I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. I bet when Bing Crosby sang that his vision was about as far removed from Charlie Brooker’s one as you could get. There’s only been a few Black Mirror episodes over the years, each taking a look at a not-too-distant future and our uneasy relationship with technology, but they’ve all been quietly affecting.
In a slightly disturbed way I’ve come to look forward to them. Probably because the writing, concepts and performances are just so compelling. And as their notoriety grows the calibre of established actors that want to be on board grows too. That’s not to say some brilliant up-and-comers haven’t featured in an episode or two (Jessica Brown Findlay, Hayley Atwell, Domhnall Gleeson, Toby Kebbell).
With this Christmas special we start in a kitchen with Jon Hamm’s character Matt trying to engage Rafe Spall’s reclusive Joe in conversation. We don’t know why they are there, but each allude to the fact they’ve done bad things in their past. Are they in prison? Purgatory? Self-imposed exile?
It’s Christmas so Matt suggests they have dinner and proceeds to tell Joe his story. One which involves Matt providing real-time dating advice to a young chap which quickly takes a turn for the worse. He then proceeds to explain his day job: a sort of salesman/account manager who’s tasked with setting up an artificial intelligence programme involving Oona Chaplin’s Greta – in another disturbing yet highly plausible story.
As each story feeds into the other Joe begins to open up, slowly sharing the experience which led to him being where he is now. So what begins as a straight up tale of a failed relationship gradually gets darker and darker, until the brutal reveal at the bitter end. You’d expect nothing less from Charlie Brooker right?
Jon Hamm does well driving the plot along initially. His natural, easy charisma allowing Joe to tentatively start talking. And Spall is a bit of revelation in terms of his performance. The anguish and self-loathing his character goes through is heartbreaking and thoroughly convincing.
As ever, Brooker’s standards as a writer remain high and he explores some intriguing themes and concepts. His characters are well realised and he makes you care about what will become of them. The casting no doubt helped. Both Hamm and Spall showcase their acting chops in maybe a way we’ve not seen before and they work well together.
If you’re a fan of previous Black Mirror episodes, this will be right up your street. If you’re new to Brooker and his dark and twisted world, this is a TV experience that will be worth your time. Just know that you’ll be going to the dark side and it will be a gruelling – albeit rewarding – experience once you see it through.