Part of the appeal of Black Mirror is that a casual viewer can watch just one episode and not have to worry about having missed anything that came before it. It’s a true anthology science fiction show in the tradition of The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. But in a culture hungry for shared universes and sly Easter eggs that reference a larger continuity, Black Mirror doesn’t disappoint. It just doesn’t broadcast these connections as obviously as some other interconnected popular fiction.
But do references in some Black Mirror episodes — including the just-aired Season 4 — actually mean this is meant to be a literal shared universe? Well, it’s debatable. On the one hand, it’s really cool if this all is a shared universe. But on the other hand, believing in too much interconnection sort of ruins the basic elegance of the show.
Mild spoilers for Black Mirror Season 4 ahead.
Overwhelmingly, the narrative of any given Black Mirror episode focuses on technology, so it’s a good place to start in trying to establish an interconnected universe. In the fourth season episode “Arkangel” we see technology which allows digital recordings of events witnessed by human eyes to be stored in some a kind of grain wheel, which has an archives that looks exactly the same as the episode 1st season episode “The Entire History of You.” In “Arkangel” this technology is used in conjunction with a baby monitor on steroids, but in “The Entire HIstory of You,” this tech in integrated into most people’s daily life. So, we could decide that “Arkangel” is the infancy of this tech, and “The Entire History of You,” takes place in its future. The only problem there is that it doesn’t seem like the tech is catching on in “Arkangel,” at least not in the small town where we see Sarah and her mother.
There’s also a similar timeline gap in the new episode “Crocodile.” Briefly, we see an ad for pornography about “Wraith Babes.” This obviously references the doped-up “Wraith Babes” in the 1st season episode “Fifteen Million Merits.” But again, in “Crocodile,” it doesn’t seem like the entire world is controlled by the bizarre reality TV show that dominates everyone lives in “Fifteen Million Merits.” So, we could assume “Crocodile” is the past of the horrible future of “Fifteen Million Merits.” Maybe.
Then there’s that new dating app from “Hang the DJ.” In the opening moments of “USS Callister,” the receptionist at Daley and Walton’s company is using the exact same app. Plus, the interface Daley uses in “USS Callister” are little white buds that look similar to the devices used to upload the brains of Yorkie and Kelly to the cloud in “San Junipero.” This connection is a bit easier. If Daley can digitally clone co-workers from one dab of saliva, it makes sense he lives in the same world in which Yorkie and Kelly can live perpetual lives forever in the a digital heaven cloud.
The fourth season also contains a rosetta stone of nearly all of Black Mirror in the new episode “Black Museum.” From those notorious robot bees from “Hated in the Nation,” to the cracked screen from “Arkangel” and verbal references to “San Junipero,” this episode seems to suggest that yes, there is some kind of crossroads where a vast majority of these stories connect, at least partially.
Psychological Universe = Multiverse?
In 2016, Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker confirmed on Reddit that many of the episodes “take place in the same psychological universe, certainly.” So, in a sense, this could be taken as the definitive answer as to the “canon” of Black Mirror. Is it a shared universe: yes, but only in your head.
However, that doesn’t mean fans couldn’t construct some of kind personal canon which allows for the technology of “Arkangel” to evolve to “The Entire History of You,” or for “Crocodile” to connect to “Fifteen Million Merits.” Maybe these aren’t in the same universe, but all part of a multiverse consisting of various — but connected — alternate realities. In one reality, different tech developed at different times. Maybe certain innovations caught on in one reality that didn’t catch on in another.
Does it Matter?
As Black Mirror goes on, it probably won’t be able to resist to continuously making references to itself. Because let’s be honest, that’s the nature of successful long-running series, in any media, ever. The longer a thing lasts, the harder it is to stay original, which means the writing tends to rely more and more on callbacks to previous stories, or rehashes of similar concepts. This tendency is true of everything from Sherlock Holmes short stories to Star Wars movies. Eventually, a great thing can end up as bundle of references to itself. If you’ve ever listened to an Oasis album from 1995, and then one from 2005, you’ll understand how this works perfectly.
However, the one thing insulating Black Mirror from becoming just a narrative farm of self-referential easter eggs is simple. Though we tend to think of the show along sci-fi technological lines, its stories still rely on characters. And, in literally every single case, the specific and interesting stories about the characters in each Black Mirror story are completed satisfactorily by the end of the episode. You’re not wondering if Bryce Dallas Howard will get out of jail at the end of “Nosedive.” Nor do you need to see what becomes of Kelly and Yorkie in their eternal ‘80s heaven in “San Junipero.” And so on.
If the 5th season of Black Mirror features the return of the Prime Minister from “The National Anthem” and the story focuses on him, then we’ll be in a true shared universe for sure. But until that, or something similar happens, most of these connected easter eggs are just there to mess with our minds. Just like the rest of the show.
Black Mirror season 4 is streaming now on Netflix.