The third season of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, a Twilight Zone-esque anthology TV series about technological anxieties and possible futures, was released on Netflix on October 21st. It’s the first season of the show produced by Netflix, after two three-episode series and a special produced by Britain’s Channel 4. In this series, six writers will look at each of the third season’s six episodes to see what they have to say about current culture and projected fears. Read our thoughts on Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3, and Episode 5. **Warning: spoilers ahead.**
Black Mirror is fixated on the concept that no matter how shiny, useful, and fast-paced the future gets, all technology will eventually kill us, or at least destroy our relationships and humiliate us in front of the entire world. The third season’s final episode, "Hated in the Nation," is no exception, and this time around, creator Charlie Brooker has an entire 90 minutes to ruminate on the ways in which everything can go to shit. That amount of breathing room isn’t necessarily a good thing for a show this likely to get tangled in its own critiques; the concept of self-inflicted destruction is only entertaining to a point, and Brooker and his crew don’t fully seem to have figured out where that point is.
self-inflicted destruction is only entertaining to a point
"Hated in the Nation" is structured like a police procedural, as cynical but ultimately benevolent law-enforcement officials try to protect innocent citizens from a mysterious, deranged villain. The episode revolves around a series of grotesque deaths caused by little robot honeybees, or Autonomous Drone Insects. The bees were created by a private tech company to fill the ecological gap left by the extinction of real honeybees, but a security hole created by the company at the request of the UK government allows the bees to be hacked and rerouted to attack and kill specific people. (In a classic instance of real life mimicking Black Mirror, last week’s massive DDoS attack took advantage of a security vulnerability in IoT devices, leading to a widespread frenzy, if not a murderous one.)
On its own, the concept of a massive autonomous flower-pollinating drone fleet being co-opted by the government for large-scale aerial surveillance of private citizens is surely more than enough future-terror fodder. But Black Mirror is rarely satisfied with taking on one cause at a time. "Hated in the Nation" simultaneously tackles another current technological plague: cyberbullying. A viral Twitter game called "Game of Consequences" crowdsources death by asking users to choose the bees’ next victim with the hashtag #DeathTo. Users singled out by the hashtag are often "people who have been bad online" — users who peed on war monuments, or wrote clickbait.
While Black Mirror’s dedication to the art of the twist is admirable in the abstract, it doesn’t always work in practice. "Hated in the Nation" never figures out exactly what it’s critiquing — Online bullying? Psychopaths with manifestos? Our collective willingness to jump on a pithy hashtag? Drones, government surveillance, and our ignorance of the plight of the honeybee? The answer is probably all these things, which is the problem. Black Mirror’s most frustrating quality is its tendency to sound like a recently spiritual friend who enjoys proselytizing about the apocalypse, but is ready to log off as soon as the conversation gets too complex.
"Hated in the Nation" asks its audience to accept without question that technology is mostly bad, and that people mostly are as well. The episode lives in a world where everyone is at fault: the victims of the game, the tweeters who make the game happen, the ambitious startup that agreed to leave a backdoor in the drone bees, and the mastermind behind the whole thing. At least there are some worthwhile attempts to subvert stereotypes about cyberbullies. One of the mean-spirited tweeters is a seemingly rational preschool teacher — an interesting choice, even though it doesn’t take a massive intellectual upheaval to believe that all the terrible shitbags online are actually "normal" people with fulfilling careers. Black Mirror’s point here — which it’s made before, particularly in this season’s "Nosedive" — is that people’s online presentation often feels completely disconnected from their real lives. But this teacher’s one-dimensional storyline fails to resolve the issue of why she was convinced that tweeting about murdering someone was nothing more than a good joke. There are really only two options: she’s cruel, or she’s an idiot. For the minor characters who are easily swayed by the shine of technology, Black Mirror will usually argue it’s both.
Black Mirror is like a recently spiritual friend who enjoys proselytizing about the apocalypse
The episode’s biggest frustration is its failure to recognize the parts of its convoluted narrative that raise the most interesting questions. The real moral dilemma in "Game of Consequences" is not which people deserve to die, but how the players will react once they find out that the #DeathTo hashtag actually gives them the power to enter other people into a lottery of death. Twitter users willfully contributing to public executions could lead to a more enthralling exploration of human nature than the villain-focused story the episode winds up telling instead. Black Mirror runs on the idea that we need to see the worst parts of ourselves reflected in the soft glow of a computer screen before we can to do something about it. But the show’s best episodes do more than just shine a light on those worst parts and smugly walk away.
"Hated in the Nation" ratings
Relevance: High, but shallow. Sure, it’s relevant in the way a word cloud of tech jargon is relevant to a dictionary: useful for long-term documentation, but not telling us anything we didn’t already know.
Aesthetics: BBC murder mystery. Rather than going super-futuristic, "Hated in the Nation" looks like a recognizable basic cable crime drama, which makes the idea of actually being murdered by a drone insect feel much more plausible.
Squirm factor: Throat-tickle. There are several murders in this episode, so it would be foolish to go into it assuming you’d be able to avoid seeing a bloody corpse. That being said, this episode doesn’t really push the boundaries of the grotesque — unless you’re squeamish about your nostrils. But if you've ever sent out an unkind subtweet and later regretted it, this might feel like a call-out.