Black Mirrothon Part 19: ‘Black Museum’
Time for the Season 4 finale! Starring the awesome Shuri from Black Panther! It’s time for an anthology within an anthology.
Title: ‘Black Museum’
Director: Colm McCarthy
Writer: Charlie Brooker, Penn Jillette (based on his story ‘The Pain Addict’)
Cast: Douglas Hodge, Letitia Wright, Daniel Lapaine, Aldis Hodge, Alexandra Roach, Babs Olusanmokun
Premise: Whilst her car recharges via solar panels a young tourist visits roadside attraction ‘The Black Museum’ where she hears macabre tales of misused technology.
Review: Now this is a mind-bender. We start out normally enough with Nish (Wright) travelling through the wide landscapes of the USA. When she pulls up to a disused gas station to charge up her car via solar energy, with a panning shot reveal of the titular ‘Black Museum’, it looks like something from The Twilight Zone. This comparison between the shows has been made many other times before, but this is the first time it’s so clearly been invited. With the carny-esque Rolo Haynes (Hodge) to guide her through it feels like the classic ‘devil shopkeeper’ trope, which I’m a fan of. As the museum is packed full of artefacts from previous episodes, this tongue-in-cheek tone calls into question the entire premise of Black Mirror. It gets to the point where I expected Charlie Brooker chained to a typewriter to be the curtained exhibit.
During their tour of the museum Rolo tells Nish some of the stories behind the artefacts, specifically a high-tech looking hairnet and a plush monkey toy. He played a hand in each of these whilst working in the field of digitised personalities. The first story is about Dr. Peter Dawson (Lapaine), whose growing frustration with misdiagnoses based on poor communication lead him to agree to a neurological implant that allows him to feel the sensations of others whilst they were the hairnet on display in the museum. Now able to experience the pain of patients who becomes a miracle worker, easily diagnosing conditions that others have missed.
Things are going well until he remains connected to a patient who dies from a poisoning. The experience results in Dawson experiencing sexual pleasure from pain. An addiction forms, with Dawson gaining increased pleasure from his patient’s suffering, leading him his termination from the hospital. After extensive self-mutilation he seeks out and tortures a homeless man with a power drill before falling into a coma.
This segment of the episode, based on a work written by all round very talented and entertaining fellow Penn Jillette, winds up being more distasteful that anything else. The message that the psychological side-effects of invasive new technologies is all fine and good until the third act when it starts pushing the envelope in terms of gore and descends into shock value. We could accredit some of this to Rolo putting his own spin on it – which is does admit to in some regard – but it feels like a cheap path for Black Mirror to be following. Rather than being shocked, I just feel disgusted watching this part of the story.
Next we get to the monkey and the tragic tale of Jack and Carrie (Hodge and Roach), who hit if off at a party and quickly became a couple with a son. This is Black Mirror, so tragedy soon struck in the form of a truck and Carrie, who is left in a coma. Rolo arrives on the scene with the offer of digitising Carrie’s mind and implanting it in Jack’s mind. No she sits within his eye, seeing the world through him and speaking to him within his head. What seemed like a mercy at the time soon turns problematic as Jack finds it impossible to move on with his life with Carrie commentating behind the scenes and Carrie grows frustrated with her lack of agency.
The ability to put Carrie on ‘pause’ is explored, but Jack finds little reason to unpause Carrie, especially as he’s got a new love in his life. Instead they permanently transfer Carrie to a toy monkey to gift to their son, giving her the ability to communicate with two phrases: “monkey loves you” or “monkey needs a hug”. Over time their son stops playing with the toy monkey, leaving Carrie trapped. It’s illegal to remove her or delete her after the fact, leaving Carrie trapped and part of an exhibit for good.
This is a better story and well executed, with the main characters being substantially more likeable than the previous tale. It certainly feels more like the standard Black Mirror, and we see the characters making decisions for the right reasons only to regret them later. The overhanging question is why they made these decisions. Could they not have predicted that having someone living in your mind might feel like an invasion of privacy? I know that Rolo is a good salesman but they really didn’t put much thought into it. It’s a well told story but this is a bit oversight.
Finally we see behind the curtain at Rolo’s main attraction. It appears that Rolo obtained the digital copy of a prisoner’s mind before he’s executed. Clayton Leigh (Olusanmokun) has been recreated as a hologram – his memories and personality brought back to life right up until his death. The gimmick is that people can force Leigh to relive his death in the electric chair, but the abuse has broken his mind and left his in a vegetative state. Losing this selling point the museum has lost its customers beyond sadists and racists taking advantage of the set-up.
Throughout the entire episode it’s clear that Rolo is a shyster running some kind of scam. There’s something missing from his versions of the stories he tells, casting him as a simple salesman and not a manipulator. The tables are turned at the end with the reveal that Nish, formally a passive audience insert, is the one running the con. She sabotaged the aircon of the museum to entice Rolo into accepting her water, which was poisoned. This is because she’s Clayton Leigh’s daughter, and lost her mother to suicide after she saw what Rolo had done to her departed husband.
Nish exacts her revenge by murdering Rolo and downloading a copy of his consciousness into Leigh’s digital mind before using the electric chair set-up to destroy them both. Having retrieved Carrie – trapped in her monkey doll – and gotten her revenge Nish reveals that her mother is a passenger in her mind acting as a collaborator.
Each of the three stories are problematic, but tied really well together by Hodge and Wright as the bridging narrative. They’re both excellent actors and are a huge amount of fun to watch. The idea of the ‘Black Museum’ is really appealing, the notion that everything we’ve seen so far is just another bit of flavour added by a carny like Rolo to sell tickets to his freak show. It’s a great way to round off the season and adds yet another layer of complexity to an already fascinating show.
That Moment When You Feel Your Stomach Drop: When Nish drops her accent and we realise that Rolo is the real mark.
Links to Other Episodes: Ho boy…let’s make each one brief…
The gas station is named ‘BRB Connect’, calling back to ‘Be Right Back’.
Carlton Bloom, who hanged himself at the end of ‘The National Anthem’ has a display in the museum along with a TV set.
‘White Bear’ gets a number of notable nods including a large photograph of Victoria Skillane and a mannequin wearing a hunter’s outfit in the museum.
Yorkie and Kelly from ‘San Junipero’ have their outfits are on display, and Rolo claims to have worked in the ‘San Junipero Project’.
Tommy’s lolly and the DNA scanner from ‘U.S.S. Callister’ are on display.
The bathtub that was central to a murder in ‘Crocodile’ is in the centre of the museum.
A robo-bee from ‘Hated in the Nation’ is housed behind a magnifying glass.
The smashed up and blood stained tablet from ‘Arkangel’ gets a close-up.
During the first story Rolo tells he identifies the rodent test subjects as ‘Kenny’ and ‘Hector’, sharing names with the subjects of ‘Shut Up and Dance’.
The second story sees Jack reading a graphic novel version of ’15 Million Merits’.
A news ticker feed declares that P.M. Callow is going to ‘marry a pig’, another call back to ‘The National Anthem’.
If you pay attention to background you’ll spot the Cookie hardware from ‘White Christmas’.
I think that’s it…
Ranking Black Mirror: This is a flawed episode, as discussed above, but I love it. It feels like a real nod to the fans.
- ‘U.S.S. Callister’
- ‘Fifteen Million Merits’
- ‘San Junipero’
- ‘White Christmas’
- ‘Shut Up and Dance’
- ‘Be Right Back’
- ‘White Bear’
- ‘Hang the DJ’
- ‘The National Anthem’
- ‘Hated in the Nation’
- ‘Black Museum’
- ‘The Waldo Moment’
- ‘Men Against Fire’
- ‘The Entire History of You’
Right, now release ‘Bandersnatch’!