Monday, March 14, 2022

Black Mirror Revisit: Hang the DJ

Last year, I compiled a non-definitive ranking of Black Mirror episodes. Once a month, I revisit an episode, starting from the bottom. Today, we've officially reached the top 5 with Hang the DJ.

The Talent: 
As always, Charlie Brooker writes, but this time, we get a director with very specific Doll's House credentials: Tim Van Patten, known now as a successful television director with key episode credits of The Sopranos, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, and the pilot of Game of Thrones but known first to us for his unhinged in Class of 1984

The Setup:
Amy and Frank are first-timers using Coach, a new dating app with a twist: upon your first night out, Coach will tell you the length of the relationship. When that time is up, you're instantly set up with the next suitor/ette.

It's an awkward but enjoyable evening, yet Coach only gives Amy and Frank 12 hours before moving them on to new partners. Frank gets stuck with a woman who seems to despise him, while Amy is sent down a series of one-night stands. Eventually, the pair are matched again. Finally happy, they agree to not check the expiration date and enjoy whatever time they have together. 

Frank can't resist, but as soon as he checks Coach's predictions, the timer winds down, cutting their relationship from the projected 5 years to just one more day. Not long after, Coach gives Amy what should be good news: the system has found her true match, and it's not Frank. 

Amy gets one last date of her choosing before committing to her soulmate. She naturally chooses Frank, then attempts to make an escape from the system that wants to keep them apart. 

The Ending:
Or does it? Turns out, Amy and Frank are living inside a simulation designed to test their compatibility. 998 out of 1000 trials have ended this way, with the couple choosing each other over the system. In the real world, Amy gets a notification for her next date: a 99.8% compatibility with a stranger named Frank.

The Theme:
The fact that Black Mirror airs on Netflix, a service that's done more to increase algorithmic marketing than, well, let's guess 99.8% of other companies, puts Hang the DJ's messaging up to more debate than many other episodes. It's easy to see the story's twist as a criticism of modern dating, which relies on data mining to determine something very human. But had Brooker really felt that way, how easy it would have been to nose that thesis over the finish line. Throw in a winking popup ad for another Black Mirror-themed bite of capitalism and it would all be clear.

But that's not how Hang the DJ ends: our last image is a smiling Amy, a woman we've had an hour to get to know and like. She sees her match and smiles, and we smile before her because we know that Frank is indeed a suitable match. They share a sense of humor, one of the most important foundations for a relationship. Maybe they wouldn't have found each other in the "real world", but what does that really matter? Had they both independently ended up at that bar on the same night, they might not have thought to lock eyes. An app helped them along, and there's nothing wrong with that. 

So what is Hang the DJ saying, exactly? In my glass half full read, that people who are open to love can find it. There are tools to help but ultimately, the responsibility is yours. Not every prospective girlfriend is willing to challenge the very universe she's occupying to risk being with a man who's already failed her once. But Amy does, because even in her pixelated form, her love drives her. Real-life Amy will probably never know how far she was willing to go and heck, who knows that same passion will work in 3D. But if it doesn't, what's the worst that happens?

I know there are more cynical (and even sinister) readings of this episode, and while I could see them clearly when looking at the similarly themed San Junipero, Hang the DJ just feels joyous. 

The Verdict:
Clearly, I enjoy this episode. If watched in the right mood, it's a Twilight Zone rom-com. What's wrong with that?

Technology Tip:
Sure, algorithms can know you pretty well, but ultimately, connection is based on instinct. Trust yours.

The Black Mirror Grade
Cruelty Scale: 1/10

Quality Scale: 7/10
Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole's performances go a long way in making this an engaging story with a couple you root for.

Enjoyment Scale: 8/10
Hang the DJ isn't mind-blowing, but it's clever and cute, managing to put online dating under a different light. I know this one rarely makes best-of lists because it doesn't necessarily have as much to say as, say, Nosedive, but for me, it just works. 

Up Next (Month): Switching moods just a pinch, we head down a different version of an alternate reality with the cheery, super kid-friendly White Bear!


  1. I had forgotten about this one! It was one of the first episodes I saw though, and I remember being surprised and really liking it. Now I want to revisit it. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Considering it has one of the happiest endings of any Black Mirror episode, I wonder how that set your expectations for the series!