'Black Mirror' Season 4 Will Feature A Story Conceived By Penn Jillette

Black Mirror season 3 was one of my favorite things I watched in 2016 and Netflix is the perfect home for a show so unsettling that you can't look away (or take breaks between episodes). While the big-hearted and romantic "San Junipero" was the best episode of the entire series so far, it sounds like season 4 will once again deliver the show's trademark pessimistic outlook on the near future. After all, it was just revealed that one of the episodes is based on a short story written by magician, comedian, and author Penn Jillette that was dark enough to remain unpublished for decades. In other words, it sounds about perfect for Black Mirror.

Jillette revealed this news on an episode of his Penn's Sunday School podcast, where he spoke about having lunch with Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker and spitballing ideas. Jillette told Brooker about being sick in a Spanish welfare hospital in 1981 and how the language barrier prevented a diagnosis and how no one in the world knew where he was. While recovering, a story began to form:

During that time, I got this idea for this short story called "the Pain Addict." I was postulating a future where you could put a gizmo on your head and feel someone else's pain. So there would be doctors whose whole job it was to feel pain and say "His left arm is broken. That's not actually apendiciitus, that's a cancer thing." They felt every pain. Like prizefighters and childbirth and child cancer. And this guy gets addicted to it and starts beating people to feel their pain. He also goes through S&M and all he wants to do is jack into Jesus on the cross. He wants to feel that pain. I wrote this story. It was the first story I wrote when I got a computer. When we did Penn and Teller's first book, we had short stories in it. I submitted this and the editor said "That's too dark." I've been trying to find a place for this story, which I thought was really good. I tried to write a comic book and they said no. I pitched it as a movie and they said no. So I told Charlie Brooker all of this and he said "Oh, pain addict. That's good."

Even though it was conceived 36 years ago, "The Pain Addict" feels like it was born to be a Black Mirror episode. It's a perfect fit for the series' bleak worldview – technology won't destroy society as much as individuals armed with that technology will destroy society. In Black Mirror, technology only brings out the darkness that was always lurking within.

However, "The Pain Addict" won't be a standalone episode. Instead, it will be one of three stories woven together for the season 4 finale, which will be titled "Black Museum." Jillette described the basic structure of the episode, which sounds like a spiritual sequel to the (bleak and evil and incredibly entertaining) "White Christmas" episode from a few years back:

And then two years later, [Brooker] started calling me up a lot and for the [finale] of the next Black Mirror, they're doing a thing called "Black Museum," which is three stories tied together as one, like they did with "White Christmas." We went back and forth. Charlie Brooker writes everything. There wasn't a chance of me actually typing. I sent him my short story. We brainstormed for a few hours. It ended up being that the whole story was framed by a carnie in Vegas who has a museum that includes the helmet that was worn by the original pain addict. He's telling the story to a young woman who was at the museum. He's this washed-up carnie guy, 20 miles outside of Vegas, running his little museum there.

Jillette also noted that he desperately wanted the part of the carnie, but production was already too far along for him to join the cast once he saw the finished script.

Black Mirror season 4 doesn't have a premiere date yet, but it's expected to arrive at some point in 2018. Specifics are under wraps, but we do know that episodes will be directed by Jodie Foster and John Hillcoat.