Something about this story had left me existentially upset.
Charlie Brooker, Black Mirror’s creator, has explicitly stated that the series exists to unsettle, to examine the many ways in which human weakness has inspired and been inspired by modern technology, which has naturally required exploring modern romance.
Over the past few months, not a day has passed without yet another reminder of how unsafe it is simply to exist in public with men, working and socializing, let alone seeking out sexual or romantic relationships.
Nearly every woman and non-binary person I know, married or single, straight or not, has reported a fundamentally negative shift in their relationships with men as a result of the events of this year, be it in pursuing new relationships or engaging with the ones they have.
Frank and Amy’s shared uncertainty about the System——mirrors our own skepticism about our own proto-System, those costly online services whose big promises we must blindly trust to reap romantic success.
Though their System is intentionally depressing for us as an audience, it’s marketed to them as a solution to the problems that plagued single people of yesteryear—that is, the problems that plague us, today.
On the surface, the pair appreciates its simplicity, wondering how anyone could have lived with such guesswork and discomfort in the same way we marvel at how our grandmothers simply married the next-door neighbor’s kid at 18.
(Failure to comply with the System’s design, your Coach warns, will result in banishment.) Participants are encouraged to check a relationship’s expiry date together, but beyond remaining together until that time, are free to behave naturally—or as naturally as possible, given the suffocating circumstances.
They are the dating app, one that has now alerted the real Frank and Amy, standing at opposite ends of a dark and crowded bar, to one another’s presence, and their 99.8% match compatibility.
They smile, and the Smiths’ “Panic” (which prominently and repeatedly features the episode's title) plays them out over the pub’s speakers.
“Hang the DJ”’s twist is admittedly clever, and for a moment at least, that final flourish gives audiences like me, still stuck in a 2017 hellscape, a moment of respite.
It turns our misery on its head, making our growing suspicion that algorithms may never be able to “solve” the perfectly human inconveniences of partnership without also eliminating human intuition and choice the solution rather than the problem—the app determines compatibility by observing our tendency toward resistance.