Black Mirror is an anthology series that presents us with alternate realities of sorts in each episode. It takes modern concepts for gadgets and technology — usually something based on what we have now — and expands on them, demanding that we ask ourselves, “what if?” What if we could replicate people to ease widows and parents through the painful grieving process? What if parents could track their child at any time and ensure that they were okay and out of harm’s way? These sound like wonderful and exciting things to look forward to in the near future…right?
Usually, we turn to film or television when we want to take a break from the pressures of life and the various issues in the world — the ones that evoke feelings of helpless melancholy. Well, if you think Black Mirror is one of those shows that’ll help you escape that feeling by giving you hope for a brighter future…you’re gonna have a bad time. Black Mirror is known for focusing on technology and the human experience to comment on current social attitudes and our collective recklessness with ever-advancing machines. It doesn’t shy away from giving us honest and bitter moments steeped in very real emotions and possibilities.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEVERAL EPISODES OF BLACK MIRROR.
15. 15 MILLION MERITS – ABI’S AUDITION
The episode “15 Million Merits” is set in an alternate reality in which the world is grey and is completely synthetic, illuminated only by fixed lights and the cold glow of a dozen screens, each one feeding their pedalling audiences with endless advertisements and entertainment to distract them from the monotony. To some, this might already sound like a familiar world.
One of the most grounded and harrowing moments is Abi’s audition, in which she sings her heart out about cherishing love to thunderous applause. Despite her obvious talent; drugged and pressured by a digital audience and three unfeeling judges, Abi is compelled into becoming an adult film star instead. As satire, the show exaggerates many aspects of reality; however, the pressure put on women to exploit their sexuality in some respect was not exaggerated in that moment, which is one of the reasons why that scene was so poignant and heart-breaking.
14. 15 MILLION MERITS – BING’S SPEECH
In reaction to Abi’s fate, which he is cruelly forced to watch, Bing resolves to earn as many merits as he can and he does. It turns out to be just enough for one more audition. Armed with nothing but a shard of glass and his hatred for the world around him, Bing enters the audition, dances and then, to the shock of the judges and the audience, holds the shard to his throat and proceeds to give one of the greatest, most heartfelt speeches ever.
He pours his rage and heartbreak out at the soul-crushing world of entertainment and commerce. It’s not just his rage, it’s ours. The truth is that we are buying things that don’t exist and a lot of the time, we do feel numb to truly beautiful things. The speech in its entirety applies to the world around us, which unveils the horrible truth: Bing’s world and ours aren’t actually as different as they appear. It’s understandable if you leaped away from your screen after hearing it to hug the nearest person or tree — anything real.
13. NOSEDIVE – THE PRISON CELL
The world is different in “Nosedive.” At first glance it appears to function in the same way, only people are judged and receive privileges afforded to them through their ranking on a social app, expanded for use in everyday life. Lacie’s is a story of one woman who tries her hardest to climb through the ranks.
Ultimately (and inevitably), it pushes her over the edge. So much has been invested in that illusion and that “perfect” social media-friendly persona, that her failure drives her mad and she ends up in a prison cell. She’s caged, but she’s free to say and do what we wants and we see that when she and a fellow prisoner start insulting each other as coldly and harshly as they can. It’s brutal, but it also makes them genuinely happy and we can understand why. Often, we’re trapped in the compulsion to win people’s love and admiration, and we try to do so with picture-perfect moments, with forced joy and pleasantry, forgetting the importance of honesty.
12. NOSEDIVE – DESK PHOTO OP
There’s one moment in “Nosedive” that is sure to resonate with a lot of people, especially those who take great care when it comes to their social media accounts. Despite advice to take it easy and avoid “trying too hard,” Lacie prepares a small bear with the intention to grab an old friend’s attention. It works, but it’s hollow because it wasn’t a real moment.
A lot of us do that. We get carried away in trying to give the world our best. In an attempt to seem happier or more lively than we really are, we set things up so people will see us in a certain light. We manipulate things and even events at times, to facilitate picture-perfect moments with no real emotion behind them. Black Mirror didn’t have to exaggerate anything for this moment, which makes it just slightly unsettling when you really think about it.
11. THE WALDO MOMENT – THE ELECTION
“The Waldo Moment” is a weird episode, not because it’s far-fetched, but precisely because it isn’t. In fact, a lot of things from that episode have become reality. That’s a hard truth to swallow when you consider that the episode is about a blue animated bear that somehow ends up running for Member of Parliament. The concept of such a thing might have seemed completely ridiculous years ago when the episode was released, but nowadays, it’s our stark reality.
Everything we once took seriously has been warped by cynicism and the accompanying willingness to take our freedoms and power as a people for granted, opting to make stupid things famous and bring figures to prominence — ones that seem to understand our spite for politicians yet cannot offer anything more, apart from mockery and oftentimes ignorant criticism. That’s why, when you look back on the episode, you’re likely to think, “what a distorted world we live in.”
10. THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF YOU – RIPPING IT OUT
The focus of “The Entire History of You” is on Liam’s quickly-growing jealousy and obsession over his wife, Ffion’s apparent affection for another man. It’s a familiar story and could have been done without the use of grain implants and memory recordings. However, the technology — which, believe it or not, actually has basis in real life — helps to illustrate our tendency to focus on details and use resources like tech to overthink things and allow pain to fester instead of letting it fade.
He may have been right in his suspicions in the end, but we can still see how destructive his obsession was on his fight to uncover the truth. It culminates in the end when the emotional pain forces him to cut into his own neck and tear the grain out. As he does, his old, happier memories flash across the screen before it all cuts to black as if to really bring the point home that powerful obsessions always lead to self-destruction. Technology just speeds that process up.
9. BE RIGHT BACK – DECISION TO ORDER
Some pretty interesting concepts are explored in “Be Right Back” and none of them are too far-fetched. It explores our heavy use of social media, our ways of dealing with grief and our ultimately futile attempts to immortalize ourselves. The episode revolves around Martha, who loses her boyfriend, Ash. A friend recommends an AI to help her through her grief and while Martha is initially repulsed by the idea, she eventually gives in and tries it out, beginning with an AI on her tablet which uses information from social media to try and imitate Ash.
It’s a simple scene: she’s alone, sitting on her bed and crying profusely as she types to what is essentially a highly-advanced chatbot. But the scene is powerful because many of us know how agonizing grief is, especially its initial stages. We can understand how tempting it would be to use technology like that and how willing we might be in the end to use it, just so we can feel the presence of a dear loved one one more time, even if we disagree with the very idea of it. The scary thing is, none of that is at all impossible.
8. BE RIGHT BACK – SETTING UP ASH
Martha’s use of the AI progresses throughout the episode until finally she orders a synthetic body made for it, one that imitates Ash’s appearance based on his social media profiles. The show does a great job at bringing one thing to light: no matter how much of our lives we put up on social media, none of it tells anyone who we really are. The AI Ash doesn’t feel the same and he doesn’t act the same.
The scene in which Martha takes out her frustration on the machine and chastises him for not reacting with any real emotion is undoubtedly impactful. It shows us that clinging on to the deceased is far from healthy, no matter how painful it might be to let go. It also shows us that we are not the perfect pictures we put up, we are our flaws and idiosyncrasies as well and we are loved for them.
7. NATIONAL ANTHEM – THE PIG
This episode is infamous for its shocking ending in which the UK’s prime minister if forced to…do some very obscene things with a pig. It comments on society and politics, the dangers of social media and it does it all using the technology and internet-influenced society that exists here and now. We see the prime minister as a political figure, pressured by Twitter, Facebook and Youtube to do something vile in order to save Princess Susannah, who has been kidnapped by a twisted artist trying to make a statement.
The scene in which the PM’s humiliating act takes place does more than just shock us. We see that the entire nation has flocked to the nearest television screen to watch it happen as they laugh or look away in disgust. It highlights the disconnect caused by technology. Much like they are in the show, the audience is disgusted but they can’t turn away. No matter how inhumane something is, it’s easier for us to watch if it’s on a screen — seemingly disconnected from reality. That’s not something that might happen, it’s happening right now.
6. WHITE CHRISTMAS – BEING BLOCKED
The heart of “White Christmas” is on Joe, who tells of how he was blocked by his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Beth. He wasn’t physically able to see or hear her or his child, which drove him to the point of obsession and desperation. Upon Beth’s death, the block was removed and Joe was finally able to see his daughter, only to discover that the child wasn’t, in fact, his daughter. Beth’s child was fathered by another man. Shocked by this discovery and forced into a blind rage, Joe murders Beth’s father and flees, inadvertently leaving the child without the means to survive.
The episode says something interesting about human behavior. The ability to forcibly remove someone from an aspect of our lives (while sometimes necessary) invites unfamiliar anxiety brought on by the possibilities of technology. People can be strung along by hope, given glimpses, but never whole answers; they are therefore kept from closure. It’s something unique to the Information Age and something we’ll no doubt see more and more in the world around us.
5. ARKANGEL – SARA GOES MISSING
The implementation of a tracking device for children is understandable, especially after we’re given an example of its benefits in the first few minutes of “Arkangel” when Marie’s daughter, Sara, goes missing after chasing a cat into the bushes. Marie gets Sara implanted with an experimental device that allows a parent to track the location and vitals of their child.
The moment when Marie gets her daughter back, we’re sympathetic to her worries so when she decides to get the device, despite being hesitant about many of its more elaborate features, we’re understanding. In fact, many might actually choose to do that as well, given the opportunity. After all, this is an increasingly terrifying world and we need to keep our children safe from its many dangers.
4. ARKANGEL – THE PENCIL INCIDENT
One of the features of Sara’s implant allows Marie to see what her daughter sees through a screen. Not only that, it allows Marie to control what her daughter sees, censoring things like blood and violence in all forms. Because of this, Sara is unable to explore the world and feed her curiosity. Frustrated by being kept from seeing the world in its entirety, Sara self mutilates using a pencil so she can watch her blood spill from her hands, only to have it quickly blurred out by the implant.
The scene says a lot about the dangers of helicopter parenting. Of course, it’s our instinct to keep innocent children from being unnecessarily exposed to things like violence and blood, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea — by any stretch of the imagination — to try and prevent them from seeing any and all hints to it. It’s important for us as we grow to see the bad as well as the good so we can properly develop and learn for ourselves.
3. ARKANGEL – MARIE AND SARA’S CONFRONTATION
Growing up without any real privacy took its toll on Sara, creating resentment in her toward her mother. The final straw came when Sara discovered that her mother had never stopped watching and that Marie had gone further and manipulated events, going so far as to induce an early miscarriage in an unknowing Sara. Betrayed and disgusted, Sara resolves to leave, but not before brutally confronting her mother in the episode’s final scene.
It’s a powerful scene because we know that, despite everything, Marie only ever wanted to protect her daughter like any mother would. At the same time, we can sympathize with Sara’s rage. Her mother took one step too far and invaded her daughter’s life in almost every way. It’s a warning of how technology can take healthy emotional development and twist it if we’re not careful. And let’s face it, technology advances quickly and maybe we just don’t know how to properly adjust.
2. WHITE BEAR – VICTORIA’S CRY FOR HELP
After waking up with no memory, a woman finds herself in front of a screen with a symbol on it. She leaves the house and quickly finds herself watched by everyone in the neighborhood, recording her with their phones. When a masked man appears and begins firing at her with a shotgun, she cries for help, screaming at nearby clusters of people, all of whom are watching and smiling as they record her dire situation.
It’s a familiar situation — seeing people record terrible things happening instead of trying to step in and help. The bystander effect is a phenomena that has seemingly always existed, but it has been made worse by technology. Now, more and more people record instead of intervening. There are many examples of it happening and there seems to be no hope for change.
1. SHUT UP AND DANCE – THE THREAT
The premise of “Shut Up and Dance” is relatively simple. Kenny’s computer gets hacked and humiliating images are used by the faceless hacker to blackmail him into performing increasingly violent acts. He’s not alone in his situation either. Kenny is joined by Hector, who is being blackmailed with proof of his infidelity.
People are increasingly paranoid in the Information Age and with good reason. So much of our lives are in “the cloud” and there are criminals with the technical skill and knowledge to manipulate us with that information. We’re not perfect people and there are parts of our lives that we’re ashamed of. This episode takes that notion to the extreme with Kenny, which is why cyber security is so important. It really makes you think about changing your password from “password1,” doesn’t it?
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