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With its premier episode airing so close to Halloween, a day where our fears of the unknown become their most pronounced, Black Mirror steadily reminds us that the things that should scare us come not from the unfamiliar mysteries of our world but the things that make up our everyday lives. Charlie Brooker, creator and writer for Black Mirror, creates worlds that feel at once alien and freakishly familiar. Black Mirror’s outward qualities make it dystopian, but it’s the show’s fundamental truths make it contemporary. Brooker’s Nosedive, specifically, is a technological parable on social media, not as the communal platform we’ve come to accept it as, but—rather cleverly—as a manifesto in which we rank our self-worth.
Nosedive, directed exuberantly by Joe Wright, opens with the image of a dreamy suburban paradise, glazed in fragrant daylight and arcade-colored homes. Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard) appears center stage, all toothy smiles and hoaky platitudes, putting on her “nice girl” act for seemingly everyone. Not for the mere enjoyment of it, mind you, but because—in this world—everyone is ranked off every single encounter they make (think ‘Yelp’ only with people rating other people, not restaurants). As is typical with Black Mirror Brooker’s dystopias put on a deceptive, welcoming smile before rearing its ugly head.
In Lacie’s world, everybody is equipped with two things, a mobile phone and an approval rating. Currently sitting at a 4.2 (a reasonably high approval rating) she attempts to brighten everyone’s day in hopes of reaching a prestigious 4.5 (just enough to validate the purchase of her dream home). Upon encountering her childhood friend Naomi (Alice Eve), who sits at a high 4.8 approval rating, Lacie is offered to be the bride’s maid at her upcoming wedding. Tempted to reconnect with an old friend, but even more tempted by the opportunity to increase her approval rating, Lacie agrees, even setting aside basic human decency to get her there. Lacie’s technological utopia quickly becomes an Orwellian nightmare once the episode unveils the systematic inhumanity behind the idea of quantifying a person’s every action and reaction. It’s made worse when Lacie finds out that to a system you’re either one of two things—a slave or an enemy.
With the always adroit Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice and Atonement) at the helm Nosedive is destined to be Black Mirror’s most memorably directed entry, unfortunately it’s also one of the weaker written episodes of the series. Part of the blame can be placed in the show’s one hour length trying to cover such thin (but inspired) material—Twilight Zone spent a decade proving 30 minutes was enough to haunt our minds for the next week, at 60 minutes Black Mirror’s first episode seems to stretch even the most pervasive of its arguments.
Nosedive is full of quirk and vibrancy, and in its own way it’s one of Black Mirror’s most stand-out episodes, but it never fulfills the pungent urgency of its predecessors, neither does it ever probe the dark, sardonic qualities rooted in our modernistic underbellies. Instead it vies for complete eccentric likability, finding truths only in whiffs and fragments. Ultimately what Nosedive lacks is the human touch, something not even the unstinting talent of Cherry Jones could provide in her brief appearance. The ending of the Nosedive—while heart-breaking and sweet in it’s own personal way—lacks that dogged humanistic quality customary to eclipsing the show’s two-dimensional moralizing into something more veraciously unsettling.