Season 1 Review link. Season 2! 4 more offerings from Charlie Brooker’s cautionary tales about future tech! There be spoilers ahead but I’ve tried to keep them to a minimum just to explain my points!
S2-E1 “Be Right Back”
Starring: Hayley Atwell (Peggy in Agent Carter) and Domhnall Gleeson (Caleb in Ex Machina)
Plot: Ash dies in an accident shortly after himself and his wife move to the countryside. At the funeral, a pushy friend signs newly-widowed Martha up to an online service that pulls in all of your public data, to create a text-chat of your loved one. This gives her some reprieve from the grief, and she gets more deeply involved with the service from there.
• It’s a fantastic, depressing tale becoming dependent on a crutch to avoid grieving, and the problems that would cause.
• Ash was a heavy social media user (at the start, he’s literally too engrossed with his phone to notice his gf standing in the rain waiting to get in the car). This quietly explains how the AI could be so accurate (there’s a ton of information about his personality online). This also raises the issues of a lack of privacy online, although she grants the company use of private emails and videos to become even more accurate.
• When she scrambles after breaking her phone, you can feel the facade she’s built up shattering in seconds. The truth of how alone she actually is hits home – She withdraws from family/friends to actively bond with a computer simulation (eg going on dates alone with an earpiece), getting closer to something that could never replace her dead husband, and you feel so bad for her.
• Ash asks “did he hit you? There wasn’t anything about it online”. It’s the little things about loved ones that make the biggest difference. A simulation could never actually replace the real thing, there’s no data on them being intimate.
• They also avoid the cliché ending on the cliffs which I really appreciated.
Overall: It’s compelling and devastating. Phenomenal. Can’t recommend this one highly enough.
S2-E2 “White Bear”
Starring: Lenora Crichlow (Annie in Being Human UK) and Michael Smiley (Northern Irish comedian in most of Simon’s Pegg’s Films)
Plot: A disorientated woman (Victoria) wakes up from apparently failing to kill herself, and is hunted by a few crazies in masks. The general public flock to her, quietly & passively filming her. She’s told it’s an alien invasion via TV/internet, and with a new friend, tries to flee South to freedom.
• For the longest time I felt this was uninspired and on-the-nose about bystanders not taking responsibility, and when the twist came, it still felt a bit bleh. But my God, the last few minutes of this episode are excellent. The fleshing out of the twist makes you want to rewatch the episode immediately, especially the clips during the credits. Brooker said that the twist ending wasn’t in the original script and changed it drastically late into production.
• We’re taken through three feelings towards Victoria – sympathy as we’re unaware of the situation as she is, then condemnation as we find out what she did to (suppposedly) deserve this, and sympathy again as she’s tortured at length, to repeat the day’s events over and over.
• Em, this is a rather costly theme park, isn’t it? All this for ONE person?! My problem might be that I’m looking for believability in a fantasy scenario – in other episodes, people behave as they would alongside a futuristic tech (which really grounds the story) but in this, it’s implausible that regular people would enjoy torturing a defenceless woman day after day. Also, what’s the point in torturing someone who has their mind wiped? At that point, YOU’RE the heel!
Overall: I found it hard to get on board with this one, but I can’t stress how much I enjoyed the final 10 minutes. Damn them! Still, worth a watch, as all Black Mirror episodes are!
S2-E3 “The Waldo Moment”
Starring: Daniel Rigby, Chloe Pirrie and Jason Flemyng
Plot: Jamie is a failed comedy writer who finds success with his late night skit TV character, “Waldo”, a CG blue bear that he can manipulate in real time, giving his voice and mannerisms (as well as some cheeky animations). Sleazy Network execs see potential gold after Waldo harasses a political candidate; and despite Jamie’s reluctance, Waldo runs for by-election.
• I feel I should’ve liked this way more than I did. I’m not politically-minded (unless the politics are backstage!) and Jamie’s very relatable, in that he says he doesn’t know enough to get involved. Prodded at a college panel, he lashes out at the status quo, calling one candidate “an old attitude with a new face”, and the other a “career politician” i.e. only there as a stepping-stone; echoing how disillusioned a lot of people are with politics.
• The loudmouth question-dodging & insulting approach can be compared to the political campaign of an orange-skinned president; and how media coverage favoured outlandish, inflammatory remarks & drama far more than focusing on the candidates’ policies (you know, the important part!).
• Waldo succeeds by being outspoken and passionate — i.e. honest — something lacking in his opponents, who are stereotypical rich, smarmy, suit-wearing toffs. Waldo’s desire to not actually be a politician (he just wants to fuck the system) makes him more charming to the public but also dangerous, as he has no desire or plans to actually fix anything.
• Gwendolyn (the female candidate) mentioned dating Jamie to the campaigner, who kills that relationship – that refusal to work with Waldo point blank to save her & her party’s reputation ended up costing them.
• It seems here the real villains are the TV execs; who (without hesitation) pushed for more trashy/sensational publicity stunts, and revelled in getting more and more complaints about Waldo; ultimately being able to sell it.
Overall: Despite some really good ideas, it’s very much a watch-once episode. I think discussion on it is way more interesting than the episode itself. It’s shocking anyone would actually put stock in Waldo! But sure that’s the point.
S2-E4 CHRISTMAS SPECIAL “White Christmas”
Starring: Jon Hamm (Don Draper in Mad Men) as Matt, Oona Chaplin (Robb Stark’s wife in GoT) as Greta, and Rafe Spall (author Yann Martel in Life of Pi) as Joe
Plot: What is it? A 74-minute episode with three mini-stories and an overarching larger one. It’s Christmas day, and two men are in an isolated, snowy cottage. After 5 years of never saying a word, Matt gets Joe to start talking.
• Part 1 – How Matt came to be in the cottage. “Z-eye” is an augmented reality device in your eye that connects to the internet so others can watch. (So a progression from the Grain from “The Entire History of You”). Matt is using it to help single men successfully chat up attractive ladies, as the rest of men look on & chat. I wonder what women think of this part! Pretty much all men would be on the pull at some stage of their life (without someone literally telling them what to say) so it’s quite light-hearted voyeurism. Of course things go badly enough for it to ruin Matt’s life. The conclusion also introduces another tech, where you can literally “mute” someone in real life, that you’re now seen as a blurry static-y shape with heavily obscured audio. I don’t see how it’s Matt’s fault, as he could never have guessed things going tits up. Seems quite a severe sentence for what amounts to failing to report a crime.
• Part 2 – Matt’s real job. Greta is a rich woman who bought a “cookie”, which is an egg-shaped bit of tech, containing a fully-sentient digital version of herself. Matt’s job is to bend (not break) this digital version, to get her to take command of the house (blinds, music, toast etc) for ‘real’ Greta. This is an excellent premise of what makes someone human – if you’re fully aware of your existence, are intelligent, can learn with independent thought; a perfect digital copy of a real human being – are you alive? Is breaking you to become a ‘smart’ app torture? I’d say yes. Really clever take on smart houses. Also the use of the word “cookie” – where internet sites track & store information about you, and uses it to serve up targeted ads. It recreates your ‘buying’ personality, what if it could recreate the rest? dun dun dunnnnnn! Matt’s deft touch of breaking digital Greta is intriguing, and sets up the finale.
• Part 3 – How Joe came to be in the cottage: After a few drinks, Joe finds his girlfriend Beth’s positive pregnancy test, but she is set on having an abortion. Joe (initially overjoyed at the pregnancy) becomes furious at her decision to abort, a scenario you rarely see in TV. In this, the woman has 100% of the decision – she blocks him, runs away and has the baby by herself, and he can’t even see his child. (Why he never goes to the police about it is a mystery). He just stalks her dad’s place to see the silhouette of the child every Xmas. When the story finishes, everyone comes out like a huge asshole! When he was blocked, he could’ve just written something on a piece of paper to show her. She could’ve easily explained herself before hightailing it, would’ve avoided so much of this. The revelation, the ensuing outcome and finish to the story is enthralling and devastating. As an aside, the confession was coaxed – subtle manipulation re: setting, clock, what’s in the window; that’s quite unfair entrapment here. Also, the police’s unsanctioned sentence is barbaric! I’d consider it unjust torture.
Overall: Fantastic, but such a huge downer (especially for a Christmas episode) …such is the way with Black Mirror! Really excellent how it all came together; the callback/new meaning of “I wish it could be Christmas everyday” as it’s literally every day, and I loved the use of blocking in multiple scenarios. Excellent modern television.
Season Overall: 2/4 were top shelf, 2/4 were decent, so a mixed bag. I think everyone should absolutely watch “Be Right Back”, it’s a masterpiece.
And there we have it! Hope you enjoyed the review. Lemme know what you thought of these episodes below! — Jay