Tag Archives: british tv

Black Mirror Got Better

Holy crap.

So, a couple of weeks ago I wrote Black Mirror, Blunt Teeth, discussing how much I felt like season one of Black Mirror didn’t hold up to the hype — but I was still going to check in with the second season (and subsequent ones) because I’d been hearing so much about the show.

Well, I finished season 2 over Christmas weekend, and does that show ever warm up in its second season. Seriously, it was almost like watching two different shows: one lukewarm and cartoonish, the other utterly chilling.

We kick off with Be Right Back, which plays with the idea of people preserving themselves via their social media and online history. It’s an idea I’ve been playing around with in a few short stories, so it was kind of cool to see it done so well in this story. A young woman whose boyfriend dies tries to keep from letting go of him – and what happens because of it will give you goosebumps. For some reason, this episode reminded me of British Zombie show In The Flesh; thematically it covers different territory but the tones are similar.

Next up? White Bear. This was the episode all my friends had been talking about, and it was the one I watched on a big-screen TV. It’s also the one my mom walked in on halfway through; she was so freaked out by it that she left the room after a few minutes – but she did ask me, later, how it turned out. While the first season’s episode The National Anthem toyed a bit with the idea of entertainment as the dehumanization of the masses, White Bear took this a step further, showing how terrifying it would if revenge and justice were conflated on a societal level.

Which brings us to the end of season two, and The Waldo Moment. This episode had a different tone; less chilling and more analytical, might be the way to put it. Initially I thought they’d spin in a direction that was completely opposite to where the episode ended up; ultimately it seemed like another indictment of society’s willingness to hand over responsibility for itself to nameless, faceless wielders of power.

I’m not sure I’d recommend that one skip season 1 entirely, but so far, for me, season 2 is where it’s at. Check it out on Netflix for some seriously creepy viewing.

Black Mirror, Blunt Teeth

Last week, a friend recommended Black Mirror – or rather, they expressed shock when they found out I hadn’t watched it yet. I finally got around to starting it a few days ago, armed only with the notion that it was some kind of modern-day British Twilight Zone.

The first episode of the first season, The National Anthem, had me hooked within minutes. “I’m not going to fuck a pig,” the Prime Minister declares, faced with a list of demands from terrorists who’ve kidnapped Britain’s sweetheart of a princess. While the premise of the first episode is set up quickly, the remainder of the hour-long show feels toothless. Objections to carrying through the terrorists’ demands center largely around whether the cost/benefit balances out, and the story tips dramatically once the kidnapper starts sending non-essential body parts to local news agencies. I know there’s a limit to what can be accomplished in an hour of anthology television, but focusing on the journalistic side of the ethical conundrum comes at the cost of really peeling back the layers of what it means for a human being to weigh ethics and choose to make the decision to engage in sex with a creature incapable of consent. The idea of a journalist willing to exploit her body and her connections for a story isn’t a new one, and the story doesn’t delve any deeper than that.

Fifteen Million Merits, the second episode, evokes Doctor Who’s Satellite Five, (“The Long Game,” “Bad Wolf,” “The Parting of the Ways”) in that it’s set in a world based around a reality-show model of civilization. Individuals go to a gym and pedal on stationary bikes all day (I admit, my attention wandered a little bit, here) and earn credits, which they spend on things like food – and avoiding erotic commercials. They watch a reality competition called Hot Shots, paying millions of credits to compete. Here, our protagonist (who’s conveniently inherited millions from his dead brother) falls for a girl whose singing talent, he thinks, is enough to get her a ticket out of their mundane existence. Ultimately, the corruption of the system swallows both of them whole.

So far (I’m now watching episode three, The Entire History of You), the show seems to set up intriguing premises without fully examining them. While ambiguity is the stock-in-trade of shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits (which, I’d argue, this show tracks with more closely), there’s a difference between being ambiguous and being noncommittal, and I would argue that so far Black Mirror is erring on the side of the latter. It’s less stylized than Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place and while its creator, Charlie Brooker, is quoted as saying “Each episode…[is] all about the way we’re living now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy,” I’m not sure that the episodes so far are really being true to that vision.

Might a government official be coerced into an abhorrent sex act? Might we wind up living in pod hotels and generating electricity via stationary bicycle? Who knows. So far, the third episode seems the most realistic – and its conceit actually echos the basis of my story A Fixed Perspective, available in Short Frictions,

I’m not ready to say that Black Mirror is a miss, but so far, it hasn’t hit that sweet spot where, as an anthology show, it becomes more than a collection of brief conceptual exercises and morphs into something truly iconic.

Here’s hoping it hits that sweet spot soon.

Black Mirror is available via Netflix streaming service.

 

Edit: After writing this last night, I went on to start series 2; one episode into that and all I can say is, HOLY JUMP IN QUALITY, BATMAN! Looking forward to the rest of the second series, and hoping the quality keeps up!