A grieving widow subscribes to a website that promises to re-animate her dead husband's personality by analysing his tweets. Another woman wakes up with no memory, to find she is on the run from sadistic masked killers, while the rest of the world looks on in silence and films her on their mobile phones. Black Mirror is back and it's just as twisted as before.
These Twilight Zone-like stand alone stories work for several reasons. They have a clear focus - creator Charlie Brooker is at heart a TV critic and each story extrapolates from existing websites and technology trends, even if they occasionally stray into fridge-nuking territory. The cast are particularly strong - this is important as it's the Job-like suffering of the main characters that forces us viewers to take sides in the scenario, before a reveal or plot twist brings us face to face with the consequences of that choice. There's incredible attention to background detail, particularly the hardware and software McGuffins that drive each story, and a willingness to face unpleasant questions and go beyond the bounds of taste in answering them. And while some plot strands are similar to other sci-fi scenarios there's often an intelligent alteration. For example, Stephen King's novel Cell and the White Bear episode both feature a rogue, mind-altering mobile phone signal, the White Bear doesn't turn us into zombie killers but zombie onlookers, leaving the very human killers free to do their work.
Lenora Crichlow and Tuppence Middleton in White Bear
So will this novel awaken the consciences of the many, and make us more thoughtful about where our technology is taking us? Not a chance. Charlie Brooker should know that satire doesn't work - this was addressed in the last series episode Fifteen Million Merits, where a character staging a protest against the dystopia game show scenario is simply given his own TV channel as the moguls know he will be popular but won't actually change anything. Based on Twitter trends during the first two episodes, clearly people would welcome the personality substitutes of Be Right Back and the Justice Parks of White Bear. Memetics predicts that ideas will spread by any means, and the sheer quality of these TV dramas means these ideas will spread like wildfire until their time really comes.