It’s finally here.
For the past 12 months, the extra-long “White Christmas” episode of Charlie Brooker’s mesmerizing series Black Mirror has been hard to find for U.S. viewers, at least those who wanted to watch it legally. But just in time for Christmas, Netflix has added the special to its streaming service stateside. And it’s about time.
Black Mirror, often described as the Twilight Zone of the tech era, has been a critical hit in Britain since it debuted in 2011 with an episode called “The National Anthem” that somehow predicted the David Cameron pig sex scandal four years before it erupted. The show found a whole new audience when the first two three-episode series appeared on Netflix.
Earlier this year, the streaming service announced that it was producing a brand new, super-sized 12-episode season of the show that is scheduled to land sometime in 2016. And really, who could be a more ideal American ambassador for Black Mirror than Jon Hamm?
The first six hour-long episodes of the show featured several rising British stars, including Downton Abbey’s Allen Leech and Jessica Brown Findlay, and the now ubiquitous Domhnall Gleeson (this year alone he starred in Ex Machina, Brooklyn, The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens). But the subtle, eerily realistic-seeming show has never relied on big stars, and especially not American ones.
But that all changed when Mad Men’s Don Draper himself, Jon Hamm, came on board for 2014’s one-off special titled “White Christmas.” Keeping his distinctive all-American accent intact, Hamm stars opposite Rafe Spall, a British actor (and son of Mr. Turner’s Timothy Spall) who has since gone on to play a relentlessly optimistic American bond trader in this year’s The Big Short.
All Black Mirror episodes contain a healthy degree of mystery and “White Christmas” is no exception. This time, the big question hanging over the episode is how these two men ended up in a snowed-in cabin together on Christmas, telling stories about their sordid pasts.
Hamm’s character drops clues throughout the first half of the show, describing how he helped manage a company that uploads a copy of someone’s consciousness into an egg-shaped device by day while moonlighting as a near-futuristic Cyrano de Bergerac by night. It is not until much later in the story, once Spall’s character starts discussing his own troubled life, which includes an ex-wife who uses a new technology to literally “block” him IRL, that we start to learn how all of the various strands of the story are connected.
In the end, both of our protagonists are left with the most horrifying fates Black Mirror has ever depicted. And that’s saying a lot for a show that once sentenced a woman to be hunted for sport while dozens of bystanders film her with their phones day after day in the series’s scariest episode, “White Bear.”
Speaking to Britain’s Channel 4 when the special first aired, Hamm cited his “strange predilection for offbeat British things” as the primary reason he decided to take the role. It was Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader who first introduced Hamm to the series and he said he was immediately “blown away” by the quality of the storytelling. “I found it so ambitious, it was trying to achieve so much, and it succeeds,” he added.
The same can certainly be said about “White Christmas,” which is in some ways even more ambitious than the episodes that preceded it because of the way it weaves multiple storylines together into one cohesive piece that ends with an impressive payoff.
By ballooning the scope of the upcoming season to 12 episodes, Netflix risks losing some of the unique specificity that each original hour contained. But with Charlie Brooker still at the helm, viewers remain in good hands. And we have to imagine there will be more Jon Hamm-sized cameos in Black Mirror’s future.