The final episode of season 4 is a homage to all the episodes that came before it, but besides the clever references to past technologies from the series, Black Museum is a rushed mini-anthology episode (reminiscent of White Christmas) that relies on cheap thrills and light-gore to excite the audience – although it is saved by its twist ending, Black Museum is a shallow attempt at nailing in the prevailing themes of the series; providing possible closure to the Black Mirror, but without any notable bang.
We follow a young woman Nish (Letitica Wright) as she travels across a desert, stopping to solar-charge her electric car when it runs out of energy. While waiting, Nish approaches and enters Rolo Haynes’ Black Museum, which sits near the gas station she stopped by. The proprietor, Rolo Haynes (Douglas Hodge) himself, greets her and agrees to give her an early tour, as the museum isn’t yet open for the day.
Rolo explains that his museum is packed with criminological artefacts; evidence or devices or items that have been used to commit the most heinous of crimes in the modern age, which also happen to be items from a number of previous Black Mirror episodes (a list of Easter Eggs can be found below). Rolo makes specific mention of three exhibits that we have not seen before (exhibits which directly led to him starting the museum), telling Nish the story of each.
One story details how, when Rolo worked in neurological research, he convinced a doctor to take on a neurological implant which enabled him to feel the exact pain that patients were feeling; so as to better diagnose and treat them. A malfunction at some stage caused this doctor to feel pleasure instead of pain from this device, leading him down a dark path which led to abusing his girlfriend, self-mutilation, and the murder of a homeless man – the doctor is now in a coma.
The second story involves a young couple, who after having a child, are faced with a difficult choice after the wife is hit by a vehicle and put into a coma: her consciousness can be uploaded in to the mind of her husband, allowing her to feel what he feels, see and hear what he does, and talk to him from inside his mind. They start out happy, but eventually having his wife permanently in his mind (constantly monitoring him, talking to him, or fighting with him) prompts the husband to get an upgrade which allows him to mute her, which leads to further degradation in their relationship. Eventually, he resettles and, at the request of his new partner, further limits his wife’s engagement with the world – they upload her consciousness into a stuffed monkey toy, and her only ways of interacting with her growing son are buttons which say “Monkey wants a hug” when happy, or “Monkey loves you” when sad. The monkey now resides in the museum, as it is illegal to destroy an object housing a human consciousness.
Frequently throughout the episode, and partly owing to the fact that the air conditioning is not working, Rolo has coughing fits and experiences moments of severe dehydration. Finally, Rolo reveals the final and central attraction of the museum to Nish. A digital clone of a death-row convict resides in a prison-cell like room, and guests are able to pull a lever that shocks him in the manner of a shock-chair, so much so as to make him experience intense pain, but not so much as to kill him. Although never proven guilty, Rolo does not doubt that the black convict committed the crime he was put on death-row for, and Rolo took pleasure in devising the system this man is trapped in now. While it used to attract crowds of visitors, Rolo’s main clients are white-supremacist and sadistic types who take pleasure in making the digital copy of this man suffer. He urges Nish to take a pull, but then enters another coughing fit, and the final twist is revealed – Nish is the daughter of the man in the cell, a man who was innocent and a loving father; for his birthday, she and her mother (whose consciousness resides in Nish in a similar manner to the second story, after the mother overdosed on pills) came to the Black Museum to punish Rolo, and set her father free. The episode ends with Nish mercy killing her father, killing Rolo, taking the monkey with her (it says “Monkey loves you” to her; cute), and burning down the museum – all to the praise of her mother.
The surprise ending here genuinely excited me, and I was very pleased at all the references made throughout (you can see a list of them below) – Black Museum is a clever counterpart to White Christmas, as both are mini-anthology episodes, but Black Museum is far darker; and rightly so. It is what it is – a museum of the dark pieces of technology that have fuelled the series. A museum of Black Mirror. Some speculate that this is the end of Black Mirror as we know it. The show hasn’t been renewed, and the burning of all the artefacts could very well physically symbolise the end of this chapter in television. It could also send a hopeful message: we’ve seen all the horrors that technology could bring – in so many sectors (warfare, entertainment, dating, virtual reality, the afterlife, politics, security, recollection, enhancement) – so let’s be done with that, let’s burn the bridge to that future, and work towards a brighter tomorrow. I suspect we’ll see more from the series, but this episode provided enough closure for me to be comfortable if it turns out that Charlie Brooker is closing this book.
However, there was a lot wrong with this episode. The stories never felt fleshed out, the third story was about 5-minutes long (so not enough for me to really get invested in the convict we are led to feel sympathetic for), and the first story was just bad. It relied on gore and crude humour to tell a tale of technology gone wrong, and half of the time felt like a Saw instalment – which is never a good thing. The second story was the only one I truly cared about or found interesting, but it was too riddled with toilet humour and nit-picky arguing. I felt like there was space for serious depth in the tale of two parents trying to raise a child in their peculiar circumstance, but it hardly ever touched such quandaries and chose to rely on a shallow tale of a degrading couple. That’s why I cannot in good faith rank this episode as one of Black Mirror’s best – the ending is cool, the references are great, but the centre bulk of the episode is just shallow. The technology of the first story doesn’t even feature in the conclusion, which really begs the question as to why it was even included. It kind of feels like Charlie Brooker had some light tales he wanted to bring into Black Mirror, that didn’t warrant full episodes; and were subsequently crammed into the season finale. I expected more, in this regard, from Black Museum.
Side Thoughts and Observations (Feat. All the Easter Eggs):
- The DNA Scanner from USS Callister is present, including Tommy’s lollipop.
- The cracked Arkangel tablet from Arkangel is on display.
- One of the ADI bees from Hated in the Nation rests on a stand.
- We see a mannequin of the masked hunter from White Bear, as a well as a display featuring Victoria Skillane.
- The bloody bathtub from Crocodile (where Mia bludgeoned Shazia’s husband) has its own display.
- There is an entire exhibit featuring the hanging body of artist Carlton Bloom in his workshop – he was the guy who kidnapped the princess in The National Anthem. A newsreel also reads “PM Callow Marries Pig”.
- There are Game of Thrones-style face moulds of all the Black Mirror creators present in one hallway.
- We a copy of Harlech Shadow, the horror game from Playtest.
- Rolo has two lab rats named Hector and Kenny, who were the two main characters in Shut Up and Dance.
- Rolo worked at TCKR systems, the company which developed San Junipero (from San Junipero), but before that he worked at St. Juniper hospital – did he perhaps help create it? Additionally, the dresses worn by Yorkie and Kelly are in the museum – although they didn’t commit any crimes…
- The charging station Nish uses is called BRB Connect – a possible reference to Be Right Back.
- Rolo references ‘cookies’, one of the bits of technology from White Christmas.
- There is a graphic novel called 15M Merits in one of the mini-anthology stories; a definite reference to Fifteen Million Merits.
- It’s a shame there wasn’t a reference to every single episode (or maybe there were and I didn’t pick them up) – the unreferenced were: The Entire History of You, The Waldo Moment, Nosedive, Men Against Fire, Hang the DJ, Metalhead.