Black Mirror season 4 review
©Netflix

The by-now legendary science fiction anthology is back to confound us all and make us deeply, deeply uncomfortable again. How does this fourth instalment of six episodes fare this time round? Truth to speak, just like with previous seasons, the results are somewhat hit and miss.

There is no true standout episode like “San Junipero” or “Nosedive”. Perhaps more ominously, it’s starting to feel like writer/showrunner Charlie Brooker is repeating himself and the visceral, heart wrenching moments aren’t quite all there.

Nevertheless, Black Mirror season 4 remains a compelling series, raising awkward questions for which there are no easy answers.

Hang The DJ

As ever, the strength of a Black Mirror episode lies in how it is very much rooted in the real world, and things that are immediately familiar to us. With dating apps long de rigeur, this is one with a twist: an app that determines who you date, and how long the relationship lasts.

As things stand, with Siri and Alexa and Google Home and more, is it that much of a stretch to believe that we would allow machines to dictate our love lives?

And so we bear witness to the tentative, tender moments when our young lovers Frank (Joe Cole) and Amy (Georgina Campbell) begin to connect before their inevitable departure. The ache of longing, the frustration of being apart: if the path of true love never did run smooth, then Frank and Amy’s is particularly winding.

“Everything happens for a reason,” intones the system solemnly, over and over again, like some deep metaphor for life. Here’s a hint: it’s all part of the payoff.

USS Callister

Black Mirror Season 4
©Netflix

Of course, there is much more than meets the eye in this ostensible Star Trek spoof, and the story of Lieutenant Cole’s (Cristin Milioti) first day on the USS Callister. Beyond the delicious, and purposefully bad, acting – meta meta! – there are far greater themes at stake here.

Suffice to say that there are worlds within worlds: reality, the one that exists only inside your head and most tantalisingly of all, the one you long for. There are echoes of “White Christmas” and the overriding question: are we only our true selves inside our fantasies? Just like in Westworld, do we get to excuse our behaviour because it’s not real?

Dammit Brooker, quit making us ask these questions!!

Arkangel

This episode is all about bringing surveillance to the next level: the long-awaited chip in your head. An anxious mother (Rosemarie DeWitt) who almost loses her daughter at a playground puts an implant in her head that enables her to see and hear everything the little girl experiences.

No parent ever stops grappling with the eternal question: where is my child and what is he/she doing now? “Arkangel” provides a technological means to answer that, but at exactly which point does love turn oppressive? Does good parenting really involve control at all costs?

DeWitt does a great job of portraying a mother who, above all else, simply wants to protect her child. Every parent will know exactly how she feels. And it’s directed by Jodie Foster, no less.

Metalhead

Black Mirror season 4 review
©Netflix

In a black-and-white, dystopian world, a woman (Maxine Peake) and her comrades are pursued by dogs – no, not the cuddly, furry variety, nor the type to be easily dissuaded by a treat or a hug.

With minimal dialogue, the tension is unrelenting and the pursuit never lets up. We are never quite told just why our protagonists are being pursued, but the reasons don’t matter.

Crocodile

Reminiscent of “The Entire History of You”, this episode may well be the weakest of the lot. Centred on a terrible act committed by a couple years ago and a machine that can scan your memories, the plot devolves into something rather far-fetched as the story proceeds.

Despite the snowy, evocative locales of Iceland, this episode very much lacks the visceral, gripping nature of other Black Mirror instalments.

Black Museum

Black Mirror season 4 review
©Netflix

The mega-episode of the season at over an hour’s run time, “Black Museum” tells three stories centred on patients and doctors in a hospital.

In the middle of the American desert, Black Museum proprietor Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge and his silky smooth voice) welcomes the young visitor Nish (Letitia Wright) to his establishment.

Alternating between devil’s advocate and narrator, Haynes spins his tales of the medical profession as he shows Nish around. Meanwhile, no one can figure just why it’s so hot in the museum.

And of course, a devastating ending is lying in wait. But it lacks the punch of “White Christmas”, which followed a similar structure. All in all, Black Mirror has been much, much better.

Black Mirror season 4 premieres on Netflix on December 29.