Creator: Charlie Brooker
Director: Timothy Van Patten
Starring: Georgina Campbell, Joe Cole, Gina Bramhill
Hang the DJ, another entry into the latest series of Black Mirror, presents the stories of Frank and Amy, two young and attractive singletons looking for their perfect match. The episode takes us through their respective romantic journeys in “The System”, a futuristic device that uses an algorithm designed to pair users up with various partners, collecting the user’s reactions, thoughts and feelings to build a picture of their “ultimate match” with 99.8% accuracy, an important figure that The System, voiced by Gina Bramhill, is very proud to proclaim. Just as The System is designed to engross its users in its world entirely, Charlie Brooker’s storytelling once again completely absorbs his audience in another helping of dystopian reality.
To many, the best Black Mirror stories are those that tell a meaningful story about humanity with the aid of technology, The Entire History of You and the award winning San Junipero being two fine examples of this idea. Hang the DJ does exactly this in an ever-inventive manner, taking two seemingly ordinary characters and, for an hour, making discovering their story and destinies your ultimate priority. The System works by setting users up on dates, then providing couples with modern accommodation where they can co-habit for their entire relationship, until the relationship’s expiry time is reached. This is how we are first introduced to Frank and Amy, played by Joe Cole and Georgina Campbell. When they meet for the first time, it is easy to tell that they are extremely well suited to each other, so when The System reveals their twelve-hour expiry, you’re left thinking, “hmm, bit odd that, must be right though as The System says so,” immediately putting you on a level with the characters. Right from the beginning, its very easy to see how technology like this could be so appealing, as it provides users with a definitive promise that they aren’t going to end up dying alone consumed by ready meal containers and the inescapable sadness of a life without love. Cheery, isn’t it?
As is always the case with Charlie Brooker, the technology appears to have some flaws, ones that both the characters and the viewers have already come to suspect. After their brief encounter, Frank and Amy are plunged into a succession of relationships with one unsuitable partner after another, much like someone who is on the rebound in reality. As would be the case with a string of rebounds, Amy and Frank are worn down and somewhat dejected at The System’s seemingly non-sensical approach to matchmaking, though after Frank’s year with the heinous Nicola (Gwyneth Keyworth), many of the viewers would feel the same. This sequence of flings and wasted time takes on greater importance when they are eventually re-matched. They question The System, half-jokingly conspiring that it is a simulation designed to wear users down so far that they eventually resign themselves to a life with whomever they’re given, rather than who they actually want, in keeping with Brooker’s distrust of technology and its ever-increasing influence on human life. Trivial details bring the viewer onto the same level of distrust, the illusion of The System beginning to wear thin when Amy skips a stone and asks Frank, “have you ever had more than four or less than four?”
After some time and another series of failed flings, Frank and Amy are told by The System that their ultimate matches have been identified and that they have a short farewell period with any previously matched user of their choice. Naturally, they choose each other, and Amy skips her System tablet across her swimming pool, upon which it skips four times. During their farewell, Amy’s certainty of both The System’s fraudulence and her feelings for Frank lead them both to choose to rebel to live together outside The System, ultimately cementing the viewer’s beliefs that The System is indeed a false world. Or so they think. While breaking out, The System shuts down, and Frank and Amy are placed within a dark space of what looks like nothing. At this point the viewer is wondering what is going on, especially as 999 other Frank and Amys arrive in this nether-zone at the same time, causing the distinctive Black Mirror twist, just as the viewer thinks they’ve figured it all out.
“1000 simulations completed. 998 rebellions logged. 99.8% match.” Then it all makes sense. The nether-zone was the algorithm itself, The System was a simulation, but not one that wants to take anything away from people, as the viewer had come to expect. The closing scene is where the episode’s title comes into play, The Smiths’ song “Panic” is playing in a random pub, Amy looking up from her System app that says the guy at the bar is a 99.8% match based on 1000 simulations that appear to have happened instantly, because they happen to be in the same place at the same time. A look, a smile and the beginning of a life long love story.
The best love stories throughout history involve basic elements of chance encounters, hope and rebellion, and this episode captures them all. Take a basic love at-first-sight story, add a bit of trademark Brooker innovation, sprinkle a bit of conceivable future technology, great storytelling and charm, and you get Hang the DJ. It is one of the rare times that Charlie Brooker shows that technology doesn’t always have a sinister undertone, that it isn’t always killer robots and repeated daily torture. Hang the DJ is not an episode that will change the world, nor will it last forever in the memory, but one thing it will do, is make you feel.