It sucks that many of us saw this day coming. Exciting as it was when Netflix announced it was taking over Black Mirror, it seemed inevitable the series would lose its touch to a certain degree. A new season dropped last week, and it’s officially the first bad batch. Certainly not terrible but definitely not good, which is sad for a series that’s often great. “Smithereens,” the second of a 3-episode slate, is the culmination of a problem that’s been getting worse ever since Black Mirror stopped being just a cool little thing creator/writer Charlie Booker would return to now and then and started being a series expected to churn out new content on a regular schedule.
“Smithereens” is about a disgruntled rideshare app driver who takes an intern at Black Mirror’s version of Twitter hostage until he can speak to the website’s creator. In the tradition of beloved Black Mirror episodes “White Bear” and “Shut Up and Dance,” it’s supposed to be another pressure cooker that unfolds in almost real-time as it barrels toward some explosive final twist. Instead, “Smithereens” feels like someone making fun of a Black Mirror episode. Each episode this season is 20 minutes too long, but “Smithereens” is the only one that could have totally saved itself by stabbing that unnecessary runtime in the jugular. It squanders a pretty entertaining nightmare about online data collection when the big twist comes off as so lame you can actually hear the splat when it hits the pavement.
The problem “Smithereens” highlights is that a lot of Black Mirror episodes feel like “filler.” When your series only releases 3 to 6 episodes each season, filler just sucks that much worse. In the early days, Black Mirror episodes were essentially fully realized short films that built their own worlds and packed their own unique punches. Now, all these filler episodes kick around a few half-baked ideas and cheap thrills meant to kill time until the second coming of “San Junipero.” Except, this is the first season Black Mirror that doesn’t have a “San Junipero” or a “USS Callister.” Season 5 episodes “Striking Vipers” and “Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too” are blackholes of “meh.” One is a love story about a virtual reality fighting game, the other is about teen sisters who go on wacky misadventures with a foul-mouthed robot. Trust me, as uninteresting as they already sound, the actual episodes manage to rob these premises of any and all charisma.
Having said that… Yes, I’m always down for more Black Mirror. Only 4 episodes out of 21 have been outright bad. So far, none are completely horrible. It’s just a shame 3 of those 4 bad episodes make up an entire season. Maybe Black Mirror doesn’t want to take a year off, but I hope it does. It’d be nice if the series could bring back that feeling like we’re truly teleported to a technological hellscape, instead of just a world where technology is, like, totally not good for society, man. Each Black Mirror episode used to feel like its own little event. I’d rather see the series take some time off to regroup than give us more episodes just to bide time until Booker gets a better idea.