The recent TV series ‘Black Mirror’ has divided viewers and critics alike, with it’s bleak tales of the future and how humans access technology. Written by Charlie Brooker, the columnist and comedian, the series is a 3-parter, with each episode it’s own, self-contained story. Each looks at a different aspect of modern culture and views into a bleak dystopia, things are taken to the extreme, but I enjoy it, it’s fresh and unique from anything else on television. So I’m going to look at each individual episode of my favourite TV series of 2011…
Episode 1: The National Anthem
The first episode is set in the present day, and focuses on the UK’s Prime Minister, who is deliberately familar to the audience as a David Cameron caricature, performing a sexual act…with a pig. It’s the bizarre ransom request from a bunch of ‘criminals’ who’ve kidnapped the adored Princess Susannah, a Kate Middleton figure, often referred to as the ‘Facebook Princess’. It’s a ridiculous story at first, but as it gains pace, it becomes frighteningly obvious that this could happen in today’s society, obviously the ransom is deliberately ridiculous, but it is to highlight how we, as a nation, have become increasingly conditioned to the outrageous acts, that have become the norm. At the start of the programme, the Prime Minister is backed by the public, and with relevant ‘audience polls’, it’s revealed that 80% of the public don’t think he should perform the act. Alas, towards the end, another poll is drawn, and it is show that 80% are in favour of the PM commiting the act. It shows how mobs can grow from nothing, and influence decisions that the most influential man in Britain has to make, as they are the ones, and the pursuing media, who can make his life a living hell if he doesn’t comply with what they demand.
Now, obviously, the programme is stretching things to the extreme with it’s premise, but there is a real deep comical undertone to the whole thing, a sign of Charlie Brooker’s influence and certain scenes in which the ridiculous situation that the characters are facing are clarified are very funny indeed, although you won’t be laughing out loud. Throughout modern day technologies and controversies like Twitter, Facebook and even super-injunctions are referred to, which creates a sense of relevance and realism that the majority of the audience will be able to relate to. The sense of anticipation for the act grows and grows amongst both the public, everyone rushes from what they were doing to congregate in pubs and bars, to see the historic moment for themselves, that’s if the PM can go through with it. The eventual outcome is brave, and the reasoning behind the capture of the Princess again a smart little plot point that is horrificly, not too far away from the truth, this could actually happen and then be claimed as a ‘work of art’.
It’s an enthralling modern-day tale, that dares to push the boundaries, and is pretty unique, I mean you don’t see other programmes depicting a world leader having sexual intercourse with a pig.
Episode 2: Fifteen Million Credits
Episode two focuses on a dystopia like future, where the population are kept in little rooms, their walls covered in video screens which regularly advertise an X-Factor clone and porn, where people are represented by their own cartoon avatars and the currency is ‘credits’. A lot of effort has been made to create this entirely new world, which is all operated by a ‘Kinect’ type system full of gestures, and the vast majority of the society, spend all day on exercise bikes, which supposedly power the entire ‘world’.
The main character we focus on is Bing, a young man who meets Abi in the communal toilets, and decides she has such a good singing voice that he is prepared to spend all of his 15 Million Merits (hence the title), on a ticket for the big reality TV show Hot Shot, that entertains everyone, unless they are prepared to spend 1000 credits to get it off their screens. Abi reluctantly accepts his offer, on the prermise of getting out of the mundane life she faces on the exercise bikes all day, every day. When on the show, she is described as only an ‘above average’ singer, and is instead persuaded to become a porn star, which under the huge pressure of the watching millions and a drug called ‘Compliance’, that contestants are forced to take, she accepts.
We the audience can see how heartbroken Bing is, and the whole relationship is gone just as it began, yet that is the last we see of Abi, which makes you wonder why was it included really? The audience start to wonder what is the point of Bing’s, or anyone for that matter existance, what is outside of the bikes and the TV panels. It would’ve been interesting to see what is outside of the artifical world, but only the last shot shows any real signs of the outside world, and even then it is only a possibility, not certain for sure. Anyway, Bing is determined to go out in style, and show the masses what they have become, bloodthirsty consumerist pigs, although his eventual outcome is unfortunate and hugely ironic, showing that even the best of us can give into temptation.
For me, this was the strongest episode, as I believed in the world and it’s characters, and the strange correlation between Hot Shot and ‘The X Factor’, was scary to say the least. Also, the constant belitting of fat people, shown in other TV programmes which some of the other residents find hilarious, is again, a part of modern-day culture that noone can be proud of. This is Brooker’s best as it truly shows us what some of the population adore as a complete joke.
Episode 3: The Entire History of You
And finally, last night’s ‘The Entire History of You’, brought this fascinating trilogy of events to a close with probably the most lacklustre episode, in my personal opinion. It focused on married couple Liam and Ffion, they’re young, successful and rich, everything a family could need. However, the ‘device’ in this week’s episode is the use of a chip, or ‘grain’, implanted in everyone’s head, that allows them and others to see through their memories and replay them over and over again like a Sky Sports slow-mo. It’s very smart and is implemented well within the near-future setting, as part of the security checks at airports passengers are required to scan through their last 6 months’ worth of memories to weed out the terrorists. In that sense it workds, but as the paranoid levels of Liam rise, over a potential affair between his wife and previous fling Jonas, I found myself wishing to see more uses for the technology, rather than a standard drama.
I found it hard to understand how such young people, had magnificent houses and vintage cars (that one really puzzled me), and many of the characters at the opening dinner-party, were extremely unlikable, something which didn’t help me get into the story. That being said, it was interesting to see the previously nervous, level-headed character of Liam becomign obssessed with his memories, replaying little scenes over and over again, convinving himself he is right. It even provokes attacks on Jonas and his wife. The story ended up being gripping, but I felt that the time whizzed by and I could’ve done with slightly longer for a more solved ending also. The ending is again not my favourite, as I want to know more about the characters. It was shot brilliantly though, probably the best sequence of the entire series.
It’s a shame, as I found the concept the best of the three, and on reflection, it could’ve taken much more of an advantage of the surrounding world, with only a few of the memory device’s uses being hinted at. A good episode, keeping the standard high, but not as good as the previous two.
So, overall it was a series I enjoyed very much, everything about it was original and unique, something lacking in modern film and TV nowadays. I’d be interested to see a further trilogy, either involving the same characters, or ideas, or completely new ones, or maybe even film versions, the world is now Charlie Brooker’s oyster!