Ever since it debuted in 2011, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror has been one of the most fascinating things going on in television. Granted with the show being a British exclusive, the audience outside of the UK has been limited only to the most obsessive internet trolls for BBC bleakness. A few weeks back the show finally appeared on American Netflix and unsurprisingly it took the internet by storm. Satirist, journalist, columnist, commentator, and professional malcontent Charlie Brooker has made a living off brilliant cynicism for decades, but Black Mirror is something special. He used his sardonically twisted imagination to transform himself into a contemporary Rod Serling.
Like The Twilight Zone, Black Mirror is an anthology series of bleakly prophetic sci-fi/horror thought experiments laced with morbid wit. Brooker’s focus for every episode is technology and the ways the infinitely fallible human race use it to find new forms of tragedy. It’s a show for the moment, designed by and for the infinitely cynical internet race. In an amazing bit of unplanned timing, Brooker created a feature length Black Mirror Christmas special just as the show has reached its widest audience to date. Thankfully, latest Black Mirror episode is easily one of the best, a morbidly twisted treat for anyone ready to shove a candy cane up the chimney of maudlin festive spirit.
Black Mirror: White Christmas is a three-part anthology movie that’s secretly all one story. Discussing the specific content of the show is tricky because it hinges so much on the unexpected twists of its harsh plots. The wrap around narrative stars Jon Hamm (Yep, that Jon Hamm pretty much cementing the international cult for the series with his presence) and Rafe Spall (the “you’ve got red on you” guy from Shaun Of The Dead) as a pair of lonely souls spending Christmas in an isolated artic cabin. Desperate for conversation to enliven their pathetic celebration, Hamm decides to tell Spall why he’s there in the hopes that his cabin buddy will do the same. Hamm spins two stories about his two jobs. His night job is as a particularly invasive digital pick-up artist, his day job involves a bizarre new form of digital slavery. Both are mini Black Mirror narratives tailored to Hamm’s sleazy strengths. Finally Spall speaks up and I wouldn’t dare spoil a thing about his story beyond the piece of technology that connects Hamm and Spall’s predicaments: surgically implanted ocular computers that allow people to block each other in the real world (Neither person can see or hear the other, just a digital blur making Charlie Brown mumbles. Only the person who sets the block has the ability to turn it off). Suffice to say, it all comes together in the most painful and bizarre way imaginable that will make it impossible for any viewer to hear a certain Christmas Carol the same way again.
Like all Black Mirror episodes, White Christmas plays in a detached n’ chilly style. The show is deadpan in its horrors and humors with a distinctly British stuffiness. Charlie Booker’s outlook as a writer might not be pleasant, but is always prescient and on point. His cynical lens not only can extrapolate chilly visions of future technology based on our own, but he knows exactly how to prey on contemporary fears by exaggerating them to places that we can’t even imagine yet. White Christmas explores the way ever increasing modes of digital communication have created all new ways for us to hurt each other. He presents his thought experiments on these issues straight. The only use of emotion is there to disturb and hurt. The comedy employed that might lighten the tonal load tends to satirically sting so hard that it only makes things worse. It’s a pretty fascinating tone for a series and to apply it to a Christmas setting… too exquisite of a sick joke for any fan of sci-fi, horror, and dark comedy to resist.
Hamm’s combination of movie star charm with self-effacing smarm fits Brooker’s voice perfectly. Spall is heartbreaking in a straight dramatic role, so they each pick up half of the show’s tone. It’s not impossible to imagine Hamm becoming a recurring Rod Serling figure on future series of Black Mirror, but if this is just a one-off then it’s a pitch-perfect one. Directing duties fell on Carl Tibbetts, who helmed the best episode of the second season. That episode was apocalyptic and yet the devastating impact of this episode is somehow even harsher. I know I’m being vague, but that’s purely to avoid ruining anyone experience watching the amazingly nasty little sci-fi satire. Charlie Brooker dug into warped brain and gave the world the unsettling Christmas classic that they never knew they wanted. It already feels like perennial holiday viewing anyone who needs an antidote for festive cheer.