADIs to murder anyone who used the nefarious hashtag, racking up a total of almost 400,000 deaths.
Having this episode in the top half of my likeliness rankings doesn’t mean I think a mass murder by bee drones will happen. But, I think the separate elements that led up to the central crisis of Hated in the Nation are all fairly likely to occur. Bees are going extinct, drones just keep getting smaller and the internet promotes hive mind. Some scientists have even started using robots for pollination! So minus the link between the elements of the story (and of course the hacker that wants to use these means for a mass act of terror), I think Hated in the Nation is one of the more likely scenarios from the season.
2. Playtest (S3E2)
Here’s another episode I had trouble placing, but for an entirely different reason than Nosedive. This time, the bulk of the episode took place within our lead character’s mind. After following Coop (Wyatt Russell) on his trip around the world, we join him on his “odd job” in England working as a tester for an experimental new video game. But, as we learned in an incredible last-minute reveal, the experimental Virtual Reality (VR) device malfunctioned due to a fateful (and fatal) final call from Coop’s mother.
To assess the likelihood of this episode’s events occurring, I have to draw more upon the pre-interview Coop did with Katie (Wunmi Mosaku) before engaging in the trial, which didn't go into much depth of how the technology works. But, looking at the hypotheticals of what SaitoGemu’s new device can do, it’s really not that far off from today’s technology.
Currently available VR headsets are incredibly realistic. These devices can transport you into an entirely different world, at least visually. What Coop ended up experiencing during his death verged more on Augmented Reality, as he could still experience the physical elements of the world while fighting off the digital ones. But, we don’t know if this is how the device would have actually worked. From what we saw, this episode wasn’t too far off from our world, but because there are some unknowns, it doesn't take the top spot.
1. Shut Up and Dance (S3E3)
That brings us to the episode most likely to occur, Episode 3: Shut Up and Dance. It follows Kenny (Alex Lawther), a teen from England, who’s sister stole his computer and unintentionally downloaded malware onto it. Kenny downloads Shrive, a malware removal software, which unfortunately gives an unknown hacker group remote access to both his computer and its webcam. Using this, the hackers film Kenny having a little alone time (wink wink). The rest of the episode follows Kenny and a few other characters (including Jerome Flynn from Game of Thrones) performing tasks outlined by the hacker group to avoid the release of their compromising material.
In one final trolling (with many troll-faces) everything is released anyway, making all the terrible tasks they committed throughout the day completely unnecessary. At least they didn't do anything too serious like rob a bank or murder anyone... By episode’s end, we also learn that what Kenny was filmed doing wasn’t what he was concerned about, but rather what he was using for inspiration. The episode does a stellar job of hiding this until the final montage, which is part of the reason why this was my favorite episode of the season. I love a story that's ending makes you look at it completely differently.
The thing about whether we could see this episode happening in real life, is that all of the technology used in it already exists. Webcam-RATing malware is so prevalent that companies even manufacture covers for laptop webcams. As well, hacker groups utilize Ransomware to encode a target’s computer and only give a decryption key after being paid off (and it's on the rise). Combine this with the frequent leaks of compromising photos/videos of celebrities and politicians make this episode almost seem like a story straight out of the news. Although I personally haven’t heard of hacker groups forcing targets to go as far as to fight each other to the death, everything in this episode could happen today… if it hasn’t already.
Thanks for reading! I for one can't wait for Season 4!