Black Mirror Season 4, Episode 3 Recap: "Hang The DJ"

The tinkly music and pristine pastoral landscape seen in the opening scene of “Hang the DJ” cues us that this episode will be a technology-infused fairy tale. That tone is only appropriate, considering “Hang the DJ” is about the repercussions of a futuristic, sentient version of Tinder. How romantic.

Our two main characters — Frank (Joe Cole) and Amy (Georgina Campbell) — are meeting for a dinner date at a generic-looking restaurant populated by other couples. On his way over, Frank receives commands from a voice emanating from a small round screen, which he calls Coach. Coach sets the whole date up, and even shows Frank a picture of Amy when he walks in the restaurant, so he knows where to sit. Coach pre-orders for them, too — essentially takes all of the awkward logistic plannings out of date.

From the instant they meet, Frank and Amy have palpable, real chemistry. This is their first date with the system, so each are nervous, in that crackling flirtatious way. They’re sending off “I like you a lot!” sparks. They even share each other’s food, even if it means the weird guards in the back of the restaurant look over judgingly (why the restaurant has guards, we’ll get to later). In this confident mode, Frank and Amy pull out their Coach spheres and check their expiry date at the same time. 12 hours. Both look dismayed. But they decide to eat quickly, and make the most of their time together.

Since Coach has organized the entire date, Frank and Amy leave the restaurant and get into a self-driving car. On their way over, they pass an enormous wall — clearly, they’re on the inside of some system. Finally, they arrive to an isolated cabin in the middle of a field. It’s rustic and modern all at once, as if futuristic robots designed what a “romantic space” would look like but zapped it of charm. They walk around the small house, and then bump into the bed. Both Amy and Frank themselves same question: What next? Are they meant to have sex? Then, they go into separate rooms and ask Coach what to do — she replies it’s up to them.

Eventually, Amy and Frank end up lying down next to each other, fully clothed, on the bed. There, they laugh about how difficult dating must’ve been before the system. The sentence, “There are too many choices, you end up not knowing which one you want,” is uttered, like something snatched directly from my mouth. The idea of break-ups also freaks them out. Isn’t it so much simpler when the entire duration of the relationship is mapped out for them?

Amy and Frank don’t end up having sex. Instead, Amy reaches for Frank’s hand, and they fall asleep with hands locked. The next morning, they say goodbye with some sadness outside the cabin, and both go into different miniature cars that cart them away.

After this interaction, we realize what the Coach is for: She (or “it”) puts people together for a distinct period of time, with the intention of eventually whittling down a person’s needs and wants in a partner, until arriving at a person's “ultimate compatible other.” Amy and Frank are both on separate journeys towards the One. But Frank’s not sold. He really liked Amy. He’s daunted by the prospect of going through so many relationships, and wonders, what if Amy could’ve been the one? Coach reassured him that she has a 99.8% success rate.

Soon, Amy and Frank are paired up with their next partners. Poor Frank is stuck with Nicola, a real grump head, for a full year. Their date is an actual disaster, and they clearly don’t understand one another. Amy’s on a date with Lenny, a suave-looking guy who’s already been in the system for a while. Coach indicates they’ll be together for nine months.

Both of them go home with their new partner. This is Lenny’s fifth relationship, so he already knows what he likes to do on dates: Have sex immediately. They both click “consent” on Coach. At least Amy and Lenny have chemistry. Frank and Nicola do not. They have the worst sex I’ve ever seen on TV. Frank goes to sleep knowing he still has a year left with her (he checks Coach and sees the green 365 days flashing, like a punishment).

Frank and Amy meet again at a wedding for another couple who successfully met through the system. Like the small cabins, the wedding location is designed to be romantic, but misses the mark — it takes place in a false, Disneyfied castle ruins. Everything is artificial. The bride giddily says, “Do have faith in the system because it does deliver. It did for us.” She says to hold on through the experiences, because it’ll pair you up with your ultimate match. The Bride and Groom now get to leave the system.

During the reception, Frank and Amy have a brief conversation after she saves him from choking — he’d stuffed too many hors d'oeuvres in his mouth to piss off Nicola. Leaving the wedding, each turns around to get one more glimpse of their beloved leaving.

As time goes on, Amy grows dissatisfied with Lenny and the weird, small things he does. She tries to hold his hand in bed the way she had done with Frank, but it’s not the same. Both Amy and Frank are miserable in their dull domestic lives with people they can’t stand. When Amy’s relationship ends after nine months, she goes back to the single’s center and waits for her next relationship. She’s swimming when Coach rings. She has another date tonight. Amy goes through a series of 36-hour relationships with a string of (very attractive) people, both men and women. Whereas before she was fed up with monogamy, now she’s worn down by casual sex.

Frank, thank goodness, is finally done with the worst person ever Nicola. He’s chilling in a lavender field when Coach tells him it’s time for his next relationship. Frank’s exasperated by the through of another person. But his date turns out to be — wait for it! — Amy! They’re both thrilled to see each other, back at the same restaurant booth where they’d first met. Amy has a radical proposal: They shouldn’t check the expiry date. Instead, they should just enjoy each other, and the time they have. This time, when they go home, they have sex, and hold hands!

Pillow talk consists of questioning the system. Amy thinks the system might just be purposefully wearing them down, so that eventually, they just settle for someone. Frank’s idea is more outlandish. He thinks the system is a complete simulation. After all, Coach has access to all of their thoughts. Perhaps the world is being built up around them.

Scenes of domestic bliss float by. They go walking. They cook dinner. They take bubble baths. Everything is fine, but it’s not. Frank is going crazy because he doesn’t know the expiry date. When Amy is taking a bath, Frank talks to Coach and asks to see the expiry date. Five years. He’s happy, but also sad – that means there’s an ending. Then, the system goes berserk. Coach explains that Frank’s one-sided observation has destabilized the system. Their date starts getting closer and closer. 3 years. 1 year. Eventually, the system settles on 20 hours.

During their last few hours, Amy and Frank go skipping stones at the nearby lake. Amy remarks how weird it is that, regardless of the power with which she throws it, the stone always skips four times. She’s mad he isn’t talking. Eventually, they get to the community center and he confesses what he did. She’s furious that he broke her trust. He is devastated that he won’t get to be with her. All of the perfect couples around them are watching — so are the guards. Amy doesn’t listen to Frank’s pleas to escape and jump over the wall together. Eventually, they’re separated.

Their breakup is too real. Frank is sobbing on the floor near his bed. Coach reminds him that failure to comply with the system will result in banishment. The relationships that come next are no good. Amy goes through a string of people. She holds hands with each — and no spark. Frank, on the other hand, spills his heart out while having sex with a girl. He asks if he can imagine Amy; the girl responds, only if she can imagine the man she had lost.

Amy’s back in the swimming pool after her last relationship. Coach announces that her Ultimate Match is ready, she’ll meet him tomorrow, and no — he’s not someone she’s ever met before. The system will allow Amy to meet with one person before she meets her Ultimate Match, and leaves this place forever. Frank! She exclaims. She wants Frank! Then, as if seized by some spirit of revolution, she tells Coach to couch to four, reminiscent of the way she used to skip stones on the lake. As Coach is counting, Amy hurls the sphere into the water. Bam!

She runs to the restaurant, where Frank is already waiting. They passionately make out. The rest of the restaurant’s patrons turn like robots out of The Matrix; we realize how cold-blooded the entire world is, when contrasted with Frank and Amy. Frank, too, is being paired with someone tomorrow. They only have one minute and thirty seconds together. Frank and Amy are on the same page, now. They realize they’re trapped in some weird system. Neither can remember anything about where they were before coming to the system. They become certain that this world is conspiring to keep them apart. And that by sticking together, they’re passing some test.

To prove their point, Frank and Amy go rogue. A guard tries to stop them with a weapon, but Amy puts her arm out, and the lasers stop too. Suddenly the whole world freezes except for them. They walk out of the restaurant, and start running through the fields until they reach the wall. There’s a ladder on the wall, which stretches farther than they can even see. Still, Amy and Frank start climbing. Eventually, they get so high that the world down below is washed away by black squares. Ah, of course: This is a simulation.

They arrive in a room full of other pairs of Frank and Amy. Above each pair is a number. Frank and Amy’s — or our version, at least — is number 998. Then, the screen flashes: 1000 simulations completed. 998 rebellions. It’s a 99.8% match.

This screen turns out to be on a phone screen. Zoom out to Frank, now dressed in the clothes of a modern day man, on his phone in a dingy bar that’s blasting the song “Panic” by the Smiths, which has the lyrics "hang the DJ." Somehow, the app has run a simulation and found that he and his date are 99.8% compatible - a remarkable number. They are each other’s perfect matches. Amy walks into the bar. They smile when they see each other, because they know they’ll like each other — proof is right on their phone screens. The episode ends with them smiling at each other coyly, twinkling, knowing that a computer has already made them go to the ends of the world for each other.

This episode did a great job of poking at the questions inherent in every relationship, which are exacerbated by online dating. When do I stop looking? When do I settle? How do I know? The invention is clever because it knows for you.

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