Channel 4 debuted their much-anticipated Christmas-themed Black Mirror special this week, and it was very much worth the wait.
Black Mirror exists as one of those frustrating British show that trades short, three-episode seasons with yawning gulfs in between them for high quality offerings. It’s probably worth it (like the similarly formatted Sherlock), but the waiting and scarcity of episodes can be exhausting.
Series three of Black Mirror is in fact coming, but they wanted to participated in another British tradition in the meantime, the extended Christmas Special, something we’ve seen from The Office to Doctor Who to Downton Abbey over the years.
Though Black Mirror has poached familiar faces over the years for its ensemble casts, the Christmas Special is the first to pull someone really, truly recognizable for its main lead, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm. It’s also the first time the show has had an American actor/character in a lead role.
It’s a little distracting seeing Hamm at first, as part of the appeal of Black Mirror is how relatively unrecognizable the cast is. You may say “oh, he’s from Downton,” or “she’s from Game of Thrones” from time to time (I think there were two Thrones actresses in the Christmas special), but Hamm is a different level of recognizable for Mad Men fans.
And yet, it totally works, and Hamm does a great job with the material, which is broken up into three distinct parts throughout the course of the episode. Black Mirror usually focuses on one piece of technology per episode, but the Christmas special has at least two stuffed in.
There’s z-eyes, the eye-replacement tech that seems like a more advanced version of what we saw in The Entire History of You. It allows you to see through the eyes of another person, as Hamm does in his side-job coaching losers how to pick up women through direct, Hitch-like intervention. Or it allows you to do things like completely block a person in real life. Meaning, they appear as nothing more than a white, muted blob in your vision, and you look the same way to them for as long as the block is in place. This happens briefly in Hamm’s first tale, but is the main focus of his British compatriot’s story which is the third piece of the puzzle.
The second piece of tech is the “cookie,” a device which allows a users consciousness to essentially be cloned and put into a machine. This is revealed as Hamm’s day job, where he essentially tortures these digital consciousness clones into becoming subservient for their originals, running their smarthouses and such. He can mess with them by trapping them in planes of nothingness for what feels like days, months or years for them, while no time at all passes in real life. This story seemed a bit out of place until you realize how it was necessary to set up the finale.
Given the flashback format of the episode, it’s easy to assume that for the Christmas special they just told three separate tales, but Black Mirror was always going to be more clever than that. Once you watch through the end and figure out how all the pieces fit together, it really is a masterful creation, and probably one of my favorite episodes of the series. Definitely in the top two or three, and that’s saying something given how much I love “Be Right Back” and “15 Million Merits.” I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say everything presented, however separate it seems, fits together very nicely in the end. Hamm and the rest of the cast give a great performance, and I hope this spurs series three to come out sooner than imagined with a renewed interest in the show via a recent US Netflix release. Based on my “preferences,” the show has been my number one most recommended piece of content for the better part of the last two weeks. Netflix wants me to watch it ever more than their own Marco Polo, it seems, and I have many times. It’s a great show to introduce to other people, as you don’t have to see past episodes to enjoy them individually.
Watch it, and find a way to get your hands on the Christmas special. It’s well worth it.
[Photo via Channel 4]