Below EW interviews Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker about the upcoming fourth season of his Emmy-winning Netflix series. Don’t worry, Brooker avoids anything resembling a spoiler about his ever-twisty and twisted anthology drama, but he does offer several tantalizing teases about the new season, which includes the show’s first black and white episode, a 74-minute epic and a “Treehouse of Horror”-style anthology (a’ la “White Christmas”).
But first, you might want to watch this Black Mirror season 4 teaser video, if you haven’t already, which we refer to during the interview:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Last season you described the episodes as a collection of outliers. At first glance from the teaser trailer, “U.S.S. Callister” aside, several of these seem like more traditional Black Mirror episodes?CHARLIES BROOKER: All the episodes are intrinsically Black Mirror and also aren’t. Like “Metalhead” [photo above] is very unlike any episode we’ve done before. It’s a deliberately paired down and brutal tale. If you imagine every season like an album, this is like a 2-minute punk single. Each is pretty different from every episode we’ve done before and it’s difficult to explain why until you’ve seen them.
The “Metalhead” teaser gave us a glimpse of one of those horrifying Boston Robotics-style robots and a woman running, which makes us suspect a bot has run amuck.
Your instincts are not entirely incorrect there. Weirdly, the inspiration for this episode was I was trying to set myself a challenge of how paired back can I get. What’s a literally black-and-white story we can tell?
In the teaser for “Arkangel,” we have a device and a child…
Tone wise, that’s almost within the world of an indie drama — and you could say that’s classic Black Mirror. It’s about a mother and a daughter and a technological opportunity that comes along that’s seized upon [and then Brooker laughs a bit wickedly].
How did you land Jodie Foster to direct? That’s a huge score.
Netflix had worked with her before and they suggested Jodie. We were like, “Really? You think she would?” We had a Skype conversation during which I managed to keep my cool and not freak out. She responded to the script and she had a lot of thoughts and suggestions on the characters so there were a lot of adjustments. She’s not just a gun for hire, she’s incredibly intelligent and comes in with some thoughts on the material. Which is what you want in a director because each story is a stand-alone [episode], so you want each to be idiosyncratic to that director. And she brought a lot of that.
“U.S.S. Callister” is the WTF of the clips…
It certainly sticks out. Last time when we first released some images it was “San Junipero” that threw [fans], and that’s certainly the case with “Callister” this time around. In a way, [the story] is what it appears to be… and also obviously this is also Black Mirror. There’s certainly more to it than meets the eye.
Are they are other inspirations for that one other than the obvious — Star Trek?
There definitely was but if I say what it is then it gives it away. I will say there have been questions about how is Black Mirror going to address Trump and Brexit and the way the world is now. I kept saying, “Well it isn’t, really.” We tried not to think about that. But if you look at “Callister” there are some stuff that leaked in from the outside world. There is stuff that has to do with regimes, you could say, that’s not there and also very much there.
The vibe I got from “Crocodile” is isolation and paranoia. How far off am I?
Not entirely off! No one has guessed what that one’s about yet, probably because it’s got the most opaque title of all of them. That title tells you nothing, in the way that Reservoir Dogs doesn’t tell you anything about Reservoir Dogs. It’s a title that was echoing around in my head for all sorts of reasons that have no relation what’s going on there. So I’m happy to keep it that way. It’s a fairly taut story; it’s kind of a thriller…
For “Hang the DJ” you got the great Tim Van Patten (Game of Thrones) on board to direct and my guess on that one is some sort of dating app twist.
That’s not a million miles away. There’s a hint of that. It’s probably more societal. We’ve gone for lots of different tones this season. There’s a couple more comedic. There’s some that are not nihilistically horrible from beginning to end and there are others that are. This is one that’s more enjoyable [yet once again laughs].
“Black Museum.” Um, something to do with race relations?
No, a black museum in the U.K. is a crime museum. It’s a phrase I didn’t realize wasn’t a universal phrase. That’s a “Treehouse of Horror.” We did “White Christmas” before. The show itself is an anthology and that was an anthology within an anthology. I always wanted to do another one of those and that’s what this is. You’re getting several stories. “Tales from the Black Museum” we could have called it. There’s quite a lot going on there. We do little nods and winks to previous stories we’ve done.
Which is not something you normally ever do, right?
Right. My position on this has changed. I used to say “they’re all individual stories.” Emotionally, they are. Sometimes I’d make suggestions for something in a news ticker or a Facebook feed that eludes to other stories. Certainly, by the time I got to “Hated in the Nation” I could have them refer to the case that’s central to “White Bear,” because why not? With “Black Museum” I realized we can build upon previous episodes. The basic rule with Black Mirror is you never have to see another episode of Black Mirror, so it doesn’t matter if “Black Museum” is the first episode you see. But if you have seen the rest you’ll see quite explicit nods — literal plots and devices and references to things we’ve done before.
Wouldn’t it be too horrible if all these things in your show were happening in the same world though?
Well, they are and they’re not. It’s weird. It’s interesting that I’ve now become convinced this is a shared universe and was once convinced it wasn’t. I think I’m right in saying in “Black Museum” we have a reference to every episode we’ve ever done but I’m not sure if they’ll all end up on screen.
Have you started anguishing over the order of the episodes yet?
Yes. We’re pretty sure what opens and closes the season, but we’re still working out the order of what’s in between. We’ve got a real variety of tone again this season. We run the gambit between the most broadly accessible mainstream commercial story we’ve ever done and the most gritty and hard-nosed. In that respect, we’re gonna piss off everyone. Last time we felt opening with “Nosedive” was a good gambit because not only was it a very good episode but it was also accessible and we could ease you into the anthology. This time around we think [viewers have] a little more knowledge about the basic concept so we’re going to open with a bit of an epic. I think also in 2017 people need a bit of f—ing cheering up. Black Mirror might not be the obvious show to call for that — and don’t get me wrong, this is not a series you want to watch like The Waltons — but we’re just looking at the balance of the order. We’ve also got very different lengths — “Callister” is 74 minutes long and some of the other episodes that are below 40 minutes.
I always wrestle over which episode to tell people who have never seen Black Mirror to watch first. Which do you tell people to watch?
I used to say, “Just start at the beginning.” But I recognize that “The National Anthem” is very divisive.
Which is why I don’t tell anyone to start at the beginning.
“National Anthem” is perceived slightly differently in the UK where I’m known for comedy writing background. Going into it cold it’s quite a spoonful. There is no right episode. I would suggest jump into the episode list, scroll up and down, and pick one that appeals to you based on the photo and description. Or pick whichever episode your friends recommended. It’s like a little movie festival, you don’t have to watch all of them. That’s a long way of saying that I don’t know. “Nosedive” is a good place to start for a lot of people.
If you weren’t already assured of an another season beyond this I assume after the Emmy win you’re most definitely assured of another season.
I’m not allowed to say anything about that! Obviously, it’s pretty good to get an Emmy. There will be an update on that soon…
Speaking of that: What was your reaction when your show’s title was called twice at the Emmys for “San Junipero”?
Terror. Because beforehand when we flew out, we saw various websites had the odds of winning and we thought we maybe had a chance in the TV movie category. You never think these things are a done deal — that would be psychotic — but we thought there’s enough of a chance to think about what we would say if we won. But for the writing category I genuinely never entertained the prospect. As soon as they announce you won, there’s a nice warm spike of surprise and joy immediately followed by a massive wave of fear because you hadn’t thought of anything to say. But it was a very pleasant surprise. To win both was flabbergasting.
It’s the most uplifting and optimistic and, therefore, the most incongruent episode of Black Mirror that got the most acclaim. So how does that sit with you given the show’s usual darker tendencies? Does it make you want to explore the lighter side more?
I like to think the reason it’s had a warm reaction is less to do with the optimism and more to do with the characters. I was lucky that the scenario one I thought up was an evocative one. And originally it was a heterosexual couple, so it meant there was a different resonance that came in when that changed, and it forced me to think about the characters in a more three-dimensional way. Certainly, I was more acutely aware of not wanting to f— it up. Obviously, [the wins are] a bit daunting, it’s now a higher bar to clear, you can only fail from here — my characteristically optimistic view on things.
For more on Black Mirror season 4, check out our recap of the show’s recent PaleyFest panel that screened “U.S.S. Callister.”
To see an exclusive new photo from Black Mirror season 4, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday. You can buy the whole set of Supernatural covers now, or purchase the individual covers of the group shot, Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, or Misha Collins. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
Black Mirror season 4 will premiere later this year.