How does Black Mirror’s meta “museum” change the show?

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Black Mirror is depressing. Sure, it’s also a science fiction/horror show, but depressing may be the show’s most accurate description. Apart from a few episodes, these tales of technology taken too far, serve only to create despair, each in its own unique, horrifying way. Unique is one of the key takeaways here, and until the most recent season, none of these stories have ever been connected, each its own entry in an anthology of classically British pessimism.

Season four’s Black Museum is an episode that changes that. It takes some of Black Mirror’s infamous creations and literally puts them all into one place. An actual black museum, curated by the mysterious Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge), and containing some artefacts from the show’s run. It’s an interesting move, one that implies a grander design. It’s a very deliberate decision to suddenly make all of these things be a part of the same world. So what does it mean for the show?

Well, not a lot, actually. While the premise offers a lot of promise, it’s mostly just a backdrop to the proceedings of the episode. Haynes, the curator of this museum, has some stories to tell that are only tangentially related to the show as a whole. He tells his single visitor (Nish, played by Letitia Wright) that he worked in the medical field, on a number of prototype projects that would eventually become the technology involved in season three’s ‘San Junipero’, and his tales of horror and crime involve the bumpy (to put it lightly) road it took to get that technology off of the ground. So these are new stories, with new technological marvels and horrors, and not the collection of callbacks that might have been expected.

The result is okay. Certainly not one of the strongest episodes of the show. It’s structured around Haynes’ role as a tour guide of his macabre museum, and he plays the horror of his stories up like some kind of carnival attraction. It’s an interesting structural idea, but the delivery feels a little cheesy in places, and undermines the horror of the content. The episode is also marred by a few less-than stellar performances, and the fact that there’s nothing really new for the show here. It deals with a lot of themes we’ve seen before, which are made more up to date through the ham-fisted inclusion of some of 2017’s favourite buzzwords. There’s just no drama here. I don’t feel like I’ve been shown a new, darker side of humanity by “Black Museum”, I feel like I’ve just been shown a lackluster debate about the darker sides we’ve already seen.

Maybe that’s what the ending of the episode was about (which I won’t spoil). Maybe Charlie Brooker is done with this exhibitionist, ‘let’s all gape at the bad people’ way of exploring morality. Maybe that’s why there’s been a few happier (if not happy) endings since the show was brought to Netflix. But it doesn’t feel earned by this episode, and the series as whole was a mostly fantastic display of what Black Mirror is capable of. Overall, this episode just feels like an unfortunate dud at the end of one of the most prolific science fictions shows ever created.

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