Fresh off their Outstanding Writing Emmy win for the standout episode “San Junipero,” the creators and cast of Black Mirror opened New York City’s 2017 PaleyFest with a brand new episode, titled “U.S.S. Callister.” Afterward, Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker, executive producer Annabel Jones, and the cast of the new episode — Jesse Plemons, Cristin Milioti, Jimmi Simpson, and Michaela Coel — held a panel moderated by New York Times reporter Dave Itzkoff to discuss the new episode and the show in general. Here’s what we learned.
Black Mirror takes on Star Trek
Without giving away too many details, suffice to say that part of “U.S.S. Callister” is an extended riff on tropes and archetypes from the original Star Trek. This means there are quite a few lens flares (“we kept calling it ‘J.J. Mode,’” Brooker joked), and Plemons gets to channel his inner William Shatner. This being Black Mirror, though, there are several twisty takes on the material, and not a few echoes of Harlan Ellison’s classic sci-fi/horror story “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream.” Brooker says it was conceived of as an “adult Toy Story.” Though it was written some time ago, the episode ends up with some timely echoes about “living under a tyrant,” per Brooker.
Jodie Foster is directing an episode this season
“U.S.S. Callister” has a more epic scale than Black Mirror viewers may be accustomed to. Unlike, say, “The Entire History of You” — an intimate story set in familiar suburban environments — this new episode spans multiple big sets, including the titular spaceship. But there will still be stories on a smaller scale this season, including one episode directed by the legendary Jodie Foster.
“The privilege of doing an anthology is you have that range. So you can do big space stories, and small indie stories,” Jones said. “Jodie Foster’s directing one for us, which is wonderful, and it’s so different in tone and scale and story.”
‘San Junipero’ was the first episode written for Netflix
“San Junipero” winning the Emmy was well-deserved — not least because it breaks from the traditional Black Mirror tone. Its story is based on love, not paranoia or resentment, and it actually has a happy ending for once. According to Brooker, some of this came from the fact that “San Junipero” was the very first episode he wrote for his show’s new home.
“‘San Junipero’ was the first one I wrote for Netflix, and it was a deliberate attempt on my part to go slightly off what I thought the show was,” Brooker said. “Because until then, we’d done six episodes and a Christmas special, and every single one had been nihilistic and bleak, so I was like ‘f–k that.’ And I’d read someone online complaining that with the show going to Netflix it will be Americanized. So I was like, alright, f–k you, California, here we go.”
Pitching ‘The National Anthem’ was an experience
Anyone who’s ever recommended Black Mirror to a friend knows that it can be dicey since the very first episode is an absurd satire in which the British prime minister (played by Rory Kinnear) is manipulated into having sex with a pig. Brooker admits that pitching “The National Anthem” was a weird experience — and that weirdest of all, Channel 4’s main point of contention was not what you might think.
“There was a meeting where I had to pitch that to the channel. That was an interesting afternoon,” Brooker said. “Their main question was not about the story or anything but just, ‘does it have to be a pig?’ So I also suggested a frozen supermarket chicken, but eventually, we went back to pig.
Charlie Brooker is now alerted to every bad thing that happens in the world
At one point, Itzkoff asked Brooker if random people now pitched him Black Mirror ideas based on their own experiences with technology or the news. Brooker responded that he instead has a slightly different problem.
“What happens more is I’m just immediately alerted to any horrible development in the world,” Brooker said. “People just email or flag or tweet me going, ‘This is quite Black Mirror-esque! Look at this horrible thing!’ So I can’t escape the world.”
The fourth season of Black Mirror is expected to arrive on Netflix later this year.