Creator: Charlie Brooker
Director: Colm McCarthy
Starring: Letitia Wright, Douglas Hodge, Daniel Lapaine
Length: 1hr 9m
With a big new shiny Netflix budget it’s surprising that Black Museum, one of six entries in the fourth series of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, felt like it was treading gleefully over old ground rather than pushing boundaries. Perhaps after inducing a 4 series long existential crisis, Brooker wanted to give everyone a break from the unexpected. Having said that, the episode, which plays out as a series of short stories, does deliver classic Black Mirror introspection and enough changes in pace to keep you interested until the twist ending.
Notable performances come in the shape of rising star Letitia Wright who takes on the role of Nish, first well-meaning tourist then vengeful angel of death. It is a refreshing role which points to Wright’s potential with an upcoming role in Black Panther, after lighthearted performances in the likes of Cucumber and Banana. Acting opposite her is Douglas Hodge, who plays the amoral museum curator Rolo Haynes, a character with untapped potential. It is Haynes who gives Nish a guided tour round the titular “Black Museum”, which is stuffed full of morbid criminal artefacts; as he says, “There’s a sad, sick story behind most everything here”. Brooker makes sure we know it. There are Easter eggs at every turn, including references to White Bear and 15 Million Merits as well as other episodes from the new series. Between the intertextuality and modern upbeat score, it seems as though Brooker is using as many shiny baubles as he can to distract the audience from the lack of development he gives to his two main characters.
Meanwhile, Haynes narrates the stories of 3 exhibits starting with the story of Dr. Peter Dawson. A snappy behind the sofa horror flick, in which a Doctor has a gadget embedded in his brain which lets him feel the pain of his patients as if it were his own. Of course, when said doctor becomes a masochist the story goes downhill leading to some of the most overtly gruesome scenes in Black Mirror history. This is the kind of storytelling that makes you want to look away and stare longer at the same time. Whether that spells catharsis or sadism is down to you, but you might well change your mind by the end of the episode.
The second tale revolves around a woman who is sent into a coma after being hit by a truck. Her well-meaning boyfriend gets by communicating with her through a two-light system signaling yes and no. That is until he is asked to choose whether or not to use the “miraculous” new technology which will let her consciousness live on in his head. Again, this is one clearly not destined for a happy ending. This second story is the laziest example of writing in the episode so take care not to look too close or you’ll spoil your own fun with an abundance of plot holes.
The last of the three tales follows Clayton Lee, a man on death row who, in a bid to help his family, sells his digital consciousness to Haynes. The curator later uses it to make the museums most popular exhibit, in which the public can personally execute the accused and take home a memento of his pain for their troubles. This is the closest the story comes to some kind of moral tale as it speaks against the cruel sadism of those who pulled the leaver and watched Lee suffer. Then arrives the twist, which is not entirely successful, as the writing is too busy setting up exposition and making quippy comments about “fake news” to develop its characters, meaning a potentially triumphant ending falls flat. Whilst the actors pulled out the stops, it was hard to be pulled along with them.
If you’re looking for a poignant exposé on the modern human, episodes like Be Right Back and The National Anthem are more likely to hit home. But whilst not the best-executed episode, Black Museum is a good bit of macabre fun with enough new and old gadgets to feel right at home in the Black Mirror universe.