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02nd Jan 2018

Why Black Mirror’s ‘Hang the DJ’ is the gorgeous anomaly that escapes through the cracks

Nooruddean Choudry

Warning: 99.8% likelihood of spoilers.

You know what you’re getting with Black Mirror. Each episode is a warning from the not-so-distant future of the dark turns our current paths and behaviours could take. We are invited to binge on a selection of scenarios that are just believable enough to shit you right up. And of course a running theme is how good tech in bad hands can ruin everything.

If you had to sum up the constant motif in a single sentence, Jeff Goldblum’s famous line in Jurassic Park is apt: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Except in Black Mirror, Goldblum would be a murderous android slowly erasing your memories.

Part of the reason why the show is so gripping is because the storylines are at once both utterly fantastical and worryingly apposite. They take a subject with its root in today’s society, and grow it out to the furthest, most darkest timeline. It’s an old-fashioned horror serial, except with Frankenstein’s monster being the things we carry in our pockets.

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That said, you never get the sense that the show or its creators are quite as cold or twisted as some of their subject matter. The humour is dark, and the tone brutally satirical, but it’s never without heart. You empathise with the protagonists, and desperately want them to escape/survive/overcome their plight. It’s only great storytelling because you care.

Which brings us to Hang the DJ, the fourth instalment of the fourth series. The story of Amy and Frank, and their Tinder-like search for the one. In a departure from the standard macabre template, S4E4 actually has a happy ending – or at least a vaguely hopeful one. Boy meets girl; boy and girl turn out to be hypothetical avatars; boy meets girl in real life.

Charlie Brooker, the architect of these very modern nightmares, penned the episode and gifts us a rare happily-ever-after. Much like the season three ep I’m already sick of everyone comparing it to, Hang the DJ gives us hope that love can indeed conquer all. And it’s very welcome, what with real life being so shittily dystopian at the moment.

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I don’t think it’s by accident either. Brooker may have the perennial look of man chewing a pig’s vagina in the jungle and questioning his agent’s choices, but he seems like (what my Glaswegian friend describes as) a ‘right good cunt’. His heart is in the right place, and he generally gets angry over the right things. Deep down inside he probably knew we needed something wholesome and good, and duly obliged despite himself.

Fair fucks too, because Hang the DJ is very good indeed. Brilliant in fact. Brooker describes it as Black Mirror‘s rom-com, but that’s perhaps praising with faint damnation. Most attempts at romantic screenplays are cloying in the extreme; saccharine imitations of human life, written by people who have clearly never been in love…or lived as human beings on this earth. The dialogue here is wonderfully pisstakey and natural, and the love grows in a refreshingly organic way.

A lot of praise must obviously go to the lead actors. Georgina Campbell and Joe Cole have a beautiful chemistry, and are ridiculously good at portraying that subtle charge of electricity you feel when you fancy someone and start to realise they fancy you back. As the story develops, so does the bond between them, and their acting jumps a level.

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Campbell has shown her emotional range before, in the heartbreaking Murdered by My Boyfriend. Her award-winning performance as Ashley Jones took her to the depths of human suffering, and yet it is easy to forget that in that too she showed her playful, charming side (at the beginning of course). Here it is evident in shedloads, and makes falling in love with her character very quickly, very easy indeed.

But it takes two to tango and Cole is fucking amazing too, as the lost boy who cracks ‘cos he cares too much. He’s got a prettiest eyes, and somehow manages to convey hope, bewilderment, heartbreak and resolve with them without saying a word. He’d make a fantastic silent actor – even though his Manc drawl is bob on. Together, they make a clumsy, sweet, and very believable couple – albeit one that’s surely doomed because it’s Black fucking Mirror, innit…

…But not this time. Fully leveraging our default foreboding for what’s to come, the episode manages to keep up the tension with little glimpses of danger at the edges of the screen. And of course the sinister little countdowns to imminent heartbreak. You know in your gut these two people are meant to be together, but fear for what technology will have to say on the matter. In the end, technology agrees.

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It would have been so easy to plonk some human villains into the piece, but the central story is so much richer and purer because they aren’t. Lenny (George Blagden) and Nicola (Gwyneth Keyworth) are fully-rounded and believable. They are as flawed and picky as anyone, but hardly horrible people. Lenny just isn’t quite right for Amy (the under-duvet exhale is brilliant) whilst Nicola is a bit mardy granted, but wouldn’t you be if that uncomfortable first date lasted a year?

The ‘coach’ controls all, as time becomes an increasingly precious commodity. The soul-destroying months and weeks wasted with someone you don’t love – and the precious minutes and seconds beside someone you do. What is shown as the finite nature of Amy and Frank’s time together seems horribly cruel…until you remember life’s like that, and things just end.

We all assume we’d do what Frank did and unilaterally ask the coach how much time we’ve got. In reality, I doubt most of us would really want to know the expiry date of a meaningful relationship. A ticking clock would break your heart with every passing second? No ta. Best just cherish what you’ve got for as long as you’ve got it.

In the end, the rather sweet moral of Hang the DJ is don’t let anyone – or anything – stop you from being with the one you love. In a perverse way, the very suggestion that no wall or social construct should stand in the way of human affective is a pretty subversive message these days. But it’s true – I’m 99.8% sure of it.