One of the newest episodes of Black Mirror, Hang the DJ, is so much more than it first appears. This is Episode 4 of the series, but you can watch it at any point during the season and still understand it and fully appreciate it. This might be one of the better episodes of Season 4. It’s truly captivating and ends up taking you down a road that you really didn’t expect, without bashing your emotions and running them through a blender in the process. This post has major spoilers for Hang the DJ, so only read on if you’ve already seen the episode.
This is one of those episodes where you spent the entire time waiting for something absolutely terrible to happen. You expected it. And then something major did happen, but it wasn’t at all what you expected. It was much better.
The episode starts out with Frank and Amy meeting for their first date and realizing that they only have 12 hours to be together. We quickly learn that the app they’re using is now the norm for this culture and society. It sets people up with a predetermined amount of time, assuring the users that each choice is made for a specific reason and they’ll be matched with their perfect person at the very end. The app takes you through a series of dates, choosing times anywhere from mere hours up to a year together. For some reason, everyone does exactly what the app tells them to do, under fear of some type of punishment that must be pretty severe.
Frank and Amy are nervous because this is their first time using the app, but they hit it off really fast and they’re not too happy when their time is up. Frank’s next match lasts a year and it’s terrible. From the get-go, they’re completely incompatible. Amy’s first match, Lenny, seems perfect at first. She thinks he’s really handsome and is greatly attracted to him. But after nine months, his little quirks start really adding up and she’s glad for their time together to be over.
There’s one scene when they go to a big meetup for all the other participants. They see a couple who’s ridiculously happy and the couple encourages everyone to stick it out no matter what. At this point, I was reminded of the dating service called eHarmony. This service promises to use an algorithm to find the perfect match for you, but they also encourage you to stick it out and go on as many dates as possible until you find the right one. For some people, this really works (algorithm and all.) But other people start wondering if it will ever work for them, as they pass from date to date and watch other people’s success stories.
In Hang the DJ, the app eventually starts taking Amy through a series of one-night stands that only last 36 hours. I began to wonder at this point if app was just trying to make her super lonely until she’d finally be more satisfied with Frank. Interestingly, when she and Frank finally were matched up again, they wondered the same thing. During this second match, Frank decides — without Amy — to figure out when their time together is going to end. They were supposed to get five years, but because he looked without her, they now only have hours. This really brought about their first true fight. Amy was angered that he broke their disagreement.
Everything about this app was closely monitored. A car picks up each participant, they stay in a home that the app chooses for them, and they must follow all the rules. Guards are standing around menacingly, ready to punish participants who don’t do what they’re told. We eventually learn that they’re all walled in and there’s “nothing” on the outside.
Fairly early on in the episode, I began suspecting there was a big twist involved, and I got fairly close to guessing what it was. I thought every person in the app was a digital avatar, just like we saw in White Christmas. They were all dating different digital avatars until they found the right match, at which point their avatars’ lives would end and the real couples would be matched. It turns out that I was very close to getting it right. (My husband guessed that we were looking at a version of The Truman Show, where they were creating a romance movie in real life. That would have been an interesting twist too.)
If you’re a little confused about the ending, I’ll break it down for you. Amy and Frank decided to run away, but when they did the entire virtual world began breaking down around them. They climbed the wall together and ended up in a room full of Amys and Franks. 980 Amys and Franks, to be exact. The app, as it turns out, matched different full digital avatars of Amy and Frank 1,000 times. Out of those 1,000 times, 980 of their matches decided to buck the system, defy authority, choose each other and run away together. That made Amy and Frank the ideal match. Apparently compatibility is determined by whether the two get along so well that they can’t imagine life apart and are willing to risk everything to be together.
I’m just glad that the digital avatars didn’t start freaking out as they disappeared in the cloud. Can you imagine? They seemed perfectly content to become a statistic and disappear. This episode could have ended very darkly if they had been devastated about their lives together ending. But instead, it was absolutely beautiful.
This episode also provided an interesting perspective on statistics and the data was hear about every day. It’s so easy for us to forget that there are actual people and experiences behind each data point. In Hang the DJ, real-life Amy and Frank had no idea the experiences and stories, the heartache and love, that went behind every single data point that ultimately showed them they were 99.8 percent compatible. Similarly, we can forget the same. When you read statistics about cancer treatments or the percentage of couples who divorce, it can be so easy to just take those numbers as interesting data points and forget that every single point in that study was someone’s life, full of heartache and love, victory and despair.
Many people are now saying Hang the DJ is their favorite of all the Black Mirror episodes. Is it yours?