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Black Mirror has changed tack. And officially lost its way.

This post contains spoilers. 

No show dangles dystopia in front of our eyes like Black Mirror.

Now in its fourth season, each episode of the Netflix Sci-fi/Thriller acts as a stand-alone mini-movie set in the future. It’s a future overrun by invasive gadgets and techno-paranoia which, the show suggests, is far nearer than we’d like to think.

However for all its thematic brilliance – its darkness and ominous foreshadowing – this most recent season lacked the one thing that made the others so very special.

Subtlety.

LISTEN: We give a rundown of Black Mirror Season 3, just in case you need a refresher, on our pop culture podcast The Binge. Post continues after audio. 

Unlike fine wine, television shows don’t tend to get better with age.

Seven years on from Black Mirror’s original Season One release date in 2011, it seems Brooker is done with beating around the bush. Juiced of elusiveness, Season Four leaves little to the imagination.

Instead, Brooker gives us shock value: a filmography trait symptomatic of our modern thirst for action.

Episode 4, Metalhead, is without a doubt the weakest of the latest bunch. In a black-and-white post-apocalyptic desert ruled by evil mini-robots, one woman battles for survival after watching two friends’ heads turn to mush at the hand of aforementioned robots.

The episode has potential – the bleakness of this world and how it came to be is intriguing. But we never find out. Instead, the episode ends with our crestfallen protagonist cutting her own throat, and a ‘final reveal’ involving teddy bears that seems farcical at best.

Speaking of farcical, the Season’s third episode, Crocodile, reeks of it.

A young woman meets up with an ex-boyfriend who wants to make amends with the family of a cyclist they hit and killed years earlier. She then kills the ex, afraid that his wanting to come clean about the manslaughter would doom her career.

While disposing of her ex’s body, she’s witness to another traffic accident outside her hotel room – an automated vehicle hitting a pedestrian. This seems unrelated to the story-line, until the tech aspect is revealed – a memory recalling device used to prove insurance cases, which seems almost an afterthought to a deeply disturbing plot.

Questions from the unrelated traffic accident bring up memories from both murders, and it’s at this point that the episode turns from being relatively uninteresting to ludicrous.

Our wealthy-young-mother protagonist murders in cold blood the insurance agent, her husband, and their infant son to cover her tracks, as all three could potentially identify her by using the memory technology.

The murders are graphic. It’s clearly a conscious directorial decision to include blood spatter and confronting violence.

Andrea Riseborough plays Wealthy-Environmental Activist-turned-triple-murderess Mia in 'Crocodile'. Image source: Netflix.
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The Season's second episode, Arkangel, suffers a similar fate. A strong thematic premise playing on any parent's worst fear - losing their child - and an intrusive mind chip that tracks them is shattered during the episode's conclusion, when our teenage protagonist (Australian actress Brenna Harding) pins her helicopter mother to the ground, and pummels her face with an iPad.

There are, however two somewhat bright sparks in an otherwise eye-rolling season.

USS Callister presents a twisted world where the nerdy tech CTO of a Virtual Reality company is sick of being taunted by co-workers, and creates his own version of the simulation in which he plays a Captain Kirk-like role. In the sim, he orders around digital versions of his petty co-workers.

There are twists and turns aplenty, the most notable of which being that the digital office workers he orders around in the simulation are in fact conscious replicas of their real selves, whose DNA he acquired from discarded coffee cups and drinking straws. It's a darkly funny world in which a sexually frustrated white man plays God and nothing's as it seems.

USS Callister might lack some of the adept touch and understated plot points reminiscent of the show's previous seasons. But it sure is entertaining.

Jesse Plemons ('Breaking Bad', 'Fargo') shines as twisted tech CTO Robert Daly in 'USS Callister'.
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Which brings us to the Season's final episode, Black Museum.

A mash-up of three vignettes, the season finale darts between past and present. The three tales are linked to neuro-technology items in a museum. As a young woman wanders between each piece of memorabilia, the museum's quirky curator recounts a tale about the item's history.

There's the coma-ridden wife who's consciousness is transferred to her husband's head, where she badgers him until he can bare it no longer, and transplants her into a stuffed animal instead.

And then there's the pain-transferring device which eventually causes a mad doctor to form a pain-addiction, and murder people just for the rush.

Just as Brooker lulls us into a sense of security in terms of the episodes structure, we're confronted with the museum's final attraction: a former prison inmate who signed over his life rights before facing the electric chair, and whose consciousness now lives on in a hologram who museum guests can electrocute at will.

The vignettes are tied together - and spoiler alert - we learn the young female protagonist is the former prisoner's father, there for revenge.

The final episode, Black Museum, is one of Season Four's saving graces. Image source: Netflix.

The most enthralling part about watching a Black Mirror episode should be having to look out for details. Having to keep a keen eye out for cinematography clues or musical hints that may well mean something come the end of the episode, or might only make sense when you watch the episode for a second time.

Watching for a second time isn't necessary in Season 4, though. While USS Callister and Black Museum are unarguably thrilling, their entertainment factor doesn't go beyond face value. We're not left with the same bubbling, complex uneasiness that would unfold over a number of days after watching an episode from one of the previous seasons.

Instead, we're left to think about other things, and grow angry the rest of the season left us feeling so forlorn.

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