Spoilers for the Black Mirror Season 4 episode "Hang The DJ" ahead.
When Black Mirror hit Netflix, many called it the British millennial-age answer to The Twilight Zone that would make you want to throw your smartphone into the nearest body of water. However, recent seasons have included a few stories that take on a surprisingly hopeful tone. If you're wondering which episode won't make you utterly depressed, just know that "Hang The DJ" is Black Mirror Season 4's version of "San Junipero."
Like "San Junipero's" virtual retirement community that allows aging singles to reclaim their youth, "Hang The DJ" also focuses on dating, romance, and the value of using technology to find "the one" partner for life. Both episodes give you a couple to root for and 'ship, and both basically have happy endings. "Hang The DJ" is initially about two people who live in a dating community and have relationships with pre-determined expiration dates, which allows the system to learn about their preferences. It is in this setting that Frank (Joe Cole) and Amy (Georgina Campbell) meet and are drawn to one another, though the program they have ascribed to seems to disagree.
You think the episode is creating a situation like The Lobster, a feature-length takedown of dating culture that took place in a similarly isolated community where single people are forced to find mates, but it's actually much more complicated. There's a bit of an Inception-type situation going on; an app within an app. After Amy and Frank escape, we learn that that escape is the real application, and that in the real world, they are two people who have been matched with 98.8 percent compatibility about to embark on a first date. It's just that the percentage represents how many times, in the simulations, they chose to rebel against the system and be with one another.
Their epic romance ultimately amounts to ones and zeroes, but in kind of a lovely way. Confused? The ending is definitely up for interpretation, but that's one theory.
The two episodes are also two of the only ones in the show's canon that present audiences with a technology that they might actually want to try. Wouldn't you like a dating app that measures compatibility in terms of risk-taking, experience, and gut feeling rather than arbitrary interests and survey answers? And wouldn't you like to live out your afterlife in the '80s with Gugu Mbatha-Raw?
Optimism is certainly a new sensation for fans of the show. Episodes that deal with romance and relationships in previous seasons of Black Mirror certainly weren't this hopeful. The Season 1 episode "Fifteen Million Merits," which stars Jessica Brown Findlay and Daniel Kaluuya, dooms its star-crossed lovers to an even worse dystopian existence than the one they started in. "The Entire History Of You" shows a marriage collapsing thanks to technology meant to make communication easier, and takes our tendency to scrutinize the details in relationships to an upsetting extreme. "White Christmas," the Black Mirror holiday special, will have you so depressed about men (not to mention everything else) that you'll want to move to a bunker yourself.
The only close comparison is Season 2's "Be Right Back," which stars Hayley Atwell as a woman who orders a robot version of her dead boyfriend (played by Domhnall Gleeson) that's created from his social media data. Even that episode has a melancholy ending, just one that will have you believing more strongly in the value of love, connection, and even conflict.
Does the show's creator feel pressured now to include an episode in the vein of "San Junipero" after that episode's wildly positive reception? After all, the episode won two Primetime Emmy Awards, and there was even demand for a "San Junipero sequel," though according to The Hollywood Reporter, while creator Charlie Brooker considered it, it ultimately didn't come to fruition. And while "Hang The DJ" is not a sequel, perhaps it is another "conscious effort to blow up what I thought a Black Mirror episode was," which is how Brooker described the writing process for "San Junipero" to THR.
"I did think," Brooker says in an interview with Bustle about writing the show in 2016 and beyond, "'How many people will want to watch extremely bleak nihilistic stuff?'" For that reason, there has been a larger variety of tones in the past two seasons, and that could account for those episodes that make a technology-driven future look not that bad.
Or, perhaps, love is winning out and cynicism is dying. Crazier things have happened, even on Black Mirror.