Free from the constraints of a network channel, where adverts cut down the running time and the budget only allows so much, the new series of Black Mirror has certainly started well with an episode that’s beautifully sterile in a Stepford Wives sort of way.
Written by Rashida Jones (Who’s currently working on the script for Toy Story 4) and Michael Schur (Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and directed by Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, Hanna), ‘Nosedive’ is the first episode you’ll come across when clicking on the new season of BLACK MIRROR and it’s a fantastic way to get going.
Set in a world where each interaction is rated by a five-star system that values politeness and represses anger, Bryce Dallas Howard plays Lacie, a 4.2 with ambitions to be a 4.5 in order to secure her dream house. She makes connections with a former ‘friend’, a supremely popular ‘high four’ Naomie (Alice Eve) who invites Lacie to be her maid of honour.
The fates that befall her as she travels cross-country to get to the wedding are far more comic than Black Mirror has been in the past and it makes sense coming from two Parks and Rec alumnus. Yet, the world is still inherently dark underneath.
This isn’t just an episode that looks at how we strive for attention on social media but is also about the dangers of popularity and pride. Lacie is a comedic character, but as with the tradition of BLACK MIRROR, her personality is warped through a distorted lens of truth and terror.
There’s a similarity here to the 1986 John Cleese comedy ‘Clockwise’, which similarly features a protagonist trying to get somewhere, only for trouble to befall them at every turn. Whereas the tragi-comic pratfalls of Cleese are played a little more nuanced here, Bryce Dallas Howard throws herself into every tumultuous situation.
Where every former BLACK MIRROR episode centred around a concept or a deliciously dark twist, Nosedive is the first episode to actively feature a “star turn”. Lacie is a character you root for and her flaws are laid out throughout the episode but such is the way of the world we are presented that you wholly sympathise with her struggle to climb the social ladder.
This is an episode where concept and character work hand in hand and Howard gives the strongest performance of her career, with every nuance and mannerism warped by a bright, painfully cheery world.
Over the years Black Mirror has conjured up some truly memorable images but Bryce Dallas Howards contorted, forced vivacious giggle is a thing of beautiful nightmares. She nails everything that is thrown at her, even when Lacie has completely lost everything she’s ever worked for and it’s one of the strongest performances of the year.
Yet, bizarrely, this is the most oddly beautiful episode of BLACK MIRROR to date and by the end of it, you are left feeling a little hopeful.
Beautifully shot by Joe Wright and with Max Richter’s haunting score echoing in your head long after it has finished, Nosedive is a sublime start to a season that promises to go much darker, yet began with something surprisingly buoyant and equally twisted.
Welcome back, BLACK MIRROR. You were missed.