Can We Talk About Black Mirror For A Second?

Warning: Spoilers. If you care about that. You shouldn’t. But just in case you do.

I’m not much of a TV person. I’ve got a small handful of shows I’ll watch semi-regularly with my wife, but there are very few shows over the last ten years that I can honestly say I went out of my way to keep up with. Even then, the shows have tended to be comedies (Archer, South Park), current events shows (The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, The Colbert Report), or anime (RWBY, Death Note). It takes a lot for me to care about dramas. Outside of The Blacklist and Sherlock, there haven’t been many dramas that I’ll go out of my way to recommend to people.

And then there’s Black Mirror.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

One problem I’ve long had with most television is that it’s formulaic. You almost always know exactly what you’re getting when you watch week to week. Even with “unscripted” shows like Big Brother or Whose Line Is It Anyway?, you’ve still got production companies to clean up the messes and deliver the message that they want their viewers to see. Though sports matches are unscripted and happen in real time, I’ve even struggled to watch those in most situations because the drama and twists don’t move me the way they once did.

Black Mirror is beautifully written. Because of the fact that each episode is a standalone story within the season, all of the loose ends need to be tied up — not necessarily neatly — in order for the episode to end.  You see this in nearly every episode, though there’s still episode to episode continuity in spite of this. The control technology for the grains in “The Entire History of You” makes repeated appearances throughout the series, while the grains themselves aren’t that different from the “cookies” used in “White Christmas”, which isn’t that far of a leap from the alternate reality technology used in “San Junipero”.

Black Mirror is dark as fuck. But that’s not what makes it interesting. It’s that it’s dark as fuck while straddling a very fine line between reality and science fiction. We can easily envision a reality where a technology company uses social media profiles of deceased person to allow alive loved ones to connect with them once more (and not just because one tech company is already trying it). It’s a bit harder for us to envision a dead person’s social media profiles inhabiting a live, interactive android like the one in “Be Right Back”.

The show, in many ways, serves as a cautionary tale for the reality we’re already in. I mean, it’s not like a joke candidate whose only goal is to speak to the uneducated by being provocative, racist, and otherwise just a general terrible excuse for morality would ever succeed in an election like Waldo the Bear did in “The Waldo Moment”, right? There’s no way a person’s social media status could ever determine their social status like what happens in “Nosedive”, can it? It’s not like internet trolls with no moral compass could ever ruin the lives of so many while remaining safe themselves like what happened in “Shut Up and Dance”. Obviously none of those things could ever come to fruition in reality…

Despite all of the excellent episodes so far[1], there’s two that stood out to me for different reasons. The first is “White Bear”, which is the middle episode of series[2] two.  The episode focuses on a woman, Victoria, who, along with her fiancee, kidnapped, murdered, and filmed said murder of a six year old child. Victoria’s sentence for her part in the crimes is to undergo an experience that would cause her to feel the same feelings of terror that her victim experienced. As such, Victoria is chased around by people trying to kill her all day. Of course, the “killers” are putting on a show, but Victoria doesn’t know that. Victoria’s mind is wiped every night, meaning that she believes that the threat on her life is real. Every single day for the rest of her life.

In addition to Victoria’s eye-for-an-eye punishment going on every day for the rest of her life, her escapades are part of a facility known as the White Bear Justice Park. The park not only administers Victoria’s punishment, but it also charges admission and lets park gets get up close and personal as they watch Victoria’s torture. The episode hearkens back to medieval times where crowds would father before someone was taken to the gallows, only to leave when their blood lust was satiated by death. The episode is an exceptionally bleak look into the psyche of mob mentality. I left the episode wondering deeply about where the line cruel and unusual punishment truly existed in society — as well as whether or not this latent desire for torture really exists within each of us.

The other episode that stuck out to me was the episode “San Junipero”. The episode is arguably the most uplifting of the entire series[3], which is saying something as both main characters of the episode are dead at the end. The city of San Junipero is nothing more than a computer simulation, one where people who have died go to live out their eternity as they see fit if they so choose to do so. Both of the two main characters — Yorkie and Kelly — are terminally ill, and are in the process of spending time in San Junipero to determine if that’s where they want to spend eternity.

Yorkie and Kelly fall in love with each other — a fact which wouldn’t have happened outside of the simulation as Yorkie has been in a comatose state since she was 21 and Kelly was married for 45+ years — and eventually decide to spend their lives (deaths?) together in the simulation after they’ve both passed on. The concept itself is an interesting take on the idea of an afterlife that is so pervasive in religion. Of all of the technologies and advancements shown in the entire series, this is the one I’d most like to see exist. Could you imagine the works of art, literature, and music that could come out of people’s consciousnesses surviving in a digital world?

If you haven’t seen Black Mirror yet, go watch it on Netflix now. If you have seen it, what did you think? What’s your favorite episode? For the love of all things holy, just go comment so we can talk about the show.

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8 thoughts on “Can We Talk About Black Mirror For A Second?

  1. Charlie Brooker is a peculiar but genius fellow, although I consider Chris Morris his guardian angel (and, personally, his superior). Even over here, Black Mirror was a surprise for UK tv. There was this small period of maybe two/three years where outstanding homegrown tv happened, and then it went downhill again. We’re a bit inconsistent.

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    1. I find there’s a lot of British television I end up watching. In particular, I’ve found myself watching a lot of Sherlock, Black Mirror, The IT Crowd, and even Moone Boy. That said, I’m not familiar with Chris Morris outside of the fact that he was in The IT Crowd. What has he done?

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      1. Oh boy, do I have a list. So he’s a writer more than anything else, the best known being ‘Brass Eye’, a satirical late night news show that is a spoof of our real news show ‘Newsnight’. Its predecessor is ‘The Day Today’ (which also spawned Steve Coogan’s character Alan Partridge). In between those he wrote ‘Jam’ and ran a radio show ‘Blue Jam’, neither of which I would advise for the faint-hearted/not into alternative comedy. It’s a bit…intense.

        He co-wrote ‘Nathan Barley’ with Brooker which…I can’t actually describe that show in a way that would do it justice, but some of the ‘IT Crowd’ cast are in it (in part thanks to the birth of ‘The Mighty Boosh’ – Morris and Brooker had no hand in that, but it sort of explains a lot of the creative relationships involved in all of the shows mentioned so far). If you want a film, he wrote and directed ‘Four Lions’, which is also a little bit out there.

        Incidentally, if ‘IT Crowd’ worked for you, I cannot recommend ‘Father Ted’ and ‘Blacks Books’ enough – I personally rate those as Graham Linehan’s best work, although he had a healthy hand in some of the shows above, too. All of that should keep you indoors for a good few weeks, no need to thank me 🙂

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        1. I’ve heard of Father Ted, however that’s the only show on your list that even has a familiar name. Then again, I don’t watch a ton of television, so this shouldn’t be too shocking. I’ll certainly look into some of the shows you mentioned on this list though.

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