Black Mirror series overview
Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror has just finished its second season (another set of three hour-long episodes) and since this was my first exposure to the show I thought, I’d have a look back at all six episodes and share some thoughts. Black Mirror has been described as a modern day Twilight Zone, in part because of the reverence with which Brooker’s series is held but mostly because each episode is set in a new universe with no relation to that of any other episode, like mini-movies than play out over an hour. It’s especially interesting that the show isn’t available in the states, at least through any legal channels - rumors that Robert Downey Jr has purchased the rights to remake at least one episode just won’t die.
S01E01 - The National Anthem
The Duchess of Beaumont has been kidnapped, is the PM a bad enough dude to rescue her? Relying on the power of ridicule - anarchists kidnap the princess and insist that the Prime Minister have sex with a pig on live television to ensure her safe release. With the full weight of Scotland Yard at his disposal all options are considered, including digitally mapping the PM’s head on to another performer’s body during the broadcast in real time. Although “The National Anthem” is an interesting beginning to the series I found the general premise required a little too much suspension of disbelief, [SPOILER ALERT] there are no poll-numbers IN THE WORLD that would make this man fuck a pig in front of the entire nation. This episode, like season 2’s “White Bear” rely on the dark side of the general population to drive the narrative, in this case their lust to see the indecent act with their own eyes. We are presented crowds huddled around televisions in pubs as though it were the FA Cup Final, the few voices of dissent are hushed by the excited masses. I guess I just find the series works best when the stories are motivated by individuals rather than a global mindset that I can’t relate to.
S01E02 - 15 Million Merits
This was the strongest episode of the first series and my favourite overall, “15 Million Merits” depicts a world where citizens live in a world surrounded by LCD screens and are forced to ride exercise bikes all day long to earn the currency called “merits” that can be used to access indulgences like snacks, virtual items for their digital avatars, view pleasurable material or skip undesired compulsory viewing content. Too many snacks and they lose their privileged existence and become over-weight servants who maintain the exercise cells, clean up after the normal folk and are occasionally forced to participate in reality-type shows in which they are humiliated. The themes of constant self-improvement, obsession with a digital existence over an organic one and the threatening popularity of reality TV are clear. Without a lot of purpose, and having inherited a large number of merits we are introduced to Bing who is coasting through the days, until he overhears Abi singing in the bathroom and convinces her to compete in the popular, X Factor-style talent show using his accumulated merits to cover the application fee. Following some harsh criticism from the judges and a potion designed to increase her susceptibility, Abi winds up in a pornographic series leaving Bing penniless. While his heart may have been broken, his spirit isn’t and he sets about rebuilding his bankroll in order to address the judges himself. But what, exactly, will he have to say?
S01E03 - The Entire History of You
In a world where we can record everything we see and hear, some things are best forgotten. Liam and Ffion attend a dinner party in which personal histories and relationships are revealed, following which moments are reviewed and analysed thanks to “re-do” technology that uses an implant allowing everyone to playback any moment of their history either in front of their own eyes, or on a screen for all to see. It becomes apparent that Liam and Ffion’s relationship is a troubled one, leaving their future life together and the raising of their young child in jeopardy - as key moments are replayed and the pieces of an adulterous puzzle come together the agonising scene comes to an abrupt end. Every episode of Black Mirror concludes with a flash forward, be it a day, a year or an undetermined amount of time - and “The Entire History of You” puts it to best use when the final moments of the episode play out through ambiguous “re-do” shots that initially leave us guessing at the timeframe, identity and motives of the viewer.
S02E01 - Be Right Back
Ash, social media addict, and Martha move to a small country house. When Ash is tragically killed in a road accident, Martha struggles to handle her grief. After finding out she is pregnant she turns to a service that amalgamates Ash’s tweets, Facebook posts, photos, texts, etc. and presents a real time chat buddy with all the comfort of his familiar, disarming humor and reassuring banter. Over time Martha’s limited interaction through internet chat and simulated telephone conversations prove less and less satisfying until another level of the service presents itself. Be Right Back, despite seemingly being a cautionary tale about technological over-indulgence - is actually an examination of grief and the limitations of social personas.
S02E02 - White Bear
We finally get an insight into the mysterious, “space invader”-style logo from the Season 2 trailer. Victoria wakes up in a chair, loosely restrained with a scattering of pills on the floor and no memory of who or where she is. Taking to the streets she encounters unnaturally distant folk seemingly transfixed by her and filming everything on their camera phones. While Victoria is haunted by flashbacks and jarring images of the pixelated logo displayed on TV screens and phones, Jem and Damien encounter Victoria and encourage her to accompany them to outrun the gathering hoards - but wouldn’t you know it… all is not as it seems. I felt the conclusion to White Bear was a little lacking, for similar reasons to the first episode, in that it relies too heavily on a mindset that is difficult to imagine a group/community taking on.
S02E03 - The Waldo Moment
"The Waldo Moment" was my favourite of the second season episodes. Jamie Salter voices (and controls through gestural recognition software) a crude blue bear-like character called Waldo who appears in a brief segment of a weekly entertainment show - not unlike Charlie Brooker’s own Weekly Wipe. When he is approached to develop Waldo into his own show, the possibilities of a crude cartoon character are broadened until the notion of running for local parliament is thrown in to the mix. Following a brief affair with one of the other candidates, Jamie become disillusioned with the political process and the Waldo experiment itself, but with the character belonging to his corporate partners his involvement may be in more jeopardy than he realises.
Black Mirror is one of the best new shows I’ve seen in a long time. I wonder, with the British tendency for short lived series, whether Brooker (and wife/sometimes-collaborator Kanak Huq) will continue with it or chase the validation of Hollywood. I’d imagine that the trend toward television as a prestige medium will see Brooker return for a least another season - producing three stories in a year and a half is surely more satisfying than one story every three years or so.
So, what did you think?