From its takedown of male, nerd entitlement towards women to the exploration of a complex mother-daughter relationship, Charlie Brooker has placed females right at the centre of Black Mirror season four. In fact, every episode features a woman as its main character.
The most crucial part is that he did not just insert these female characters into trope-filled sexist situations and call that diversity — as many shows have done in the past – but rather used these characters in interesting ways to subvert what might have been expected.
The first episode of his latest season ‘USS Callister’ is a prime example of nuanced writing that tackles problems of toxic masculinity and highlights its female characters. It begins by presenting us with a familiar character — Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons) — who, in many other hands, would’ve been the protagonist. He is a white male, depicted as lonely and shunned by his fellow co-workers, longing for women who ignore him for rude guys. In other words, he is the quintessential nice guy nerd that the media has conditioned us to root for, but in Black Mirror his underlying toxic nature is revealed and he becomes the very villain his heroes might have fought against. Instead, the protagonist we get is the female expert coder Nanette (expertly played by Cristin Milioti) who’s all around badassery and refusal to give into to the creepy demands of Daly leads a ragtag crew to victory.
But what makes Brooker’s depiction of female characters so good is that he doesn’t pigeonhole them or present them only as one dimensional, the women of Black Mirror get to be the heroes and to be just a depraved as the men, if not more so, — Mia from episode ‘Crocodile’ for example — and that’s because Black Mirror isn’t just about technology, but rather uses the frame of technology to reveal the dark and seedy underbelly of humanity’s potential, and understands that – shock horror – women are a big part of humanity too, and exploring their nuances can make for gripping, critically acclaimed TV.
This isn’t a new occurrence for Black Mirror, the show won an Emmy for episode ‘San Junipero’ which was universally praised for its moving, futuristic take on a same-sex and interracial love story. Its writing is thought-provoking and diverse, without feeling like its ticking boxes and writing one dimensional ‘diverse’ characters just so it doesn’t get critiqued.
Too long has it been deemed more realistic to have devices that can read our minds or be anxious about societies’ slide into dystopia than to feature complex female characters, but Brooker proves that you can combine both to great effect. I can only hope this tradition continues in whatever horrifying and gripping episodes he pens next.