Would you believe us if we told you that Black Mirror creators Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones share a background in comedy? “I think it’s a similar muscle, to the worst-case scenario bit of your brain that thinks up jokes,” Brooker said at the NYCC panel, about the series whose alternate title might as well be (as a fan said during the Q&A) Bleak Bleak Jesus Christ This Is Bleak.
Before the NYCC panel, all we knew about season 4 were the six episode titles and intriguing glimpses. After the panel… well, it’s still very much under wraps, which is part of the fun of Black Mirror. “It’s a really tricky show to promote,” Brooker said, “because there’s no recurring characters from previous seasons, so you can’t say, ‘I’ll tell you what Jon Snow is up to now.’” He likened it to an unboxing video, or a box of chocolates: “You don’t know what the filling is gonna be, but you know it’s gonna be dark chocolate.”
That said, with the help of surprise moderator Jodie Foster (!) and a sneak-peek clip, we’ve rounded up some intel on Black Mirror season 4—including some support for the shared-universe theory!
The episodes are all over the place—in a good way. While most Black Mirror installments are the length of a standard TV episode, with just the Christmas special and last year’s “Hated in the Nation” running closer to feature-length, this year Brooker and Jones played a bit more with time constraints. “U.S.S. Callister” is the longest episode of season 4, clocking in at 74 minutes, while another, Brooker said, “is over like that—it’s like a GIF.” Or, “if this season is an album, it’s like a punk single.”
Tonally, there’s also a greater range. “Looking at the world,” Brooker said, “[there’s] sort of like a 3D Black Mirror episode going on,” which prompted them to tinker with the tone a bit. Some episodes are “slightly more playful” in response, “but also we haven’t skimped on the incredible bloody darkness.”
He did add that “we’ve tackled probably different worlds than we have before,” calling the season “more ambitious.” Ambitious like… an entire Star Trek homage?
Star Trek meets Harlan Ellison meets… Toy Story? Unfortunately, NYCC did not have a screening of a Black Mirror episode like last year, but the Paley Center for Media’s annual PaleyFest did. Attendees got to see “U.S.S. Callister,” which puts Jesse Plemons (Breaking Bad), Jimmi Simpson (Westworld), Cristin Milioti (How I Met Your Mother), and Michaela Coel (Chewing Gum) in space. Yes, space.
“I used to be terrified in Star Trek,” Brooker told The Hollywood Reporter, “of the face of Balok, the scary alien face that used to show up in the end credits. It used to chill me to the core as a child.” Entertainment Weekly reports that the episode nods to a variety of sci-fi stories, from being conceived of as an “adult Toy Story” to plenty of lens flares (Brooker joked that “we kept calling it ‘J.J. mode'”) to echoes of Harlan Ellison’s short story “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.”
“This one is a big feat, visually,” Jones told THR. “It’s still a very personal story about Jesse’s character, but to do it properly, you have to have this big epic. So that’s a bit of a shift. I don’t think we’ve done anything like it.” She also described the episode as being about “tyranny and the abuse of power.”
“Arkangel” tackles nightmarish parental controls. We at NYCC were treated to a clip from “Arkangel,” which brings to mind “The Entire History of You” in setting, tone, and plot: A mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) installs a “parental hub” in her daughter’s head that ostensibly allows her to monitor her child but will clearly quickly get out of hand. In typical Black Mirror fashion, the scene in which a tech shows the mother the specs for this free trial (wuh oh) sound innocuous but had the crowd gasping: an optic feed where she can see through her daughter’s eyes, and the ability to filter out any sounds and/or images that are deemed too stressful.
“’Arkangel’ is primarily about a mother and a daughter, and really that strange symbiotic relationship that’s partly handicapping,” Foster, who directed the episode, explained. She went on to describe the episode arc as “partly about a mother being loving but not understanding how to give a child freedom.” It’s also the episode that most resembles an indie film.
“Black Museum” is like a matryoshka doll. This episode is actually, like “White Christmas,” three stories in one, nested inside one another. Brooker also described the episode to Collider as “a Treehouse of Horror episode, it’s like an anthology within an anthology.” In the case of both “White Christmas” and “Black Museum,” the structure offers opportunities to put in nods and winks to other Black Mirror episodes, which means…
Get ready to look for all the Easter eggs. When fans used to run the shared-universe theory by Brooker, he would claim that the episodes were all “set in one psychological universe,” but that was it. However, this season will make those connections much more explicit, he shared during the panel: “We turned on the Easter egg hose. … We’ve definitely put some nods and winks to other stories, and fleshed some stuff out.”
The “Arkangel” clip had a brief nod to season 3’s “Men Against Fire“—it’s the disturbing footage that the app filters out. (Jones joked about how she thought, “There’s gotta be something violent that someone will allow us to license…” before realizing they could solve that issue in-house.) And viewers might recognize Coel from her small part in last year’s “Nosedive” as the airport employee who sends Bryce Dallas Howard’s character’s social media rating plummeting.
Black Mirror season 4 is expected to premiere later this year, though Netflix has not yet announced a release date.