A new series of Black Mirror is available, and that means it’s time for my once-yearly TV post!
WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for the Black Mirror Season 4 episode ‘Hang the DJ’. If you haven’t seen it and don’t want to be spoiled, do not read this post.
‘Hang the DJ’ is being received as this season’s ‘San Junipero’, a feel-good episode of Black Mirror where both the protagonists and the audience get to go home happy. Unlike ‘San Junipero’, however, nobody seems to be doubting this reading of the episode. Writer Charlie Brooker explicitly commented on the ending: ‘I think it’s a very happy moment… They know they are destined to have a very serious relationship and they’re each others’ chosen ones’. However, how do our two protagonists get to the point when they realise they’ve found their ‘chosen one’? And isn’t that idea in itself somewhat disturbing?
Amy and Frank meet using a dating app. We quickly become aware that this is an app with a difference. Not only is everything arranged in advance for the two of them – from the meals they eat to the driverless car that arrives to whisk them away to a romantic, secluded cottage – they’re told from the start that there’s a 12 hour time limit on their relationship. Predictably, they hit it off, and are sad to realise they probably won’t see each other again. Over the next year, both Amy and Frank are matched with a range of other incompatible people, with Frank drawing an especially short straw when he has to cohabit with a woman he hates for a whole twelve months. However, when they are paired again, Amy decides that the only way to win against the system and receive one’s perfect match might be to break the system. She and Frank decide to escape together from the bland world in which they are imprisoned…
… which is where the Black Mirror twist kicks in. We find out that everything Amy and Frank have gone through is simply one of a thousand versions of the same simulation. As they meet eyes in a bar in the real world, they’re informed by the app that they have 99.8% compatibility as they chose to escape together in 998 out of 1000 simulations. We’re left to believe that the app ran all those simulations in a fraction of a second, and now Amy and Frank can be confident that, in real life, they ought to be together.
But, to me, this doesn’t feel like a simple, happy ending, although it’s certainly much more upbeat than a lot of Black Mirror conclusions. Most obviously, it just returns us to the question the episode initially poses: can an app, however sophisticated, really predict who you are ‘destined to be with’? Is there any one person you are ‘destined to be with’ in the first place, and, even if there is, could an app that throws all sorts of other factors into the mix know that for sure? How about if your One True Love won’t break rules under any circumstances? (Although, I loved the sideswipe this episode gives to the protagonists of bad YA speculative fiction, who are so often presented as super special for daring to rebel, by emphasising that rebellion in this world is a boringly common occurrence.) Amy and Frank seem to be embarking on exactly the same journey as they did at the start, albeit with much more sophisticated dating software.
Secondly, given how consistently Black Mirror has portrayed digital replicas as living, thinking, sentient beings, isn’t it horrific to put your own digital replicas through so many mockeries of a life?
Thirdly, I have to admit that I’m not really on board with the idea of a Black Mirror episode with a totally happy ending. I argued in my review of ‘San Junipero’ that the episode’s innovation was to give a happy ending to two gay women, as this so rarely happens in fiction. The same argument can’t be made for a heterosexual couple, which is why comparisons to ‘San Junipero’ somewhat miss the point. If we’re meant to read ‘Hang The DJ’ as completely happy, I think it falls flat; however, if we’re allowed to leave it with the questions I’ve outlined above playing on our minds, I think it ranks as one of the best episodes of a somewhat disappointing fourth season.