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Internet of Stranger Things: 'Black Mirror' tackles horrors of augmented reality in new Netflix episode

*Spoiler Alert: Some plot details from the episode will be discussed.*

Netflix is now in the business of Black Mirror, and one of its newest villains shares qualities with Pokémon Go. Earlier today, a new episode from the upcoming anthology series premiered at New York Comic Con,

The episode, Playtest, centers around an American tourist named Cooper — played by Wyatt Russell — who agrees to test out a new interactive augmented reality system from a gaming company. He does so in order to make money to return home, after his funds were stolen by a cyber thief. The system is a network of devices able to tap into Cooper’s brain, and by using a neural net, learn and adapt to his fears. This leads to the creation of “the most personal survival horror game in history,” according to one of the characters.

Netflix attained the rights to Black Mirror from British broadcaster Channel 4 — the show’s original home — earlier this year. Within the first 5 minutes of Playtest, it becomes abundantly clear that Black Mirror as a Netflix original makes more changes beyond offering the ability to binge on show creator Charlie Brooker’s dystopia. This is by far the funniest and cleanest looking installment of any previous Black Mirror episode, with a resemblance to the cynical but light Netflix dramedy Love. The Comic Con crowd raucously laughed for nearly half of the episode, as Cooper’s blissful ignorance had him blowing on his debit card thinking the ATM would then read he had money in his account, when he does not.

The comedy and lack of direction early on was jarring at first and it is not until nearly halfway through the episode are we introduced to the source of the terror. The episode does not throw you into a futuristic and/or ominous setting out the gate. There are no memory scanning devices, as found in the episode The Entire History of You, or any fearful main character trying to figure out where they are, as in White Bear. But once the terror tech appears, Dan Trachtenberg directs some of the most viscerally engrossing and gory scenes of the entire series. By the end, you’ll be wishing Cooper’s mother would stop calling him so much, as her son did in the episode — another example of Brooker toying with our expectations.

Black Mirror episodes usually offer commentary on the issues at hand, but never truly take one side. Before the wave of horror appears in the episode, one of the characters explains a tidbit about theories of the mind playing tricks when it is not stimulated by distractions like cell phones or the internet. Is our dependence on technology a natural consequence of our seemingly innate desire to escape boredom? Even after the technology of the episode wrecks havoc, that question not only lingers, but sends your mind spiraling down an all too familiar rabbit hole of existential conundrums, like every other Black Mirror episode.

The new season of Black Mirror is set to explore computer hacking, holograms, social media, the military in a post-war future, and the series’ first ever 90-minute episode. House of Cards star Michael Kelly and star of the new Roots TV series, Malachi Kirby, are among the actors starring in the new season. Booker is even developing scripts for the next six episodes of Black Mirror set to debut next year. If the warm round of applause the episode received at Comic Con is any indication, Netflix should expect positive reactions when the six episodes from the new Black Mirror season premiere on October 21.

Keith Nelson Jr.
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Keith Nelson Jr is a music/tech journalist making big pictures by connecting dots. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY he…
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