This post contains spoilers for the "Hang the DJ" episode of Black Mirror in season 4.
Nothing Black Mirror does is by accident, so the fact that season 4, episode 4 "Hang the DJ" is a reference to a lyric in the Smiths song "Panic" should be telling. A song in which Morrissey sings about burning down a disco because he hates what the DJ has decided to play probably doesn't seem like the inspiration behind one of the rare optimistic episode Black Mirror gives fans this season. Yet it is; the song, like the episode, is all about rebelling against a system that doesn't always get it right.
We join Frank (Joe Cole) and Amy (Georgina Campbell) as they're meeting for a first date in a restaurant. It's clear there is something special between these two, who have met through a dating app that, with help from a "coach," leads you to your perfect match.
This app (ominously called "The System") takes all of the surprises out of dating by telling you right from the start how long your relationship will last with a person, claiming that even the briefest of encounters "happen for a reason." It's relatable commentary for our TMI world where before going on a date you can Google someone and follow them on Twitter and Instagram, not to mention stalk their Facebook. By the time you sit down for that first date, you could already be well-acquainted with a stranger. In fact, you might already be on to the next one, swiping right to find your next match if you feel this one isn't quite good enough.
That notion that there's always something better out there rendering most relationships disposable is a cynical one, and Black Mirror tackles it by looking at how technology can make dating feel like a video game. You go through one level to get to the other — in this case, quite literally. With The System, every date a person goes on gets them one step closer to their soulmate. They have to go through the motions to earn love, not unlike the way Mario has to collect coins to get an extra life.
While Black Mirror could have gone all in on this depressing take on the state of romance in 2017, it instead chooses to look at the bright side of love. At the side that can be quantified or fixed by an algorithm. There is no easy way to find your true love, you just have to go through it.
Frank and Amy spend their first date, which will expire in just 12 hours, nervously making small talk, which turns into shit talk, literally. They question whether they should sleep together, choosing, to lay side-by-side holding hands, instead. After saying goodbye and moving on to the next relationship — his terrible one is destined to last a year, while hers is a nine-month fling — they realise they want another date. Damn what the app says.
The two end up rebelling against what their coaches tell them, but the twist is that the two have been living in a simulation. It's all been a test of their bond and they have passed with nearly flying colours since they have rebelled together 998 times out of a thousand simulations. They are soulmates IRL, despite the fact that their romance has only played out in The System. It's only in the final moments of the episode in which the real Frank and Amy discover they are a nearly perfect match (they're 99% compatible) in this very big world. A sign that not all love is disposable even in the technology-obsessed dating landscape.
The episode, which will surely melt even the coldest of hearts, has already been compared to last season's feel-good episode "San Junipero," which ends with two elderly women choosing to live in a simulation together for all eternity than die alone. It's something executive producer Annabel Jones thoroughly denied to The Wrap, noting that this ending was right for this story.
“There’s a loneliness running through a lot of the show," she said. "So it felt right that these two people come together at the end and that there is some sort of sense of hope and that they do belong together and there is a sort of love will prevail attitude. So it absolutely felt right for the story.”
What also felt right is that caveat that the technology still played a role in their love connection. "So though there’s an algorithm that brought them together," co-creator Charlie Brooker told Entertainment Weekly, "and now they’re about to take the first step on that journey together."
I would agree, that sadness in "Hang The DJ" is what makes it different than that particular Black Mirror episode, but it's what makes it a lot like Eternal Sunshine Of A Spotless Mind. In the 2004 movie, Clementine (Kate Winslet) goes through a medical procedure that erases her ex Joel (Jim Carrey) from her mind completely. He, in turn, decides to do the same, but in the end, they just can't seem to forget each other. Their lives are intertwined in ways they didn't realise. They are destined to be together and experience the good, the bad, and the ugly.
That seems to be a theme in "Hang The DJ." The simulated versions of Frank and Amy can't deny their chemistry, but they do because it's what The System tells them. After all, this dating app is supposed to know what's best for them. The coach often repeats "everything happens for a reason" as the reason for why Frank and Amy can't be together. It's a saying that invokes logic, not love, but the idea that this technology is omniscient is comforting, even if it's untrue. There's this sense that it will all be okay, so why stray away from that?
Black Mirror gives us a compelling reason why we should follow our instincts and be willing to take a chance on something we feel strongly about. You can fool your brain, but you just can't fool your heart and with "Hang The DJ" we're given a good reason for why we should start listening to it.
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