Black Mirror: 'Hang the DJ' Explores Dystopian Dating

The fourth episode of the fourth season is about a system that pairs compatible people together, with a twist.


Sophie Gilbert and David Sims will be discussing the new season of Netflix’s Black Mirror, considering alternate episodes. The reviews contain spoilers; don’t read further than you’ve watched. See all of their coverage here.

I couldn’t agree more about “Crocodile,” David. I’m such a devoted Andrea Riseborough fan that I’d pay money to watch her read the phone book, so the episode felt like a colossal disappointment. Her character’s throughline was nonsensical, as you noted—how can someone so horrified by accidentally hitting a cyclist in the opening scene murder four people (including a toddler) a decade later? The spurring factor was clearly supposed to be the psychological destabilization of having your memories be accessible, but it was a dismal (and mostly dreary) end to an extremely missable installment.

I’m so fascinated by how they choose the episode order of Black Mirror seasons. Who decided to make the first story most viewers will see in the series one where the British Prime Minister has sex with a pig? If you’re bingeing Season 4, what’s the emotional impact of swooping from the kitschy “USS Callister” to the bleak “Arkangel” to the even bleaker “Crocodile” to an episode like “Hang the DJ”—a segue that needs a Monty Python–esque disclaimer of, “And now for something completely different”? I enjoyed “Hang the DJ” a lot, although it sagged a little in the middle, like Black Mirror episodes tend to do. But the twist in the end turned a sweet-love-story-slash-Tinder-fable into something more intriguing, and the way the chapter hinted at a larger conspiracy throughout was masterfully structured.

In the episode’s concept, Frank (Joe Cole) and Amy (Georgina Campbell) are both new members of a dating program that pairs them up for dinner. So far, so conventional—but there are signs that something is different. Two bouncers lurk menacingly on the periphery, providing some sense that the dates in this world aren’t optional. And Frank and Amy both have handheld devices that show them how long their relationship is going to last, which in this case is 12 hours. Self-driving buggies transport them to a cabin, where they’re given the option to sleep together, or not. Things must have been “mental” before “the system,” they agree. Too many choices, total option paralysis. Too many variables. Too many unpleasantries if things go wrong.

It feels at first like this is going to be a satire about snowflake millennials who don’t have the emotional maturity to actually date like adults. But there are other questions hovering around: Why do Frank, Amy, and all these other attractive young adults live inside some kind of sealed dome, Truman Show–style? Why, given that Frank and Amy  have so much obvious chemistry, isn’t the system pairing them up for longer? What happens if they opt out?

“Hang the DJ,” directed by the TV veteran Tim Van Patten, has the artificial-world sheen of “Nosedive,” with its brightly colored cabins, soulless restaurants, and ubiquitous talking devices. It also has moments that feel like a critique of Tinder and its counterparts, like the scene in which Amy proceeds through a sped-up montage of different relationships and sexual encounters as if outside her own body, detached and dehumanized. But the crux of the episode is a broader thought experiment: Frank and Amy are actually simulations, one pair of a thousand digital versions of the real Frank and Amy, who in actual fact have never met each other. Their avatars are a way for a dating app to test their compatibility, and whether or not they elect to try and escape from the dome together decides whether they’re a match. In this case, 99.8 percent of the time, they are.

It’s a twist that ties “Hang the DJ” to “USS Callister,” as well as “San Junipero” and “White Christmas” and all the other episodes that consider the replication of human souls. Throughout the hour-long action, audiences have understood Frank and Amy to be real people, and they are, at least insomuch as they have feelings and desires and emotional activity. The copy-pasted characters on USS Callister were “real,” too. Cristin Milioti’s Nanette was essentially Nanette in duplicate, and the whole point of Oona Chaplin’s Greta was that she was Greta. “Hang the DJ” has a happy ending, at least by Black Mirror standards—Frank and Amy seem destined to be together. But the twist leaves you pondering the ethics of creating a thousand digital people, only to erase them after they’ve fulfilled their purpose. It’s a heartwarming episode with a sting in its tail.

That said, it’s fun. Cole and Campbell have a genuine rapport, and their dating misadventures and awkward chance encounters make the episode feel at times like a dystopian Richard Curtis comedy. But I’ll keep thinking about this one, compared to the more eminently forgettable “Crocodile.” David, what did you make of Black Mirror’s newest attempt at a love story? Was this as memorable for you as “San Junipero”? Or a total mismatch?

Read David Sims’s review of the next episode, “Metalhead.”