Black Mirror: 301 “Nosedive” Review
Reviewed by Ryan Monty.
(This review continues spoilers. Read on if that doesn’t bother you!)
2016 has been a bit of a downer year for most. No matter where you live, most people have had a few slices of misery piled on top of them, with here in England alone everything from Brexit to The Great British Bake Off jumping ship from the BBC to Channel 4 leaving a sour taste, alongside every single even slightly famous person you ever cared about passing away. Yes, there’s certainly a feeling that some nice rays of sunshine would raise the mood as the year reaches its close (although with the US election rearing its head, who knows). And as the clocks go back and the cold nights draw in, what better to warm the soul than six more crushing episodes of everyone’s favourite downer TV show, Black Mirror? Uncle Charlie Brooker is back to spread some much-needed cheer! (or not).
With Netflix purchasing the show, the scope and budget for this, the show’s third series, has naturally expanded largely, with the money Netflix has pumped in allowing Charlie and producer Annabel Jones to take their oft nightmarish visions to new levels. There was of course the worry of many that the show would lose the often intimately horrifying feel of some of the episodes and the unique Britishness Black Mirror had ingrained in its DNA, but rest assured that series three easily features some of the all-time greatest Black Mirror we’ve seen.
In the first episode of the new series, Nosedive, we’re treated to a future that seems all too close for comfort; one where society revolves around a ratings system out of 5 stars, with higher rated people coveted on the social scale and lower rated people shunned and ostracized. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Lacie, a go-getter climbing the social scale who gets invited to her high 4 rated school best friend Naomi’s wedding as maid of honour. Seeing this as a chance to boost her rating to the sky and allow her to buy a swanky new house (that only higher 4’s can purchase) she agrees to go, and of course this being Black Mirror everything from here on is a slippery slope as Lacie’s actions, small or large, cause her to slide down the system.
Anyone comfortable with the TV show Community will instantly recognise this concept from Series 5’s MeowMeowBeenz episode, where Greendale was taken over by the craze of a new app that ranked all students and lecturers on a scale of 5. There has been plenty of discussion already about how this concept may not be the subtlest, but that’s evading the point; Black Mirror has never been too subtle. It needs to be in-your-face to get the point across. And, especially for something like this, staring you completely and totally in the face was the only way forward. The reality of society in Nosedive is one that makes you feel dirty and uncomfortable almost from the word go, such is its proximity to things we see day to day in society already, with Lacie uploading a carefully arranged photo of her morning cookie and coffee to a social media network to get an early morning ratings boost, much like many already do on Instagram. All through the episode this awkward feeling never dissipates, with Instagram and the taxi service Uber (which allows passengers and drivers to rate each other) two real life parallels that already skirt close to the societal norms presented in Nosedive.
The character of Lacie is a fascinating one, with BDH playing her on an awkward two-faced knife edge, forced to keep up appearances at most times to simply exist in this rating obsessed world. Her brother whom she lives with, played wonderfully by James Norton, is happy to stay out of the limelight and live an honest life where he says his own mind and play videogames with his friends, content with his 3.7 rating while Lacie tries desperately to escape her 4.2. It’s this contrast that provides Nosedive with its early drive, as Norton’s character Ryan calls Lacie out on her façade persistently. Alice Eve as Lacie’s friend Naomi is the amalgamation of every “plastic” attention-obsessed person out there in society. However Bryce Dallas Howard confidently takes pride of place, an early scene of her practising her laugh being deeply unsettling, and acting more than anything as a true indicator of the mask that Lacie wears during this episode. Watching her act fall more and more as Nosedive progresses is a real joy, as she slowly transforms into her true, honest self, unburdened by this society’s ills anymore. Her character arc is fascinating, watching her rating fall and the way she is treated change, turning on a penny in scarily fast fashion. A brief sojourn with a truck driver who has happily eschewed society and lives life on a low rating saying what she wants provides us with the greatest insight into Lacie’s character, and how in this society there is a constant pressure to stay active online, and how quick one can fall off the social radar. Remind you of reality at all?
Being the first episode of the new series, Nosedive had to come out of the blocks with a mission statement, and true of the reality of the improved budget and scope, the episode both looks and sounds exceptional, with film director Joe Wright (whose studio film disaster Pan can now be thoroughly forgiven and forgotten) bringing a great sense of scale and a series of striking images throughout. Nosedive has a pastille, Barbie-fake sterility in its world that permeates through and matches up with the clean, always-smiling facades of most of the world’s inhabitants, all helped by Max Richter’s excellent ethereal, thoughtful score, which in superb fashion incorporates the “down star” sound effect as Lacie’s rating plummets.
Aesthetically as well as thematically, you simply can’t knock Black Mirror series 3’s opening gambit. The skin-crawlingly close to home society presented is one that leaves heavy lasting thoughts, a world that may not be far away at all from complete reality. Nosedive ratchets up the intensity at a pace that leaves you breathless and by the time you reach the cathartic, totally unforgettable humanist ending where Lacie lets go of her vices you’ll just maybe think twice about uploading that photo of your latte to Instagram tomorrow morning.