It feels slightly odd to welcome back Black Mirror. It’s been away long enough – 2 years since the last episode (the fantastic 2014 Christmas Special), and nearly 2 more to February 2013 before that since the last actual series – yet in the time since we last caught a glimpse into Charlie Brooker’s mind, it feels sort of like life becoming art. 2016 has solely consisted of a sequence of wide-ranging catastrophes, from David Bowie dying to Brexit, while just last year it appeared as though the first ever episode of Black Mirror, ‘The National Anthem’, had come to life, with the alleged revelations about David Cameron’s predilections while at university (clue, for the few uninitiated: they supposedly involve a pig).
Yet, as has always been the case, that’s the point of Black Mirror. As the show’s title has suggested, it’s all about taking reality, twisting the image slightly, and then watching as we recoil at what we see staring back at us.
‘Nosedive’ therefore, is Black Mirror in a nutshell – brilliant, creepy, and far too close to the bone. The basic premise will be particularly familiar to anyone who’s heard of the infamous app Peeple, which around this time last year came to prominence, in which users can rate acquaintances from one to five stars. Peeple’s tagline was ‘character is destiny’, and that certainly applies to the episode.‘Nosedive’ is set in a world where a Peeple-esque rating app isn’t just ubiquitous – it’s part of the law. A character loses his job for dropping below a 2.5 rating. At the airport, Lacie gets docked a whole point by security, and is assigned ‘double damage’, where every negative rating is, you guessed it, doubled. The show doesn’t depict quite how far this reaches, but it goes far enough to give a clear picture of a chillingly materialistic society.
At the centre of all this is Lacie (Bryce Dallas Howard), a generally popular and friendly woman who is nevertheless dissatisfied with her rating, and thus by extension with her life. She wants to move into an exclusive community, but her rating – 4.2 – just isn’t good enough to get the discount she needs to afford the rent. Luckily, it’s then that her childhood best ‘friend’, Naomi (Alice Eve) – a 4.8 – emerges, and invites Lacie to be her maid-of-honour. From there, the butterfly effect of social Darwinism kicks in, with Lacie spiralling into the eponymous nosedive. And boy is that nosedive excruciating to watch. I’m not usually someone liable to cringe at what I’m watching, but seeing the desperation on Lacie’s face as she snuck in to give her speech at Naomi’s wedding wasn’t what I’d call pleasant viewing. But it’s symbolic of the fact that she never considers the system to be broken, only that she is, right up until the end. That moment of release between her and her fellow prisoner was intentionally refreshing, yet it was eye opening just how far she had to ‘fall’ (from her own point of view, that is) before she just stopped caring.
Cherry Jones’ truck driver character was a bit too obvious in highlighting this fact. She portrays her well enough, but the way the character is written, she literally pops up, says her piece about how she used to be a 4.6, her husband got cancer, he lost his chance at recovery due to his low rating, and then she gave up on the system, and then goes. You could argue it’s satirical of the way people are shown to use each other for their own good – that a character arguing against playing the game is used by Lacie as part of the game, and defines themselves solely by the fact that they do not play the game (does that make Cherry Jones indie in this world?) – yet the same aspect was explored better in the early scenes between Lacie and her brother Ryan (James Norton), who berates Lacie for her artificiality and near-sociopathy while himself being a part of that.Indeed, so effective is the overwhelming materialism and fake positivity that you find yourself drawn into that while watching, judging each and every character’s flaws. As a critic, that’s what I do every time I take to the keyboard, but the episode did well to display how subtly this criticism can turn malicious.
There isn’t too much of the expected ‘Netflix boost’ people were perhaps expecting of the new episodes, although back when it was strictly a UK affair on Channel 4, it wasn’t that low-budget, so it’s hard to know what people might expect. There’s a superb cast of established names, yet, back on C4, we had Rory Kinnear, Jon Hamm, Hayley Atwell and many, many others. Really, what Netflix will hopefully do is boost the profile of a show that’s already made its name (remember when Robert Downey Jr. apparently bought the film rights to The Entire History of You?).
But the little details of the episode are nevertheless quietly important. There’s a strong racial divide that underpins this society, as becomes apparent as the episode progresses. Naomi’s wedding guests are all high 4, prime users – and they’re almost entirely white. The majority of service workers we see on Lacie’s journey, however – the security guards, the airport check-in staff, for example – are black, as is the ostracised 2.5 colleague mentioned earlier. Meanwhile, the score, by one of my favourite composers, Max Richter, sounds a lot like Yann Tiersen’s well-known work on the 2001 film Amelie, where the title character struggles to fit in and find happiness for herself. And of course, there’s a noticeably cutesy aesthetic to everything from the clothing to the cars throughout the entire episode.
So, welcome back, Black Mirror. 5 more of the same please.