The concluding chapter of Black Mirror’s fourth season doubles as an ingenious exploration of human behaviour in addition to being a self-reflection of the show’s impact on its audience as a whole. Cleverly titled, Black Museum houses a number of easter eggs that are actually more than just simple callbacks to earlier episodes ― they serve as physical metaphors of the horrors that Black Mirror houses within its 19 episodes spread across 4 seasons. The implication being that Rolo Haynes’ ‛Black Museum’ is actually a representation of Charlie Brooker’s show itself ― a collection of tales that depict humanity losing out to the power afforded by some brand new flashy gadget. Museum Museum Museum Museum
The episode follows the journey of a British tourist Nish as she’s given a private tour of Black Museum by its quirky proprietor Rolo Haynes. Haynes feels like a stand-in for Brooker himself, a person who takes a keen interest in collecting shocking tales of technologically-motivated crimes against humanity. His entire demeanour feels like that of some twisted charlatan. The director does an excellent job of making the setting feel believable, starting off with an almost retro vibe with the desert landscape, the way Rolo dresses etc until we see Nish pull out her solar charger for her car which quickly reminds us that we are actually in the near future.
Dionne Warwick’s Always Something There to Remind Me plays in the background both times we see Nish driving her car; the title of the song a cruel joke in light of the events that we soon uncover, especially with lyrics like “And I will never be free, You’ll always be a part of me”.
What follows is a collection of three tales, each with its own unique spin on the conventional Black Mirror themes, that also serve as meta-commentary upon how these themes are received by audiences and how they shape our viewing habits. Black Museum is a strange episode indeed where we end up sympathizing with a man who is actually a convicted murderer. Presented in an anthology style like Black Mirror itself with the same kind of content and same purpose, it is, in essence, the entirety of the show distilled into one single episode.
I think it’s safe to assume that every single viewer felt a very rude jolt upon first seeing Black Mirror S01E01: The National Anthem, but we have grown accustomed to the show’s ability to unnerve us and now complaint if episodes sometime end on an optimistic note. The situation is starkly similar to how we perceive gory and depraved tales of negativity in shows like Black Mirror, Fargo, Westworld or even Game of Thrones in some sense. This episode mirrors media’s ability to let us empathize with characters and experience violent delights without any physical consequences.
Together the three arcs serve to hold up ― wait for it ― a black mirror to the way we have slowly gotten used to seeing inhumane and depressing acts, in shows such as this one, and how we have even begun to take pleasure in them. However, apart from all the self-retrospection, on the surface, the script is a little shaky and weaving together the three arcs into one monumental experience required slightly better execution.
SPOILERS AHEAD Museum
“The more pain he felt, the more pleasure he got.”
Doctor Dawson only ever hoped to be an efficient doctor, rescuing thousands of lives, by using a device that would help with cases where patients couldn’t effectively communicate their symptoms thus making diagnosis extremely hard. The device would let him share his patients’ horrible experiences minus the physical suffering. As he went on and on tackling increasingly dangerous cases, he got used to the sensation of acute pain. However, one fateful night changed everything as Dawson had a near-death experience, which messed up his device, making the experience of feeling other’s pain sexually gratifying for him. Black
With Dawson’s subplot, Brooker looks at his own series’ penchant for depressing and shock-inducing narratives and how we, the binge watchers, are slowly beginning to take perverse pleasure in it all. We crave to see other humans suffering, just as much as Dawson craved to experience others’ pain. Just like him, our primal relationship with pain and shock has shifted. Black
“Vicarious sensations. She sees what you see, she feels what you feel. She can live again.”
Jack and Carrie were a happy, content couple. Until one day, through an unfortunate series of events, Carrie fell into a coma. Desperate not to lose his wife, Jack agreed to have her consciousness ‘uploaded’ into his mind. She now sees and feels the world literally through her husband’s eyes, minus the control. As Rolo puts it, “No privacy for him, no agency for her”. As if seeing their parents fighting isn’t traumatizing enough for a kid, now he witnesses his own dad fighting with someone inside his head.
A subtle jab at the media’s ability to turn us into voyeurs, peeking into others’ lives, through our tablets and smartphones. Always in the back seat, without any real control, we manage to vicariously experience Walter White’s daring escapades in Breaking Bad or accompany travel bloggers as they journey across the world to exotic places. It comments on how TV shows let us experience other people’s sorrows, while still maintaining our distance with these fictionalized characters. Guilt-free gratification provided for by filtering everybody’s anxieties into a TV Show.
“Stuck forever, in that one perfect moment of agony. Always on. Always suffering.”
Clayton Leigh used to be a convicted felon, charged with murder, until he was given the death penalty and he agreed to Haynes’ proposal to volunteer for an experiment, in return for financial security for his family. Soon Clayton literally became a ghost of his former self, his consciousness given form in order to draw crowds to Haynes’ museum. ‘He’ soon became a showpiece, repeatedly being electrocuted by the sadistic visitors, in a sick re-enactment of his final punishment.
The screen and the protective interface separating Clayton’s consciousness from the visitors becomes a metaphor for the distance created between fictionalized characters and desensitized audiences. As we devour more and more disturbing content, somewhere inside we begin to grow numb to feeling fear, shock or disgust when presented with more violent content.
But Black Mirror isn’t simply a desensitizing spectacle filled with empty entertainment. It is also a cautionary tale about what could go wrong if we don’t keep our dark desires in check when enabled by the power of technology. As Liz drives off leaving the museum to die a slow-death, consumed in smoke, one must wonder. Wonder if Brooker is hinting towards the fact that the show might be finally over. That the demonic circus that pitted humans against technology, with visually gratifying results, might finally be coming to a close. And that it’s time for us to switch off our phones, our PCs and our TV sets and go out into the sunshine for our own sake.
Did you like Black Museum and Season 4 of Black Mirror? Tell us in the comments.
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When not watching films or TV series, Shaswata can usually be found either reviewing them or battling writer’s block. His obsession lies with framing and composition in cinema, something he explores by capturing the most memorable moments through screenshots and sharing them on social media.