Black Mirror: Playtest

Gosh, they aren’t kidding that this new, Americanized season with the biggest budget from Netflix is just not quite as good as what came before. I found a ranking of all the Black Mirror episodes, and was interested to see that all of the new episodes are placed near the bad end, something that this second episode proves in spades. In short, it sucks.

Immediately demonstrating that the longer one hour runtime of these new episodes is not necessarily a good thing, this one has a meandering opening showing our main character Cooper quietly leaving his home and traveling Europe for a few months, then hooking up with a British woman, then having his credit card stolen, then signing up to play an experimental game for cash, all the whole avoiding calls from his mother. The game is an eXistenZ-style thing in which they plug directly into his brain, and Cooper experiences its visions as though they were real. The point of the game—questionable, at best—is to scare Cooper as much as possible. Then there’s ending one, and ending two, and ending three, and maybe ending four? I forgot how many endings there were.

The strength of the first two seasons is that they offer social commentary on aspects of technology that are very real and present-day to many people watching. This episode is pure science fiction that seemingly has nothing to do with our lives. Yes, virtual reality is on the horizon and surely someone is working on hooking it into our neurons, but all of that is so far off it has no relevance. Aside from that, what is the point of this episode? That game companies trying to scare you are bad? That someone stealing your credit card and forcing you to play video games is bad? That you should call your mom? This one is just off in the ether with no basis in reality and is so scattered in its meandering plot that it becomes worthless. If you want to see an inspired film with this idea that takes it in a lot of fascinating directions—while maintaining a thread to reality—watch Cronenberg’s eXistenZ.

Poor Charlie Brooker. Imagine, you make this fascinating and really good series, then you get financing, and you either have to rush production because of your new backer, or you’re just fresh out of ideas, and the result is a precipitous drop in quality that might kill off any further interest in the series. This last one was so bad I’m not sure it’s worth watching any more.

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2 thoughts on “Black Mirror: Playtest

  1. I strongly suggest you continue watching! I disliked episodes 2 and 3 of this season–episode 3 isn’t as tangential and pointless as this one, but gives into some of the silly nihilistic tendencies of the previous seasons–but you are rewarded with episode 4, the best episode of the series thus far. Really, after the third episode they’re all pretty good.

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