'Westworld' and 'Black Mirror' Have Brought 'OK Computer' Back

The time is ripe for paranoid sci-fi to align with its greatest musical representative.
October 25, 2016, 4:43pm

The TV golden age (a bubble that could still burst any day now because there are too many goshdarn shows) has allowed traditionally unmarketable sci-fi and fantasy pitches, especially when they're presented in serialized forms, to flourish with audiences. HBO's Westworld is quickly approaching Lost levels of intersecting plotlines but this time with actual robots and more layers of religious symbolism than [obvious anime reference that I keep making redacted]. By contrast, the formerly Channel 4, now Netflix, anthology series Black Mirror doles out rich and engrossing concepts each episode like an assembly line. Despite their differences in form, what unites these shows isn't just an anxiety about technology but that they both have brought back the unofficial soundtrack to that feeling: Radiohead's OK Computer.


Not that Radiohead needs reviving. This year's haunted A Moon Shaped Pool was an extremely solid, resonant album that proved the Oxford band still has juice in their tanks. Still, you don't easily escape something like OK Computer, whose paranoia has re-contextualized Radiohead's music before and after. The album's graceful and tuneful (and less obviously electronic than its reputation suggests) musical vision of an Orwellian future still hasn't exactly come true and maybe never will, but perhaps it's that lingering distance which has allowed it to age so well as melancholy robot music.

"Shut Up and Dance" is the first traditionally Black Mirror episode of the show's marginally less disturbing third season. It's claustrophobic, gray, and dystopian in a way that only British creators can seem to pull off. The care in establishing this world meets its zenith when "Exit Music (For a Film)," Radiohead's most melodramatic song by several measures, strums to life and eventually climaxes along with the reassuringly bleak reveal at the episode's end.

Westworld's use of "No Surprises"​ in its second episode is much more low-key, with the self-playing honky-tonk piano in the park's saloon plinking out the signature riff in the background as the existential musings and malfunctions of androids play out on the main stage. A soothing song about metaphorically suicidal futility in the face of an oppressive society, "No Surprises" was used very deliberately by Westworld's composer Ramin Djawadi, who told Vulture that the song's repeated use "just marks time, and it provides the recognition factor that this is a preprogrammed event."

That both shows gravitated towards OK Computer less than a year away from its 20th anniversary makes sense given that album's totemic status. It also helps that some of Black Mirror's prophecies came true since they were made, justifying creator Charlie Brooker's pessimistic outlook on where the increasing reliance on mobile and wearable technology is leading humanity. The climate has apparently become so humid for Radiohead musical cues in TV that there are a few recent threads on the Mr. Robot subreddit wondering why in the hell the show's creator Sam Esmail hasn't used the band in an episode of his show yet. Social media probably won't enslave us or make our lives into horror films, but as long as we have Radiohead and OK Computer it's kind of fun to imagine what would happen if they did.

​Photo via Netflix.​

Phil didn't want to get sentimental because it always ends up drivel. He's on Twitter.