Home / Technology / In ‘Black Mirror,’ Sci-Fi That Feels Close to Home

In ‘Black Mirror,’ Sci-Fi That Feels Close to Home

ANNABEL JONES We always try to have one leap of faith in an episode, and then keep the rest of the world incredibly grounded. You had to believe that Hayley [Atwell, who played the widow] would actually let this thing into her life. So we talked about the slippery slope of how irresistible it would be for a grieving widow to have some semblance of her husband around.

BROOKER There’s an unwritten rule that if you introduce one fantastical thing in the first 10 pages, you’re O.K. But if you introduce the fantastical element at Page 40, you’re on wobbly ground. So we decided that when the robot is delivered to her, the more absurd it is, the better. He’s literally delivered in a box full of polyurethane chips. A rubber man. She puts him in the bathtub and sprinkles nutrients in. We could have had him 3-D printed in super-fantastical detail. But this was a deliberately bizarre, weird, low-information way of doing it.

JONES And you used all of that to your advantage, Charlie. Undercutting it all was Domhnall [Gleeson, playing the husband] himself laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. It took the edge off.

And his personality is based entirely on social media postings. What does that do to a person?

JONES When this episode first came out in 2013, people were just beginning to observe how our online selves are so much more performative than we ever would be in real life.

BROOKER If this thing is constructed from your social media profile, then it’s off by several degrees, because you are not your social media profile. She’s actually incredibly lucky that when her husband comes back, he’s nice and bland. A lot of people would be intolerable.

The most recent episode of the show aired almost two years ago. What technological changes have you seen in that time that you’ve started playing with?


Mackenzie Davis in a scene from the new season of “Black Mirror.” Credit David Dettmann/Netflix

BROOKER People are more O.K. with A.R. [augmented reality] and V.R. [virtual reality]. Think about Pokémon Go, which people are already bored by! There’s a lot more comfort with the concept of layers on top of reality.

JONES We’ve got one episode [“Playtest”] that absolutely mines that. It’s a fun horror romp directed by Dan Trachtenberg, who did “10 Cloverfield Lane.”

How do tech people feel about the show?

BROOKER They’re writing everything down and then building it. Not long after “Be Right Back” came out, people started launching almost exactly that service — something that would tweet on your behalf after you died.

Oh, my God.

BROOKER There was another one more recently that was even more insidious — a company offering a service that will impersonate your relatives.

The show has a reputation for having a pessimistic outlook on technology. Do you share that attitude?

BROOKER I think it’s a worried show, but that’s probably from me, because I worry about everything. It’s not necessarily technology, per se. If you made me a merengue pie, I’d worry that I was going to choke on it. But I like technology. I’m a big video games player. I used to be a video games journalist in the 1990s. There are so many problems we can solve with technology. It’s just that we’re still human. We’re building increasingly powerful tools, and it’s about whether we’ve got the wherewithal to use them responsibly. Sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t.

JONES When I look at “Be Right Back,” I see a very personal, human drama about someone coming to terms with grief in a contemporary world. In the Victorian era, people relied on mediums to process their grief. This is just a modern version of that. Twenty years ago, she would have had a shoe box of photos of her father that she would have flicked through, whereas now ——”

BROOKER Now she can hear him walking about in the attic. Nothing dystopian there!

JONES No, but it doesn’t have to be!

BROOKER Usually these ideas come from a funny thought, which might be surprising overseas. I’m known for doing comedy in the U.K. Another thread of “Be Right Back” came from one of our old comedy shows. We thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was an autopilot for phone conversations? A bit of software that sounded like you, and it said the sort of thing you would say when you got bored in the conversation? You would press it, and it would say: “Yeah. Uh-huh. Mmm. Yeah. Uh-huh. Mmm.”

For Season 3, you’re moving to Netflix and releasing more episodes at once. What feels different about the show?

JONES The films all feel like bigger canvases this time. Netflix is a global player. It’s a bigger platform. You just can’t help but raise your ambition a bit.

BROOKER We’ve always seen it as doing different little movies in different genres. “Be Right Back” is a supernatural love story. “White Bear” was a “Wicker Man”-style horror. This time around, there’s even more variety in tone. We’ve got an ’80s coming-of-age romance with a “Black Mirror” spin on it. We’ve got a detective story in the style of Scandinavian police drama. “Playtest” is the horror romp. “Nosedive” is more playful than we’ve done before. The tone of all of them is not unremittingly bleak.

Continue reading the main story

NYT > Technology

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *