Spoiler Alert! Only read once you've watched the whole six episodes!
Black Mirror has been one of my favourite shows since I saw the first episode. One of the reasons why it is such a work of genius is because the episodes in themselves are believable. Charlie Brooker and the other writers and creators construct societies and characters necessarily similar to those found in present day. The effect is that each episode presents a thought provoking "big" question about the direction in which technology can be taking us. Needless to say, after standout episodes like 'Shut up and Dance' in the third season and the highly rated 'White Christmas' in the second, my expectations for season 4 were high.
The first episode in the season, 'USS Callister', in my opinion did everything that a Black Mirror episode should do. A spiteful, bullied man steals the DNA of his employees and coworkers in order to assimilate them into a game that he controls. Once they are assimilated, although they still exist in the real world, their whole being is replicated in the game. They experience anxiety, pain, joy, memories - they are humans but they are also code. This is applicable to current questions about Artificial Intelligence and what makes a human being a human. These are the kinds of moral questions we will be faced with in the coming years - when does it become immoral to manipulate and abuse what is essentially code?
The second episode raised questions about the boundaries that need to be set between parents and their children. With the recent rise in tracking children's devices and setting parental controls on them, this form of extreme monitoring of behaviour is a believable future. This episode doesn't stand out to me as exceptional, but not every episode can and it wasn't a let down.
The same cannot really be said for the third episode. 'Crocodile' had the potential to be a really great episode - the problem is that it wasn't believable. Fifteen years before the majority of the episode is set, Mia Nolan reluctantly helps cover up a hit and run. She was in the passenger seat and wanted to call the police but rather predictably the man behind the wheel was too scared to allow that. Fifteen years later he decides to write to the wife of the man he killed and to prevent this, Mia kills him. Following this, she kills two further adults and a toddler to cover up what she did. It isn't a particularly believable string of events and it felt like the whole episode was more about a psychologically unhinged woman and not about what technology could mean for the future. The technology under question was a device which could record memories if it was believed an individual could help with an insurance claim. Although the implications of this should be discussed, the episode itself was more dramatic and less thought provoking and it felt like a huge disappointment against my expectations of the show.
I can understand why 'Hang the DJ,' the fourth episode, received a 9.2 on IMDB, with the only other episode receiving such a high rating being 'White Christmas.' Much like 'San Junipero' in the third season, overall the feeling and ending was pleasant, despite the slightly darker twist. In this case, it appeared that the matching percentage that many couples are faced with today on dating websites was produced through a simulation that put 1000 versions of the couple into a system that provides them with certain challenges to see if ultimately they will rebel in order to be with one another. In the episode, they rebel 998 times - this creates a 99.8% match between the two of them in the real world. Much like in the first episode of the season, the question is really about the creation and manipulation of replicated human beings, as well as the ways in which technology is changing the way in which people date. Personally, I didn't feel that the episode was as clever as other Black Mirror episodes have been. I wouldn't choose to watch it again and I didn't need to think much about it after it was over.
The fifth episode would make a great graphic novel, but perhaps shouldn't have been a single episode in a show like this. Clearly the world that they've constructed is interesting and I want to know more about it and the robotic guard dogs. As a story line and an episode in itself, it wasn't anywhere near as strong as previous episodes. It was weak in that, much like in 'Crocodile,' it relied more on it's drama and action than anything else.
The last episode was by far the best in the season, if only because the eventual death of Rolo Haynes was so satisfying to watch. It becomes more and more clear throughout the episode that this 'Black Museum' housed crimes that the proprietor himself had committed, although he was persistent in passing on the blame to those who he entangled in his experiments. The ethical and philosophical questions raised were issues worth discussing and thinking about and were also shocking to watch, most notably the first disturbing short segment regarding the doctor who felt his patients pain, a story originally constructed by Penn Jillette. I couldn't really give it enough praise.
The golden gems for me were the first episode and the last episode. I would still recommend the fourth season to previous audiences of Black Mirror; I simply wish my expectations weren't so high to begin with.