It might not be obvious, but Black Mirror came from two comedy minds.
Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones, who created and continue to collaborate on the imaginative sci-fi thriller, know that their show terrifies people, but they wouldn’t be able to go where they do without the phantasmagorical training of comedy.
Season 4 contains, according to Brooker, some of the series’ “most playful” and also “most horrible” episodes to date, but take that with a grain of salt.
“I do think of ‘The National Anthem’ as a sort of tender romance,” he said at the show’s New York Comic Con panel, giving us some insight into his sensibilities. It took a second for the audience to remember that he’s talking about the episode where the prime minister of Britain has sex with a pig.
Brooker and Jones have known each other so long that they aren’t completely sure how they met. Brooker said it was in 2000; they share a comedy background, which Brooker said is “a similar muscle” to what they use for Black Mirror. Certainly any of the episodes could work as satire, but they’ve committed instead to grim alternate realities.
In person, you get a vague sense of what that rapport is like. Brooker was more verbose in answering questions about the show’s upcoming fourth season, while Jones dropped the dry one-liners that made New York Comic Con echo with laughs.
“We delight in appalling each other,” Jones said. “There’s a challenge in sort of trying to outwit, out-horrify each other. There’s a sort of gameplay.”
“We know that we’ve got a good idea brewing for a story if I’m laughing heartily and Annabel is looking appalled,” Brooker added. “We’re right in the Black Mirror zone.”
The panel started out more tense than any I’ve attended at NYCC. A chorus of shushing preceded the show teaser (which wasn’t even new), and anyone who stood up got quickly told to sit. I was nervous to type too loud, but I was bound by the job to take meticulous notes.
In our first glimpse of Season 4, a brief clip of “Arkangel” (directed by Jodie Foster, who moderated the NYCC panel), Black Mirror is as immersive as ever. The clip could have been two minutes or three hours or lasted the entire weekend for how completely it commanded the panel room.
“Arkangel” opens with a mother (Rosemary DeWitt) and daughter visiting what appears to be a tech/science company. The young girl watches a cartoon on a tablet while a technician injects her with something right in the temple. “That’s it?” the mother marvels, while the NYCC audience audibly cringes.
“Something I thought was far-fetched now seems fairly prophetic in a way that I didn’t anticipate and scares the shit out of me.”
It turns out that the injection is an implant, and Arkangel is a “parental hub” allowing parents to access the child’s health, location, and even a live optic feed — all of which is subject to parental controls. She can even control what her daughter sees, and the technician censors a clip of Season 3’s “Men Against Fire” to prove it. The mother balks at the idea, but it’s a free trial, who can refuse that?
We’re in the child’s POV in a later scene (optic feed). She’s playing hide and seek with her mother, who can watch the feed on a tablet from the closet. This would be cute if it weren’t for the creepy piano music and the fact that the optic feed looks straight out of a horror movie.
Technology is integral to Black Mirror, so much so that Brooker joked they should bill Apple and Google for the Black Mirror concepts that big tech companies seem to inch closer to every day.
“We’re very critical, in that when we set up these worlds you have to have accepted that technology in your life,” Jones said. “It must be seductive or of use to you, because otherwise the world doesn’t feel credible. So in every world we’ve set up…you have to understand the appeal and understand why you’d use that technology and then we begin to sort of explore what could go wrong.”
For a show that started in 2011 doing two three-episode seasons, the freedom of Netflix’s anthology format has been a blessin.
“There wasn’t a place for sort of one-off ‘full meals’,” Brooker said. “So you sit down and you get a full meal with each episode… It’s kind of like you get a ticket to a little movie festival and you get to choose which room to go check out first.”
Black Mirror Season 4 will debut on Netflix later this year.