Monday, December 13, 2021

Black Mirror Revisit: Nosedive

Last year, I compiled a non-definitive ranking of Black Mirror episodes. Once a month, I revisit an episode, starting from the bottom. So find the right filter and get ready for #7!

The Talent: 
It's a big one! While the story started with showrunner Charlie Brooker, the actual script comes via The Good Place's Michael Shur and Anne Perkins herself, Rashida Jones. Behind the camera is heavyweight Joe Wright,  whose Atonement and Hannah remain high bars. Director of photography Seamus McGarvey, who has such striking visual credits as Nocturnal Animals and We Need to Talk About Kevin, brings a wildly interesting eye and star Bryce Dallas Howard goes all in.

The Setup: 
In a nightmarish future landscape packed with incredible lighting, the frills of daily life are determined by your online popularity. Every human interaction requires a rating from 1 to 5 stars, and once your profile dips below 4, life gets very, very difficult.

Lacie, insufferably perky and terrifyingly insecure, is doing everything she can to bump her rating up in order to get a discount on a new luxury apartment rental. Opportunity comes calling when her childhood best frenemy Naomi asks her to be maid of honor at her high profile wedding. It's the perfect chance for Lacie to reach the big leagues, but a few hiccups put everything she's worked for in jeopardy.

The Ending:
After a sour encounter with an airline attendant (American-voiced Michaela Cole no less!), Lacie struggles to make the wedding, striking out with a rental car disaster, striking gold by hitchhiking with a wise, 1-star rated but wisdom-filled Cherry Jones, and striking into a whole lot of mud by dirt biking the final mile. Naomi is horrified to see a social pariah make it past the altar, and after a raw, honest, hysterical wedding speech, Lacie is carted off to some form of literal social media jail, where she's ironically freer than she's ever been before. A neighboring prisoner begins to insult her, she cheerfully joins in, and they scream in release.

The Theme:
Like many a Black Mirror yarn, some of its ideas that seemed extremely clever just a few years back now feel a bit well-worn. Our internet identities are facades, the joys we find there are fleeting, and the "friends" you follow there are probably not nearly as happy as their filters might suggest. 

The Verdict:
Nosedive is one of the most definitive Black Mirror-y Black Mirror episodes in that it comes as close as possible to holding up, well, a black mirror to its audience so they can see themselves (providing they can look away from their own phones long enough). Honestly, in 2021, it's a tad tiresome a theme, hitting so close to the (pun somewhat intended) nose that it just doesn't seem as interesting as it did on initial watch. 

That aside, it's hard to call Nosedive anything but a very accomplished hour of television. It's one of the best-looking episodes not just of Black Mirror, but of any show produced in its time, and virtually every visual decision seems deliberate and tonally correct. Equally important is Bryce Dallas Howard, who seizes Lacie by the ponytail and isn't afraid to test our tolerance. Just listen to her laugh, and how it evolves throughout the show's sixty minute runtime. It's terrifyingly admirable. 

Technology Tip: 
Look, there's a lot of obvious messaging here regarding us all turning off our smartphones, but on a far more practical note, let's take a moment to appreciate the lesson that one should NEVER drive away from a car rental lot before taking a few minutes to confirm you know the necessary details of this particular vehicle

The Black Mirror Grade
Cruelty Scale: 3/10
Yes, this is a vicious universe, but as Cherry Jones' free-spirited truck driver already knows and Lacie is ready to discover, it doesn't HAVE to be if you can make your break.

Quality Scale: 8/10
This was Black Mirror's first big budget Netflix launch, and you can certainly feel it. The visual elements are striking and special, but all the less expensive elements are also working well. Howard's performance is extremely dynamic, while the pacing manages to world build and destroy within the hour. 

Enjoyment Scale: 7/10
Nosedive is one of the lighter Black Mirror entries, and its poppy visuals make it genuinely pleasing to watch. But unlike The Twilight Zone, whose universal sci-fi setups still pack a punch half a century after their initial airing, Nosedive already feels a bit of its time. Maybe we'll look back in another ten years and declare it a masterpiece. For now, it's clever, pretty, and a good one-time watch. 

Up Next (Month): I hear San Junipero is beautiful this time of year


  1. Wow. I haven't re-watched any BM so while I loved Nosedive on first watch, it never occurred to me that it might not age well for the reasons you mentioned. It makes me really glad that I saw it when I did and was able to enjoy it while I could.

    I'm really excited for your San Junipero review! I'm going to bite my tongue and not say anything else about it until then though.

    1. I am WILDLY curious to see how San Junipero will go on second watch. We'll find out soon!