The biggest accomplishment of the fourth season of Black Mirror, set to be released Friday on Netflix, is that for the first time the dystopian speculative anthology series takes its manifold anxieties about humanity’s future and smooshes them together into a single thematic tube. Past episodes have tackled vigilante justice and reality television, social-media shaming and pickup artistry, internet surveillance and war, all warped slightly by fictional, but plausible, technology. But tech itself isn’t Black Mirror’s Big Bad. We are: a species prone to grandiose dreams of easier lives, embracing dubious, untested ways to get there. The show is a series of disturbing parables about how ill-equipped we are to deal with the quick and thoughtless ways we’re changing the world.
There have been hints in the past that Black Mirror is more than just unconnected vignettes, and that the dramatically divergent worlds of the show somehow exist in the same universe. The fourth season, without spoiling it, makes this supposition absolute. The neon, authoritarian prison of “15 Million Merits” belongs in the same fictional milieu as the more naturalistic (but no less terrifying) “Shut Up and Dance.” The pastel-colored, dopamine-twitchy Insta-world of “Nosedive” is related to the brutal, revenge-fantasy theme park of “White Bear.” Charlie Brooker, the former video-game journalist and satirist who created Black Mirror, doesn’t suggest how these links might make sense, or why his slightly futuristic landscape doesn’t seem to be plagued by any of the other pressing issues humankind is currently wrestling with, like climate change or overpopulation or poverty. Black Mirror is a kind of simulation, a test environment to explore the many, many ways we could doom ourselves.