A fourth season of “Black Mirror” crept onto Netflix in late December and began to squirm through viewers’ heads already dizzy with the exhaust fumes of the outgoing year. The six roomy new episodes of Charlie Brooker’s anthology series play like a Rod Serling snack pack of dreadful speculation. The season tells tales of love in the age of asexual reproduction, about lives patterned by artificial intelligence, and about consciousness as a carceral state.
From 2011, when the first season of “Black Mirror” aired on Britain’s Channel 4, the show has figured media culture as a site of thorough depravity. In the conceptually perfect début, a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is obliged, by kidnappers holding a princess hostage, to fornicate with a pig on film. The man behind the monstrosity turns out to be an artist bent on illustrating the evil of screen-culture circuses. In the following episode, Daniel Kaluuya plays a prole who, like all members of a teeming class that unavoidably consumes omnipresent junk culture, works a daily shift to earn his keep by pedalling a stationary bicycle to generate power. The character spends his nest egg to pay the fee for a pretty girl with a lovely voice to enter a reality show. On air, she is systematically diverted from this “American Idol” fantasy into captivity as a sex-film starlet; he, striving to avenge her subjugation by getting time on the show and speaking truth to power, is likewise led to commercialize his outrage, as if Howard Beale in “Network” signed a long-term contract hosting kitchen-gizmo infomercials. Elsewhere, in a second-season episode titled “White Bear,” the narrative line emerges from a blur of cleverly withheld context, and we see that we have watched the torture of a woman who, convicted as an accomplice to a gruesome murder, spends her days in a state of forced amnesia, running for her life from armed assailants while unaware that the hunt is a popular spectator sport.