Black Museum is a fitting end to Black Mirror‘s fourth season. It’s an episode that is thoroughly hit and miss, but at the end of the day ticks the key Black Mirror boxes fans will be looking for.
The episode revolves around an unnamed traveller portrayed by Letita Wright (also starring in Marvel’s Black Panther film being released in the UK in the next two weeks) arriving at a museum of “authentic criminological artifacts” owned by the mysterious Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge). From here, Haynes takes the traveler on a tour of his museum, telling the sinister tales of each item, creating a montage of tech-filled horror stories.
These are all held together by the loose theme of responsibility. Who is really to blame when technology negatively impacts a life? The technology itself? The individual using it? Or the creator? Black Mirror certainly poses a final answer to this, which may be deemed as a flaw, but with an episode full of so many smaller stories, it really does need an overarching finale which it delivers in its satisfying conclusion. The more detail we explain that in, the closer we’ll come to breaching the no spoiler rule.
Black Museum is probably about as close as Black Mirror has come to seem like the creation of pure stoned paranoia. What if you filter reality? What if you could feel pleasure from other people’s pain? What if you could become a hologram when you died? When these questions are answered maturely and with enough depth and creativity, we are given some of the best episodes of television in years.
One of Black Museum‘s flaws is that because of its episodic nature, it never really has the opportunity to fully explore the ideas it poses. Visiting each on a quick stop tour of emotional turmoil before moving on to the next. Each of the segments of Black Museum could have easily been delved into with much more depth, with the exception of the monkey story, which feels a little like an early draft of aspects of Season Two’s White Christmas.
The main issue with the episode, however, is one that’s been an underlying element in Black Mirror since its third season, yet here is represented in by far its most direct and distracting form yet. Black Mirror doesn’t need to tie its episodes into a larger timeline, and can exist without being part of a shared universe. I’d argue that it’s not something fans are looking for. This is generally because it doesn’t benefit the shows single story per episode structures. When a character is name-dropped in a Marvel movie, it appeals to an audience who are excited to see those two characters or properties collide at some point in the future, whichever characters they might be.
This approach doesn’t work for Black Mirror as we never really become overly attached to a character for more than a single episode. If it was simply a quick background addition to Black Museum as Black Mirror has done in the past with subtle easter eggs interlaced it might not be so bad, but here it feels actively distracting as it’s directly referred to by both the traveller and Rolo Haynes.
The notion of episodes crossing over and filling in a larger story is clearly an afterthought and one that’s simply unnecessary.
So when Black Museum references episodes including San Junipero, USS Callister, Arkangel, The National Anthem and White Bear to name just a few it’s too much heavy-handling. It certainly feels like writer Charlie Brooker enjoying an ego trip for his, unarguably, successful creation with Black Mirror. Don’t believe me? He added a silhouette of his own head into the episode…
If anything Black Museum acts as an effective end to Black Mirror as a whole, although it’s increasingly unlikely that Netflix will stop pushing for further seasons in response to the show’s massive audience. Thematically, Brooker addresses where the blame should really lie in not just the short stories told within the episode, but in the damaging effects of contemporary technology that Black Mirror is commenting upon.
It’s a reminder of the real reason Black Mirror works so well as a piece of excellent science-fiction, it makes us question our own world by giving us a glimpse of what could possibly be soon approaching over the horizon. If Black Museum and the rest of the Black Mirrorverse (which will hopefully never become an actual term) are anything to go by, we’re not in for a particularly fun time.