Either you’re already obsessed with Black Mirror or you probably haven’t seen it yet. The technology thriller has managed to virally spread into an international cult hit despite producing only seven episodes in three years and having TV’s most notoriously unworkable format: each episode is a self contained story with an entirely different cast. The show’s only continuity is its mission to explore technology’s impact on humanity — it’s like The Twilight Zone on Tinder. Netflix outbid a UK rival to produce the upcoming third season after the show’s first two seasons surged in popularity on its service (check out “The Entire History of You” for a flawless introduction). The streaming service hiked the show’s budget slightly, and ordered 12 new stories. So what’s new this time? Not too much, assures showrunner Charlie Brooker. “There’s probably a slightly wider scope, and it’s probably more idiosyncratic than before,” he says. “You can’t pick which [episode] best represents the season — they’re all outliers.”
Here Brooker gives EW the exclusive rundown of each episode (spoiler free).
We love this premise: An insecure office worker (Bryce Dallas Howard) lives in a world in which everyone obsessively ranks and rates every tiny social interaction. She thinks she finally may have found a way to rank alongside her friend (Alice Eve), who’s one of society’s elites. At first glance, this sounds like a classic Black Mirror setup — an existing tech element taken to a horrifying new extreme. But Brooker says it’s one of the most unusual episodes he’s done. “Each episode this season is a different genre; this one is a social satire,” Brooker says. “It’s got a creepy serenity to it and won’t be what people expect.”
How could you make Black Mirror episode set in the past when the show is all about the future? That was the mental puzzle that prompted Booker to write this 1980s-set tale, where Mackenzie Davis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw play recent arrivals to a beach town “synonymous with sun, surf, and sex.” “It’s kind of an ‘80s coming-of-age drama with a Black Mirror undertow,” he says. “Also, when Netflix picked us up, people were going, ‘Oh that means [the show is] going to be Americanized.’ I thought it would be a funny to f–k with those people by literally writing an episode set in California.”
“Shut Up and Dance”
There have been a couple previous tales set in present day without any sci-fi elements (like the notorious pig sex episode “The National Anthem”). This is one of those, but Brooker adds it’s the “most grounded” of the three. Here a withdrawn 19-year-old (Alex Lawther) stumbles headlong into an online trap and is quickly forced into an uneasy alliance with shifty man (Jerome Flynn) who are both at the mercy of persons unknown. “A kitchen sink nightmarish thriller,” he says.
“Men Against Fire”
A military story set in a post-war future. A rookie soldier (Malachi Kirby) is posted overseas, protecting frightened villagers from an infestation of vicious feral mutants alongside fellow soldier Raiman (Madeline Brewer). They’re hoping some new technological advantage will save them. “It stemmed slightly from thinking about drone attacks and how technology is alternating the face of warfare, but it’s not about drones,” Brooker says. “It’s a horror thriller, almost like The Walking Dead.”
(exclusive photo above) Brooker was formerly a video game journalist and here he revisits that world: A thrill-seeking globetrotter (Wyatt Russell) visits Britain, hooks up with a woman (Hannah John-Kamen) and tests the latest in video game technology — “a device as mind-bendingly sophisticated as it is terrifying.” Directed by Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane), Brooker notes, “Dan is fantastic at creating suspenseful and tense mood; this is our Evil Dead 2.”
“Hated in the Nation”
The show’s first-ever 90-minute episode; a crime drama inspired by Scandi-Noir thrillers like The Killing and Borgen. A police detective (Kelly McDonald) and her geeky young sidekick investigate a string of grisly murders with a sinister link to social media. “It deals with online rage,” teases Brooker. “It starts out like a stylish standard police procedural, then takes a bizarre turn.” Well, that we expected.
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Black Mirror season 3 debuts Oct. 21 on Netflix.