Charlie Brooker, the writer and producer known Screen Wipe and Deadset, has pushed his way through the crowd to show off his new dystopian baby. Black Mirror, a fantasy thriller set in a technology driven world shot by Zac Nicholson and written by Charlie Brooker. Each episode tells a different story all centred around our unrequited relationship with modern technology. Each series is made up of x3 hour long episodes (excluding Netflix’s season 3) with a similar style to ‘The Twilight Zone’.
“If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, and smartphone.” – Charlie Brooker
Note: This review contains major spoilers.
Episode 1: The National Anthem
The episode is set in modern day London and the storyline is simple. Princess Susannah is kidnapped and held hostage. She is promised freedom on one condition: The prime minister (Rory Kinnear – Tanner in the James Bond series) must have sex with a pig on live TV. The episode explores the power relationship between modern technology and it’s users. We’re presented with a reality where anybody can be assigned power with even the government struggling to defeat the anonymous villain. The episode’s broad range of jargon sticks the government on a pedestal furthering the villains perception of power. They can’t be played that easily though. A crack team of video editing nerds and a group of special effects experts put together a convincing enough, yet still fake, sex tape.
The kidnapper removes one of Susannah’s fingers. He can’t be fooled and audiences sit in disgust at their leaders decision. The government are defeated not by the kidnapper but by modern technology. The girl is released yet nobody knows. Everyone is too eager for the for the super bowl of bestiality to begin. Its a clear mockery of the current entertainment industry. A perfect painting of how easily we’re entertained just long enough for us to miss what’s happening just out of view of our black mirrors. The internet has given everybody a voice, a profile page and an opinion. It’s given us a slice of equality but sometime’s that’s not always good. We follow a range of perspectives from the government to the media to the civilians allowing us to understand the event from each of their positions. So what happens when this happens for real? When ISIS release beheading videos to provoke war. There’s nothing our government can do. The videos will exist forever.
“It’s been said that if you break a mirror that’s 7 years bad luck yet many have cracked, smashed and shattered their phones and not stopped to think about their luck for the next decade.”
Episode 2: Fifteen Million Merits
This episode of Black Mirror is set in a near dystopian future in an undisclosed location. The episode spirals around the theme of ‘control’ strongly linking to George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’. We follow Bing (Daniel Kaluuya – Posh Kenneth in Skins) who lives in a small room plastered with television screens. Everything is paid for through ‘merits’ whether that’s for a squirt of toothpaste, an apple from the vending machine or even clothes for their virtual avatars. These merits can be gained by cycling for hours per day staring blankly into a television screen that even charges you merits to skip the porn ads. The television plays game shows, porn, music videos but most importantly it features an X-Factor type show called ‘Hot Shot’. We never discover the exact reason as to why they are where they are however winning ‘Hot Shot’ seems to be their only way out of ‘bike land’.
It could be said that the world is pulling through a ‘major energy crisis’ and so they harvest people like Bing of their energy like they’re rechargeable batteries that require manipulating. The series doesn’t seem to have a large budget but manages a visually consistent and smooth master piece through it’s ability to develop a new world following it’s own personal style over the course of an hour. When Bing falls for Abi (played by Jessica Brown Findlay known for Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey, Misfits and for being a victim of the 8/31 Fappening) he spends his dead brothers inherited 15 Million Merits to get her on ‘Hot Shots’ after he hears her singing. The audience loves her. But after being drugged by a kind of ‘compliance’ juice the judges offer her a job as a porn star which she emotionally accepts as Bing is dragged off in the background for attempting to join her on stage.
When the porn ads featuring Abi pop up, he fails to skip them as a result of his lack of merits. He shields his eyes and plows his face into the pillow but the ‘big brother’ like technology detects it and sends out a loud piercing tone until his eyes made contact and the ad continued. He was trapped in a room that seems so personal and cosy but was in fact a living nightmare. Long story short, Bing saves up and enters ‘Hot Shots’ only to hold a shard of glass to his neck demanding they listen to him. Bing, the reserved type, lets out a monstrous roar of rebellion in the form of a rant. The audience are silent. He had started a rebellion against the authorities…or had he?
The judges think quickly and break out with the ultimate twist. Rather than having Bing wrestled off stage they congratulate him saying his performance was one of the most heartfelt things that they’d ever heard and that they would like him to have his own ‘rant’ show every two weeks on television. For just a moment Bing had the upper hand until he was smacked in the face and sat down putting him right back in his place. The show was cleverly scheduled before an airing of ‘The X-Factor’ keeping the audience referring back to Bing and Abi through the duration of it. Where Bing thought he had a chance to overthrow the ministry he discovers that he was just another pawn in their giant game of chess.
“he was just another pawn in their giant game of chess.”
Episode 3: The Entire History of You
In the not too near future we follow the story of Liam, a lawyer, who lives in the age of the ‘grain implant’. Similarly to how we are living in the generation of the tablets and smart phones with these items now being essential to fit into normal day life. Liam lives in world where almost every single human being has a ‘grain’ implant behind their ear synced up with an electronic contact lens that records and saves everything they do. This puts their history in their hands letting them watch any part of their life again over and over and over again. It was by far my favourite episode with it’s compelling storyline and appealing technology reeling you in. The episode was written by Jessie Armstrong (co-creator of Peep Show & Fresh Meat – my favorite british sitcoms) alongside ‘Charlie Brooker’ (producer). The technology in this episode is horribly realistic and portrays a future that isn’t be too hard to imagine. The entire episode revolves around how this ability, to instantly playback memories, twists us into paranoid junkies constantly rewinding and playing over the same moments, trying to analyse human behaviour from bosses and partners.
The world is unveiled slowly before our eyes, similarly to ‘Fifteen Million Merits’, following Liam (Toby Kebbell) who has just left his work appraisal and is now depressingly re-playing his entire interview in the cab journey home. When he arrives at home, where a dinner party is being held, his notices his wife, Fi (Jodie Whittaker), flirting with an old friend of his called Jonas (Tom Cullen). Once again he begins re-watching the footage, zooming, cutting and using lip reading software to make out what they we’re talking about. The paranoia around his wife begins. As you can already tell this episode follows themes of ‘lies’ and ‘paranoia’ portrayed through the relationship of a young couple.
The dinner guests suggest that he plays his appraisal on the television for everyone to watch. Oh did I not mention that? You can play your memories on the big screen as if your life is a movie. One girl talks about how she was ‘gouged’ meaning she had her ‘grain’ removed which she is greatly enjoying. The others begin to ask questions and seem confused at the fact that you can live without this technology. Speculation begins as one women states that your mind can create ‘false memories’ and that the ‘grain’ prevents them. This is actually true since every time we think of a memory we’re actually recreating it rather than remembering it. If you think of a fond childhood memory of yours it’s almost certain that the way you remember it was almost nothing like the actual event due to the amount of times it’s been recreated in your head. (She also suggests that only “hookers” have their grains removed.) The ‘grain’ technology is out of control similar to the ‘smart phone’ of today and even airport security time lapse the last 24 hours of your day, on their monitors, as a security measure. As the world becomes paranoid it also destroys privacy with everything single thing you do, hear, feel and see visible to the outside world.
Another suggestion of paranoia that Brooker plants into our minds comes when Liam and Fi’s inside joke about a ‘paedophile babysitter’ turns out to be their actual suspicions as we see them replay their babies ‘grain’ for the duration that the baby was under the young girl’s supervision. This episode could have easily been called ‘Paranoia’ or ‘Paranoid’ since the entire episode revolves around these thoughts of future humans. Liam forces Fi to reveal the footage from her grains archive leaving them awkwardly watching her old ‘sex tape’ before they’re deleted. She insists that she no longer likes Jonas and that it was just a one week date. Liam drunkenly confronts Jonas after discovering the one week date was a ‘6 month relationship’ forcing him to delete all the ‘memories’ of her stored in his grain. That’s when he notices a newer more modern memory, revealing that Fi was in fact cheating with him, giving Liam the perfect ammo to shoot down Fi (not literally).
Is that really what Liam wanted though? Liam is left alone in his home with only the memories on his grain to keep him company. He decides to end it all by gauging the grain. The character development moves quickly as the episode moves slow. We see a calm and loving married man turn into a violent drunk living alone as he lets his paranoia get the better of him. The story is excellent and probably good enough for it’s own movie. Speaking of this, Robert Downy Jr.’s production company, Team Downey, is currently in pre-production for a film following a very similar story but with the protagonist as a window trying to recreate her relationship through grain like technology. I’m looking forward to seeing this short as a full length feature portrayed in a different director’s style. Although, I’m not sure that this can be topped.
“Liam is left alone in his home with only the memories on his grain to keep him company.”
Episode 4: Be Right Back
Once again this episode of Black Mirror is set in the not too far future yet manages to blast it’s way through themes ‘Loneliness’ and ‘Virtual Companionship’. The episode was surprisingly sentimental in contrast to the previous season which featured porn stars, bestiality and marriage destruction. We follow Martha (Hayley Atwell, known for Captain America), a widow, dealing with the death of her husband named Ash (Domhnall Gleeson, known for Bill Weasley from the Harry Potter series and his part as lead in ‘About Time’ with Rachel McAdams). Using modern technology she builds a replica using information that Ash had left about himself across the internet, similar to Clever Bot, giving her the ability to type to her boyfriend and ask him questions. At first this seems like technology that we could only dream for but it quickly spirals into a nightmare when things evolve. She is later offered an update for the technology so that she can speak to her boyfriend voice to voice through Skype like software. She begins an eternal call, talking to him for every second of everyday and even going on picnics with her phone. The perfect metaphor came when Martha declined a call from her best friend because she was too busy with her virtual boyfriend on her phone. It’s no different to somebody not having time for friends because they are too busy on Facebook which creates the illustration that you are hanging out with friends. The really creepy part starts when she’s offered another upgrade for a psychical robot version of her boyfriend.
She is instructed to place the cold and snow white body into the bath and soak him in memory crystals. We sit in suspense with Martha as she nervously waits. The most bone chilling scene comes when we hear the footsteps of her new virtual boyfriend walking on the floorboards of the upstairs corridor. At this point the whole audience has the feeling that this new robot is going to kill her from the tone that Brooker had set. Although it was nothing more than a foreshadowing message for Martha’s future. Before she had her robot boyfriend she would interact with him through the use of her phone (with the phones camera acting as his eye). She would go on beautiful walks over mountains and film it all on her phone for her virtual boyfriend to see. Similarly we take photographs of everything interesting we see to put up onto Instagram or facebo-, I mean, Twitter for somebody to see that in the end doesn’t even exist. I think Brooker’s use of metaphors is perfect which always adds to the experience.
In ways this is very similar to a film released this year called ‘Her‘ (directed by Spike Jonze) about a man called Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix known for ‘Commodus’ in Gladiator) who has a virtual girlfriend. The only problem with the ‘Ash’ replica robot is that he’s not perfect. He’s not a real human and can’t go within 50 meters of his owner or his birthplace (the bath) and he’ll only eat and sleep if he’s told to. The episode ends with Ash standing in Martha’s parent’s attic like a dusty ornament that she visits occasionally.
“You look like him, on a good day.”
Episode 5: White Bear
A women (Lenora Crichlow, known for ‘Being Human’) awakes in a house with no clue of who she is or where she is. She’s surrounded by bottles of pills which logically says that she must have been overdosed. When she ventures outside into the ghost town of a village she spots people in their houses looking out at her and filming her on their phones like they’re anticipating the apocalypse. That’s when a masked man begins charging towards her in the distance with a weapon hungry for death. Crying and screaming she frantically tries to escape in confusion before bumping into Gem (Tuppence Middleton, known for ‘The Intimidation Game’), her savoir. She leads her into a shop with her friend Damien (Ian Bonar, known for a small part in Skyfall). As Victoria (the main character), Gem and Damien barricade themselves in, mobs of people surround the shop like zombies trying their best to film her (unfortunately vertically) on their phones. The madman, oblivious to the horde of camera mounted walkers, breaks through the door giving them the signal to leave through the back door. Damien is shot. This episode portrays themes of ‘revenge’ and ‘torture’ through the relationship between the ‘audience’ (we’ll get to that later) and ‘Victoria’.
Gem and Victoria are running for their lives down the road of a small English village being chased by hundreds of people. Gem explains that the cameras are some how linked to the ‘hunters’ (shotgun madmen) and so if you are photographed then they know where to find you. This strongly links in with modern CCTV and how where ever we go we can be found through FBI facial recognition and CCTV. It sums up a world that holds a lack of privacy where whatever you do and where ever you are you’ll be found. A man named ‘Baxter‘ pulls up with a white van and a…shotgun…stating that he’s here to help. They jump in and and begin a slow journey. For the entire episode we don’t know where we are being taken with Brooker letting us take the role of Victoria still confused and almost dry of tears. Skipping forward a few scenes things take a turn for the worst when Baxter has Victoria tied up and about drill into her spinal cord (which would leave her helpless – linking in with the final twist) in the middle of the woods after revealing he is in fact a hunter. Gem saves the day but when thanked she states that she only came back for her bag. Victoria is being pushed into a feeling of being helpless and alone which is again a key to the final twist. The entire episode looked like it was filmed on a handheld phone which links into the theme that everybody is watching her through mobile phones. The episode feels kind of supernatural and like it couldn’t actually happen. We’re used to a trend of eye-opening sci-fi dramas that actually fear us for our future. Although, the episode isn’t over yet.
The twist leaves us shocked like a good ol’ episode of Black Mirror. When she finally fires her gun everybody freezes, dropping out of role, before the entire room transforms into the stage of a ‘correction facility game show’. It’s revealed to her that her boyfriend murdered her daughter as she laughed and documented the entire process on her phone. The entire day was a ‘correction facility program’ with everybody involved being members of the public who had paid to scare her. Still crying, she’s put into a glass box and wheeled down the road with members of the audience throwing tomatos and used diapers at the box. I saw this scene as a symbolism for ‘internet hate’ where you can see the hate and yet still can’t physically feel it as there is a glass screen in front of you coining the term – hiding behind your screen. As hundreds stare at her, similar to the way today’s media plasters faces of criminals across newspapers and articles, her levels of privacy drop. The episode ends as we watch her being put back into the house with every small detail put into place for another round of hell.
The episode plays with the obvious problem of mobile technology and how we’d much rather film somebody getting hurt than actually help them. ‘Each day is the same and we’ll never change‘ is the message behind the final scene as Baxter circles another day off her calender. We follow along with these characters including Gem and Baxter who build our trust only to be revealed to us that they are ‘not who they say they are‘ similarly to the way you don’t know who you’re speaking to on the internet and whether or not they’re trust worthy. As today’s personal privacy plummets, we put ourselves behind the screens of others (through social media) only for them to judge us, as portrayed through the ‘tomato throwing’ scene towards the end. We’ll only realize the problems of life towards the very end as we look back similar to how the final twist was shown in the credits.
“It’s only when you look back on your life do you realize the opportunities you missed.”
Episode 6: The Waldo Moment
‘The Waldo Moment’ follows Jamie Salter (Daniel Rigby from the BT adverts), a failed comedian going through depression, working as the voice behind the crude blue animated bear named Waldo. The entire episode depicts a future not too far away through themes of ‘leadership’ and ‘politics’. Aspects of our current lives can be seen such as the ‘blue bear character’ that we hide behind similar to the way ‘trolls’ hide behind ‘usernames’, ‘aliases’, ‘handles’ (or if you used MSN, ‘addy’s’). However, when Jamie storms out of his trailer and reveals himself nobody supports him then. It seems that the audience of twitter followers causing global trends aren’t real fans at all. When Jamie refuses to play the part of Waldo any more he comes to realise that that it’s not him that they want and so his boss Jack Napier (Jason Flemyng – Darren from Snatch) decides to jump in the hot seat and take over. Jack uses Waldo to tell the audience that “the first man to hit him [Jamie] get’s 500 quid” and his wish is granted. His creation turns against him slowly beating the life out of him.
The use of online digital media to reach a global audience is becoming more and more popularised as we saw in the 2015 UK election. It had become apparent that young people in Britain made up for a large percentage of people not voting and so politicians decided to take a crack at the untapped young market by reaching out to online creators such as ‘NikiNSammy’ and even Russell Brand’s ‘Trews News’ web show to appear as a guest. Many young teenagers began a fandom for the Labour leader entitled ‘Milifandom’ in a similar way to the ‘Dan and Phil’ phandom or the Sherlock fandom. However, some speculated that the fandom had been developed by the Labour party as a way of reaching this young audience. That would be an incredibly clever marketing scheme. And as the episode comes to an end we see Jamie, now homeless, standing before his creation, now a globally recognised icon, before he lobs a bottle towards the screen. A few armoured military police see this and retaliate by beating and tasing him off-screen, a suggest of how the government keeps us in order through manipulation but performs this ‘underground’. The masked anonymous figures are booting them off the pavement for sleeping which could be a reference to the UK Conservative party who have been accused of making the rich richer and the poor poorer after attempting to make it illegal to feed the homeless.
“You’ve got a global political entertainment product, people actually want. He’s the perfect assassin”
Episode 7: White Christmas
Charlie Brooker’s final episode of Black Mirror aired over Christmas holding the title ‘White Christmas’. Fans were confused as to how such a dark thriller writer could make an episode set in the wintery wonderland of Christmas but Brooker delivered with a masterpiece able to push themes of ‘seclusion’, ‘slavery’ and ‘failed love’. The episode was 1 hour and 30 minutes long (feature length) and features Matt Trent (‘Jon Hamm’ from ‘Madmen’) awaking in a small wooden house alongside confused Joe Potter (‘Rafe Spall’ from ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘Promethus’). Trent describes his time as a virtual pickup artist where he would assist young men with meeting women via a ‘Google Glass’ like ‘contact lens’ device (paired to a chip next to the ‘grain’ implant.) Matt guides, shy, Harry through social mayhem as the Eye Link lets the rest of his pick-up artists’ watch the main event. This situations feels like a reasonably real situation and almost close to today’s pick up artists ‘boot camps’ hosted by YouTubers and Social Marketing kings, Jesse and Kong. However, the girl, Jennifer (Natalia tena who plays and ‘Tonks’ in ‘Harry Potter’) that Harry has been speaking to is revealed to the audience as an un-medicated schizophrenic but it’s too late. Harry is poisoned as a part of Jennifer’s suicidal pact and Matt sits and watches realising that he caused Harry’s death.
This moves us onto the second part of the story. Matt’s full time job consist of setting up slave bots which are small ‘Amazon Echo’ like devices except from the fact that there is a small human inside working like a slave. When you order one of these devices a copy of you is made and shrunk down into the size of a biscuit. The women ordering this device is Greta (‘Oona Chaplin’ from ‘Game of Thrones’). The copy of you is forced to work for you, since it knows exactly what you like, by opening electronic curtains or making tea simply by pressing buttons inside the device. Matt’s job is to explain to the copy what their job is and torture them playing with ‘time’ for the slave. He has the ability to simulate years of time in the span of seconds sitting alone in a white room. After this simulation the slave is so desperate to actually do something that it complies with the orders. This could be a metaphor for how we’re taking away our need to work with the use of new technology thus torturing our bodies with a lack of exercise. The human body was designed to walk miles each day, as did the apes/cavemen walk up to 5 miles per day, however today it’s said that the average human only walks 1.5 miles if that. It’s said that 60% of Americans spend more than 6 hours sitting down every day which is said to be slowly killing you.
This episode was the big finale (until series 3) and so Brooker confirmed in a tweet that there was a reference to all of his other episodes within this one. I wasn’t able to notice them all however I did notice a few. When Matt is coaching Harry through his social phobia he has the ‘help’ of other pick up artists with one of them under the username, I_AM_WALDO in reference to ‘The Waldo Moment’. The news ticker running underneath the news show makes another quick ‘Waldo’ reference as it states “MP Liam Monroe claims Twitter account hacked”. Within the same ticker we see the headline “Victoria Skillane appeal bid rejected” which is a small nod at the ‘White Bear’ episode. The final reference I spotted was the talent show, ‘Hot Shot’, from ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ which flicked on TV for a second or two.
In the dystopian future people have the ability to block anybody they like just like you can on social media. Matt’s wife blocks him after she discovers that he’s an online pick up artist. The story has so far followed a narration by Matt directly talking to Joe in the small wooden winter house. At this point Joe starts to open up and tells the story of his relationship. When Joe finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant he’s over the moon however she doesn’t want to keep the baby. As an argument ensues she ends up blocking him leaving him irritated and alone with his own sadness. He watched as his ‘static filled silhouette’ of a girlfriend leaves never to unblock him again. These ‘blocks’ usually last weeks or months but never years giving Joe hope that she’ll unblock him. He discovers that his girlfriend, Beth, has kept the baby who is also ‘blocked’ from Joe’s vision. He delivers small gifts to the silhouette daughter every year since he knows that she visits her fathers ‘small winter cabin’ each year. Upon his girlfriend’s death the block is lifted giving him access to his daughter. When he arrives at her father’s cabin he stands alongside the small Chinese girl revealed to be the daughter. It’s only then that he realised the child wasn’t his and that’s her reason for leaving. In anger he strikes the father with a snow globe knocking him down to his death.
Back to the Cabin, Matt stands and asks teared up Joe if he’s sorry for what he did and if he confesses to the murder. Only then does Joe realise where he is. He’s in a simulation of the father’s cabin. Jon is simply a simulation talking to a copy of Joe attempting to gain his confession. Joe is left in the Cabin for eternity at the scene of the crime alongside the sound of Wizzard’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’. Jon, who never reported Harry’s death in fear he’d be blamed, is put on ‘The Register’ blocking him from every single person in the world. He appears as a red static silhouette for the rest of his days blocked from everyone, similar to how you could be banned online. Only here you can’t make a new account.
“♪♫ when the kids start singing and the band begins to play ♪♫”
How did you interpret Charlie Brooker’s short film series? Let us know in the comments below!
I’m excited for Season 3 on Netflix! (poor channel 4)