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To be a fan of Black Mirror is to be a fan of being repeatedly emotionally scarred episode after episode. If you’ve seen one episode of Charlie Brooker‘s warped anthology series, you know what to expect. Each story starts with some new technology that’s supposed to help people, but really doesn’t because people are unreliable garbage who don’t know what they want. That’s why this latest season of the sci-fi horror series is so interesting. There’s hope lurking beneath the surface of Black Mirror Season 4, and no where is that more apparent than in the episode “Hang the DJ.” Spoilers ahead.
If “San Junipero” was the show’s attempt at fully formed and heart-breaking romance, then “Hang the DJ” is clearly what a rom-com looks like in this warped tech universe. The episode follows Frank (Joe Cole), who is perhaps one of the most relatable Black Mirror protagonists of all time. He’s snarky, sarcastic, and very much single. To remedy that last problem, he joins a dating app known only as “the System,” which promises to connect users to their soulmates, but only if they follow the app’s instructions to the letter. After his first time using the app, Frank is connected to Amy (Georgina Campbell), another first time user who’s just as fun-loving as he is snarky. It’s love at first swipe, and the rest of the episode revolves around Frank and Amy navigating through some truly terrible relationships while they try to find each other again.
Whereas other Black Mirror episodes choose to lean heavily on the technology at their center, “Hang the DJ” doesn’t. Until the episode’s very end, the System is merely portrayed as a more intense and demanding backdrop for dating in the modern age. Because of this the drama, tension, and levity of the episode relies completely on its central characters. Watching Frank wait out his second assigned relationship, which involves the humorless and constantly disappointed Nicola ( Gwyneth Keyworth), is hilarious in the painfully funny way highly relatable mistakes can be. Who hasn’t stayed in a relationship well past its emotional expiration date? Amy’s love life is equally fun to watch. Though her blissful relationship with the handsome and charming Lenny (George Blagden) starts as a fairy tale, it ends as a exercise in constant frustration. Add in a well-deserved montage of various app-assigned hookups, and “Hang the DJ” stands as one of the most relatable Black Mirror episodes for anyone who has had to endure the horrors of dating in the digital age.
But underneath the well-timed grimaces and the plethora of sexual encounters, there’s something sweet to “Hang the DJ.” The System y stand a chance beyond five years, but there’s a sense of understanding and chemistry between them that makes it seem like it would be worthwhile for them to try for longer. Because of that underlying hope, when Frank goes back on his promise to Amy and checks their expiration date without her, you understand why it happens. Yes, it’s a terrible thing to do, and yes, Amy is justified in her outrage, but the moment captures that impulsive, crazy, and somewhat misguided hope that always seems to guide humans to make terrible romantic decisions.
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That same underlying hope also works to justify the biggest twist of the episode. Because Frank’s Coach (Gina Bramhill) has been so clear that there will be consequences if anyone defies the System’s rules and because Black Mirror has never been a TV universe where nice things are allowed to happen, you know that something terrible is around the corner when Frank and Amy run away together. However, when that terrible thing involves uploading their consciousness into a void with countless other rebellious couples, it doesn’t seem all that bad. Ultimately Frank and Amy are together – something that they wanted from the first few seconds of the episode.
It’s unclear if this is really a punishment or if its secretly for the best. y will grow to hate each other like Amy and Lenny once did. Maybe something worse lies in their future. However, “Hang the DJ” ultimately celebrates the rebellious and impulsive choices humans make that separates us from machines. During this app-driven romantic age, there’s something instantly charming about that reminder, even if it comes from the vortex of paranoia and terror that is Black Mirror.