Black Mirror (Seasons 1-3)

Synopsis: Black Mirror is a science fiction anthology by Charlie Brooker, covering topics relating to our ever-growing obsession (and its consequences) with technology.  Our dependence on social media, for example, is covered in different variations over three seasons.

Brooker uses dark themes and imagery in his stories, creating a higher sense of urgency to act by the viewer.  Brooker chooses in several titles to play on our fear of advancement and dependency to bring his messages to life.

The episodes are approximately 1 hour each, and take place either in an alternative present, or a near future.

Each episode has a different cast, setting, and sometimes a different reality.

Outlook:  When I first saw Black Mirror come up on Netflix, I saw a women in a mirror practicing her smiling.  I checked out IMDB for a trailer, but for whatever reason it didn’t sit well with me.

Quite literally years later, I clicked ‘Play’ just to give it a whirl.  To me, Brooker’s Black Mirror is the best science fiction I have seen on television since Battlestar Galactica, or the X-Files.  I binged the entire 3 seasons in 2 days.  Granted, the first season only had 4 episodes, but I was hooked.

Black Mirror episodes stay with me for days.  I constantly think about them in a myriad of ways.  Whether it be a different conclusion, or comparing them to our modern world.  Brooker has a way of showing me an idea that I had trouble putting into words.  A brilliant writer, and to have so many theories about our future all based around technology is fantastic to see not only as a viewer, but a fan of science fiction.

One episode in particular entitled Playtest has been on my mind constantly.  The only time I can push it out of my mind is when I pick up a book.  The episode has many different levels of thought.  Experiments, futurism, addiction, exploration, trust, and fear.

Other episodes focus more on modern society or satirical themes.  What if society chose the punishment for a crime? A tale of torment revolving around the old adage “an eye for an eye.”

Brooker’s work reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron”.

Brooker has been slated to begin writing Season 4.  He warns that Season 4 is even more intensive, dark, and truthful.  Whether this is a marketing ploy or not, we will have to see.

Battlestar Galactica (2004)

Synopsis: Set in an unknown galaxy, in an unknown star system, human beings live on what they call the “Twelve Colonies”.  These are twelve planets in the star system, all with human life.  Where as we use countries for our place of origin, the Battlestar series uses colonies.  One could be of a higher class and reside from Caprica.  A lower class citizen would be from Aralon.

The Twelve Colonies were established by tribes who left their home world, Kobol, the birthplace of humanity. There were at one time thirteen tribes, but one that was separated from the others instead went to a distant planet called Earth.

Cylons, as they are called, are a creation of humanity.  The machines we designed to help us with daily life and protect us, became self-aware.  Humanity tried to stop them, but they rebelled.  This was the beginning of the Cylon war (Battlestar Galactica, 1978).

After humanities defeat, the Cylons left the twelve colonies in hopes of finding a life for themselves where they could prosper.

Ever since the Cylons departed the solar system, mankind has sent an ambassador to the neutral zone.  Every year, a diplomat arrives to discuss continuing peace between the two races.  The Cylons, send no one …

It has been 40 years since the first Cylon war.  Having evolved, the Cylons make a decision to return to the twelve colonies, and cleanse the human race once and for all.

In an all out assault, the Cylons launch a simultaneous nuclear raid on all colonies.

50,000 humans survive.

WARNING: This post contains no spoilers from me, but I cannot be responsible for anything mentioned in the comments.

Outlook: Personally, I have watched this series 6 times.  The first few times I always picked up on something new, something that made me second guess myself on a plot line.  BSG (Battlestar Galactica) in my opinion is the best Science Fiction to hit the television screen.  This was before big blockbuster sites like Netflix existed, and HBO was still pushing dramas such as The Sopranos.  BSG was released on the SyFy network, filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, with a modest budget.

To my knowledge, BSG is one of the first shows to take the viewer beyond what they see.  The show makes you think for yourself, to come to your own conclusions, or discuss things with friends.  The depth of the show was unmatched for many years.  Comparable only to something as complex as 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Terminator for example. A brilliant movie.  The viewer is presented with an AI from the future, who comes to destroy the past, preventing a one ‘John Connor’ from leading a human resistance.  But with those two facts, is where the movie turns to more action than science fiction drama.  We have our protagonist, our antagonist, and away we go.

BSG leaves us with a sense of wonderment.  Humans created a machine, that evolved on its own, and adapted.  This could potentially be 100 years after the first machine we create passes the Turing test.  We have developed AI so advanced, we doomed ourselves.

With only 50,000 humans surviving the Cylon holocaust, writer Ronald Moore shows us humanities true nature.  Both the good, and bad.  Moore shows the audience a true reality of “what would we actually do if this happened today?

Religion plays a large role in the BSG universe, and a necessary one.  Remember, when all hope for humanities survival is lost, what do most of us do, even ones who are undecided on religion? They turn to God.  Whether that be a single entity or many, every individual is different and of course has the right to choose.

Hope is a powerful thing.

Most of us in desperate times, look to God, or speak to the sky, asking for answers.  However, those same people never look to God when things are going well.  A religious person may argue that reason is alone, is why things are going bad for you.

Religion is always challenged, and it is no different in BSG.  The military has a plan, while the people have one too.  Who is right? Who makes the call when only 50,000 humans exist? One bad call could wipe out the species.

There is so much I would like to give an opinion on, but the last thing I want to do for someone who perhaps clicks on this post without actually seeing the series, is ruin it for them.  I would love to discuss my thoughts on certain episodes or even the premise as a whole, but I don’t want to take that chance.

With a show such as this, a show I believe to be so perfectly executed, I can’t leave anything to chance.  For any true science fiction fan, this show may change the way you perceive humanities future.  That may sound extreme, but it is true.

AI is a rising hot topic in today’s world.  As it should be, as technology increases at an alarming rate, it is easy to see how we could falter.  Some believe we are far away from a sentient machines, others not so much.  I don’t mean people like you and I, but the top 1% of our world.  DeepMind has already beat the best Go players in the world, with ease, and is now embed into Google’s architecture.

For now, sentient AI is true science fiction.  But hot damn! It sure is interesting.

To this day, the BSG official forums are a buzz with activity, and the subreddit of /r/BSG is no different.

BSG is the type of show that can ignite a discussion for hours.  If you are a die-hard fan, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the series.  Whether it be on the comments below, or if you want to send me some mail.

Featured image courtesy of “SyFy”

Black Mirror: San Junipero

Synopsis: The year is 1987, and San Junipero is a blossoming party town.  Lavish night clubs, beautiful beaches, and city lights.  It is here we follow Yorkie, a young woman visiting San Junipero.  Yorkie, being naturally shy, is unsure what to make of this posh city.  She meets a regular named Kelly, and they begin to fall in love, and share the city of San Junipero together.

But is it all too good to be true?

WARNING: Spoilers ahead …

Outlook: Black Mirror, once again, showing its true Sci Fi form with this “Total Recall”-esque feel.  I didn’t know what to make of this episode on my initial viewing.  Half way through, I paused and made some food, thinking I would come back to it later.  What made me come back, was actually how well the director and cinematographer put everything together.  The sets, the music, the lights – it was surreal.  Because it had to be.

San Junipero is really the predecessor to a “Dyson Sphere“.  What if when we die, we can choose whether we continue to thrive for eternity in a world created just for us, or truly die and let the sea of blackness wash over us.  This is eerily close to the other episode which I wrote about, Playtest.  We, as human beings, are ever searching for the answers to an afterlife, now more than ever thanks to advancements in technology.  Hell, you and I could even be in a Dyson Sphere right now, we have no way to prove we are not.  This is the only reality we know.  Strange thought, yes?

The world of San Junipero exists in the cloud, to which that would prove complicated for the thousands of residents.  We are not told what safeguards are used, so really, every day in blissful Junipero could be your last.  That is left for the viewer to decide.  Perhaps a more broad thesis could be explored.

San Junipero was praised not only for its writing, but it has an ending that is far brighter than other episodes of Black Mirror.  Personally, I prefer the darker side of the series, but to each their own.

Black Mirror: Playtest

Synopsis: Playtest takes a look at our not too distant future.  In fact, what we see technically takes place in present time.  We are always looking for the next big technology, the next .com boom or the next Google.  What can developers do to set them above the rest? Why is gaming so addicting? In this episode of Black Mirror, one can find out.

Connor is on a mission to find himself.  Travelling the world, enjoying life, and trying to escape the world he left behind in America.  Low on finds, he uses “Odd Job” to be a guinea pig for a new VR simulator, at England’s biggest game development firm.

Enthralled by an easy, interactive demo, Connor (chasing the adrenaline) agrees to go further with the experiment.  The architect of the game, a Japanese developer known around the world for his horror games, agrees Connor is the perfect candidate to test the VR system.

Outlook: For someone like myself, who enjoys reading about technology, science fiction, and most importantly the advancement of AI, this episode really stuck with me.  I mean, waking up at 3am unable to go back to sleep for hours, thinking about the world we see around us.  Elon Musk even believes we are living in a simulation.  Why? Looking at the scale of video games, it is easy to see why one may think so.  A mere  37 years ago, Japan gave us “Pac-Man.”  Ten years later, in 1990, we got “Final Fantasy,” “Super Mario 3,” and the “Mega Man” series.

These were huge leaps in technology, going from top down arcade style games, and blasting into 2D and even 3D gaming.  In as little as ten years.

From there, we are now into full immersion gaming, whether it be a VR system or a $3,000 rig running Titan cards.  We are always pushing the boundary of entertainment.  This is why scientists believe we could be in a simulation.  If we are progressing this quickly, who’s to say we aren’t a brain in a tank? Well, we have no way to prove we are not, and that’s why it’s easy to either dismiss or accept.  You and I have no idea what “another life” would feel like, or look like.  This same concept was used in 1999’s “The Matrix.”

Dan Brown applies the same principle in his book “Angels & Demons” which was adapted into a film, starring Tom Hanks (2009). Brown used the fact that the human population has been exploding at a rate Earth cannot sustain.  In his book, he believes that there will be 37 billion people on the planet based on the current human birth trend.  However, the UN debunked this some years ago.

As far as TV shows go, this is some of the best science fiction I have seen since Battlestar Galactica.

Featured image courtesy of “Netflix”