As the first few images of the upcoming season of Black Mirror start arriving, it’s hard not to notice that Star Trek is really in vogue this year.
First and foremost there’s Star Trek: Discovery, the revival show that’s been in the works for years, but that will finally bring the original flavor sci-fi show back to televisions for a new, gritty prequel that deconstructs many of the formula’s common tropes.
Basically, the twist on this show is that Starfleet officers can be jerks now.
Then, we got word of The Orville, a parody show in which Seth McFarlane asks the important question: what if Starfleet officers were jerks?
Okay, that’s oddly familiar, but whatever. This show’s a comedy, so that’s fine. There’s room for two Star Treks that fit into very different genres, even if they’re tackling the same core question.
Now, though, Black Mirror is getting in on the act, with an episode of the anthology show titled USS Callister that looks like it’s going to yet again be deconstructing the Star Trek mythos. For a show that’s very often about how people are jerks, it’s not hard to guess where they might be going with this.
What a weird topic for so many shows to want to touch on in this particular moment of history. What could possibly be behind the cultural desire to show Starfleet turning to the dark side?
One rule of the original Gene Roddenberry show was always that humanity should be shown to have grown past its petty squabbles. Starfleet leaders in original Trek and The Next Generation always try to act in the best interests of the collective good – “the needs of the many” and all that jazz.
Could there possibly be a real world inspiration for these Star Trek shows? Like, say, a world leader that people feel is acting like a petty, angry child, rather than making wise decisions based on a desire to help the common man?
That said, with Black Mirror, things are rarely as they seem.
The most obvious explanation for this very bright, cheesy-looking Trek copycat episode is that it’s some kind of simulation. The show’s gone this route, before, and it’s worked really, really well – just watch the episode from last season called San Junipero for proof.
The natural instinct for fans of the show, then, is to expect a third act plot twist that reveals that the USS Callister is a video game, or a virtual reality creation to keep people from noticing a government cover-up, or a method that will allow the show to somehow make you feel bad about browsing Facebook when you could be reading up on immigration law. It’s standard fare.
What might be more interesting, though, is if the USS Callister episode plays things straight, giving us a horror story in which the humans are the bad guys, crushing resistance under their heel, stripping aliens of their basic rights, and ignoring the plight of intergalactic refugees that are displaced as a result of humanity’s aggressive empire-building among the stars.
There’s a lot of biting commentary to be had in this setting, and if Black Mirror is riding the same wave of cynicism that’s created The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery at this moment in time, it’s worth assuming that there’s be something more complicated going on than a simple “it was all a dream” plot twist.
If that’s the case, then be prepared for the USS Callister’s floppy-haired blond captain, played by Jesse Plemons, to make references to building a wall or dating his daughter.
If not, there’s always this: