I first fell in love with Charlie Brooker’s work last year when I saw his three part series titled Black Mirror. Each episode in the trilogy was vaguely futuristic in setting, and they all had some connection drawn to the effects of technology on society and on people. They were otherwise widely different, with different characters and stories. Each episode was beautifully shot and beautifully acted.
So I was beyond ecstatic when I found out that he was doing a second Black Mirror series, and hoped it would live up to the standard he had established for himself.
In many ways, he may have gone beyond it.
Be Right Back
“No, but you’re not you, are you? You’re just a few ripples of you. There’s no history to you. You’re just a performance of stuff that he performed without thinking and it’s not enough.”
This episode was absolutely gut-wrenching to watch.
We meet a couple, Martha (Hayley Atwell) and Ash (Domhnall Gleeson), who are in the process of relocating to their small country home when Ash tragically dies while returning the moving truck.
Martha is devastated, and after the funeral retreats inside herself and to her lonely country home. She refuses all offers of help including that of a friend, Sarah (Sinead Matthews), who decides to secretly sign Martha up for a service that uses social media – pictures, texts, emails, tweets, etc – to recreate the deceased’s online presence as a way for their loved ones to cope with their deaths.
Though Martha is angry at first, when she finds out she’s pregnant with Ash’s baby she reluctantly uses the service so she can “tell” Ash about the pregnancy.
It starts off innocently enough; a few messages back and forth. But then Martha uploads home videos of Ash to the service so it can mimick his voice for her, and she falls steadily more attached to the AI, carrying Ash’s voice with her everywhere she goes.
And then the AI tells her there’s “another level to this” – and Martha shells out the cash to buy a robot that looks, sounds, and feels like her Ash.
She quickly realizes that that’s not quite enough.
“Be Right Back” deals with the themes of grief, love, and depression. As always in Charlie Brooker’s work, there are many subtle references to technology being an addiction; Martha’s friend Sarah describes recently deceased Ash as a “big user” when she tries to get Martha to sign up for the bastardized form of grief counseling.
The episode as a whole is a study of Martha’s growing addiction to any pieces of Ash left that she can get. She ignores all the other people and obligations in her life to “talk” to him, getting upset when she thinks her phone (her only connection to Ash’s voice) is broken, all culminating in her doing more and more until she realizes none of it is right, because none of it is really him.
When the climax of the fifty minute episode hits, it hits hard.
“They seemed normal to begin with, but then they realized they could do what they wanted … It got worse and worse. And now they’ve got an audience … I guess they were always like that underneath. Just needed the rules to change, for no one to intervene.”
If the first episode of the second series was gut-wrenching, “White Bear” is best described as unsettling as all hell.
The episode opens with the fantastic Lenora Crichlow of Being Human fame – who is playing an as of yet unnamed character – waking up alone in an apartment with no memory of who she is or how she got there.
She quickly realizes that all is not well in Wonderland. As she walks outside and towards crowds of people standing around with their phones recording her, her terrified pleas for help go ignored – even when a masked man with a shotgun shows up and begins to chase her. Indeed, all throughout the episode there are random people filming everything she does.
When she finally runs into someone willing to help her – a young woman by the name of Jem (Tuppence Middleton) – she is told that a transmitted signal has rendered most everyone into ‘mindless spectators’ who do nothing but film what goes on around them. There are exceptions, however: for whatever reason, the two women are unaffected by the signal, as are a group of ‘hunters’ who have taken advantage of their immunity to kill and steal at will.
But Jem has a plan to stop the madness, and drags an overwhelmed Lenora Crichlow with her.
“White Bear” is a lot more conventionally ‘scary’ than the previous one, with a couple of jump scares and some graphic violence. The usage of tracking errors and static throughout the episode to signify Lenora’s character’s memory loss surprisingly enough never got on my nerves; it was (thankfully) not overdone, and instead served to keep me on the edge of my seat.
Throughout the episode, we are thrown into as much a state of confusion as the woman is, as we follow her into finding out what’s going on. And as she (and the audience) finds out that the story Jem spins isn’t quite that simple, we feel just as shocked and betrayed as she does. The ending to this episode is not a joyful one, but it is extremely thought-provoking and complicated.
There aren’t really clear-cut “right answers” for the questions that this episode brought up – at least, there weren’t for me – which is what makes this episode so good. At the very least, watching it can open up some interesting discussions and dialogue.
The Waldo Effect
“Waldo is a construct people not only accept, but embrace … He could deliver any brand of political content, minus the potential downsides of a human messenger. In a debate, your team could Google every word the other guy says, then let Waldo hit him with debunk stats and spit a Twitter-ready zinger in the next sentence. He’s the perfect assassin.”
A depressed, washed-up comedian by the name of Jamie Salter (Daniel Rigby) is the voice behind Waldo, a vulgar cartoon bear on a TV show. When Waldo’s latest prank on Liam Monroe (Tobias Menzies) – a politician running for Parliament – goes over well with the show’s viewers, his team asks him to pretend to run for office to promote their television show. Jamie reluctantly agrees and goes around town as the bear, animatedly asking people to “vote Waldo”, to the public’s sheer delight.
Despite Waldo’s growing popularity, Jamie remains depressed and disillusioned, but he finds a little bit of joy when he gets involved with another one of the candidates running for Parliament named Gwendolyn Harris (Chloe Pirrie). However, his happiness is short lived; when one of the men in Gwen’s party finds out about the relationship, she is ordered to end the affair.
This causes Jamie to enter a downward spiral that culminates in an impassioned rant about the lies of politicians at a university debate that quickly goes viral. Waldo becomes an overnight phenomenon as many people, also experiencing growing discontent with the state of the government, begin to seriously throw support behind Waldo’s run. As Waldo’s popularity skyrockets, the cartoon bear becomes more than just a cartoon bear – and its creator, Jamie, no longer knows why he’s doing what he’s doing.
This episode was my least favorite of the three only because the heavy overtones about the dangers of politics and media did away with the slightly more subtle and open-ended approach that was taken in the first two episodes. “The Waldo Moment” was still fantastically done, however, and the acting was very good.
Overall, if this is a show you haven’t yet watched, you should definitely do so ASAP; it’s a wild ride, but an entertaining and meaningful one.
What did you think about the Black Mirror‘s second series? Comment below!