Season 4’s “USS Callister” was screened for a crowd at PaleyFest New York this weekend, and although those who went to the event were asked not to give away spoilers, some information about the episode has come out. First of all, we now know that the episode is 74 minutes long, much longer than the typical episode of Black Mirror; it’s the same length as the Christmas episode “White Christmas,” although it’s 15 minutes shorter than the Season 3 finale “Hated in the Nation.”
Executive producer Annabel Jones said at PaleyFest that this episode is really about “tyranny and abuse of power,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Executive producer Charlie Brooker added that the episode was written around the 2016 election, but he says that it wasn’t really intended to be explicitly about anything going on in the real world.
Apparently, “USS Callister” starts off like traditional science-fiction and then quickly takes a turn. The episode’s lead, Jesse Plemons, says that when he got the script, he put it down after the first scene because he thought it was just a Star Trek ripoff, but later he read the second scene and he “immediately got it and was completely in after that.” According to IGN, this episode gives viewers a pretty good idea of where things are headed on the early side, and so the third act is somewhat predictable. So unlike a lot of Black Mirror episodes, it sounds like this isn’t one with a twist that we don’t learn until the very end.
Jimmi Simpson, another star of the episode, described it as being about “control, power, what you do when you have it and how wanting that so badly often turns things around,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. He compared it to The Twilight Zone‘s “Time Enough at Last,” which is about a man who wants to read in isolation and gets that chance after a bomb goes off, but then he breaks his glasses.
The Verge spoke a bit more about the episode after having seen it at Friday’s screening. Charles Bramesco writes that in “USS Callister,” the Star Trek homage is “in service of the usual Black Mirror obsessions over privacy, power, and how technology can change the way people relate to each other, both on an individual and a societal basis.” Bramesco also says that the episode is “full of twists and familiar future-panic anxiety” and that there’s “a distinct pleasure in the gradual realization of the metatextual game this episode plays.”
Weirdly, Charlie Brooker said that the episode was conceived as “adult Toy Story,” according to Entertainment Weekly. It remains to be seen what that means, but it could indicate that the characters in the episode are not actually real human beings.
In addition, according to The Verge, this seems to be the most technically involved and expensive episode of Black Mirror to date. Charlie Brooker explained that he likes to spend a lot of the season’s money on one or two episodes and then shoot the rest on a lower budget; “USS Callister” is definitely “one of the big ones,” he said. The Verge also notes that the special effects shots in the episode “look professional-grade, and not even relative to TV’s dinkier standards.”
“This one is a big feat, visually,” Executive producer Annabel Jones said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s still a very personal story about Jesse’s character, but to do it properly, you have to have this big epic. So that’s a bit of a shift. I don’t think we’ve done anything like it.”
Finally, the episode apparently is quite comedic in tone, with IGN noting that it’s the funniest episode of Black Mirror to date.
“The audience was laughing so hard at points I missed entire lines of dialogue if that gives you any idea,” IGN’s Adam Dileo writes.
So far, no Black Mirror Season 4 release date has been announced. But last month, a preview of the show in Empire stated that it’s to return in December, something Netflix has not yet confirmed.