Reviews: Black Mirror
White Bear: The Worst Episode of the Pre-Netflix Run
I was skeptical on Black Mirror at first, considering it to be decent, but leaning a bit too heavily on an angle of human misery and relying on style over substance. Currently halfway through season three, the show has grown on me, and while I do think it has a lot of style over substance, many episodes are still compelling watches. Not so White Bear, the midpoint of the second season. This seems to be the most famous episode of the second season, between the more low-key Be Right Back and the fan un-favorite The Waldo Moment. Having watched The Waldo Moment shortly after this one I have to wonder why that one gets so much flack. The Waldo Moment has, at least, a main character with a personality and a vague arc, some strong dialogue, and social commentary that turned out to be rather prescient. White Bear has two main problems. The first is that its protagonist is ultimately a completely passive character who has no real characterization or arc. The lead actress (who I assume would be fine given a decent script) is wasted on material that gives her no opportunities to do much besides wail and moan. The second lies in a fundamental issue with the plot. To wit, the entire thing hinges around a plot twist that comes fifteen minutes before the end of the episode. The show proceeds to spend ten minutes after the audience now understands everything wasting time by shining a light on a minor supporting character the audience likely doesn't care about. The big problem with the twist, despite the fact that it drags on for way too long, is the fact that it doesn't make any sense. The show wants to make a point of social commentary, but the cynical misanthropy at the core fails to take into account how anything in the real world works, fancy technology or not. It's also not helped by the way the episode feels so darn pleased with itself. It's a real stinker. I hope I don't encounter any more episodes as bad as this one.
Crocodile: Is Simplicity a Benefit?
The episode "Crocodile" seems to have, taking a wide view, one fatal flaw: it's premise is very simple. It focuses on the fuck-up potential of one device in one part of a criminal search, perhaps being an overly-narrow story in general (and much more zoomed-in than other episodes), but certainly very simple. It could be covered in a few minutes, really, and the bigger story could be said to be missed out on. However, it is redeemed by the wonderful performance of Andrea Riseborough as Mia, turning into a character-driven episode that can be seen to ditch the nightmare potential of Black Mirror to take one drop of a possibly-corrupt judicial system and expand upon her. Mia's journey could be so much longer, and it's great to see the show return to its humanistic concerns from earlier episodes. In fact, it may the story's general lack of depth that gives more breathing room for Riseborough to invade with her performance and keep the attention focussed on what she will do next, not what the story might bring. Overall, a very interesting episode, with great talent. Somehow, Mia is more likeable than Shazia, but that's the nature of Black Mirror, I guess.
Loathsome and Inspired
Frankly, this series is one of the most brilliant pieces of surreal horror to come out in the last decade; let credit be given where credit is due, in that respect. This is, however, not the spiritual successor to Twilight Zone, nor will it ever be, if the trend of the series continues as is. This series fails in one fundamental regard, one aspect that is worryingly neglected in the episodes; the vast majority of characters (most of whom made my skin crawl just by listening to them) are utterly inhuman. Now, this isn't a fault, necessarily; it means, however, that the series scope is inherently limited in a manner with which Twilight Zone was not. Inhuman people (more akin to tracts, if we're going to be honest here) in inhuman situations can only produce a limited variety of outcomes, after all; the protagonists, to the last, are utterly destroyed in one form or another. Great for tragedy, I'll admit, but the annihilation of the chance for even a doomed moral victory reveals that, to the last, these characters are custom built to fail and fail alone and despairing. And here is where Black Mirror, in my humble opinion, fails; tragedy shouldn't always be averted, but to make tragedy the only option, and to make the characters at times willingly walk into that situation . . . it's irksome to see this series even tangentially related to Twilight Zone. Twilight Zone, for all it's faults, was a series that was concerned with examining human beings that confront inhuman situations. Some people died despairing, like in Black Mirror. Some died alone and without another soul to comfort them as they passed. This is only to be expected, after all; we're all so fragile, so easily broken by fell circumstance. But when people broke in Twilight Zone, they broke uniquely; some were broken long before we saw them, and some broke as we watched, helplessly. And, finally, this is the difference; Black Mirror shows the horror of isolation and inevitable destruction, but does so with inhuman characters that have the moral fortitude of china, and thusly always shatter. In Black Mirror, a protagonist might allow another person suffer from being ostracized due to being broken by society, but in Twilight Zone, the protagonist may very well see that invisible person and embrace them. Overall, Black Mirror is good at what it does, but it's no Twilight Zone.
I had heard of this show being spoken of as a modern Twilight Zone, but didn't even watch through the first episode, giving up around where Callow was being driving to the studio. I read the spoilers, and am unimpressed. It's just an overblown anti-mass media message which employs the same reliance on Bile Fascination as the antagonist in its own story. And before you tell me that was the whole point, "these awful people are you, audience!", I consider it self-defeating to condemn a practice while making use of it yourself. After a few days, I decided to give the second episode a chance, gave up even faster after I could tell which way the wind was blowing, read the spoilers, and am glad I didn't see this to the end either. Frankly, it seems like it was more awful and pretentious than the first episode. I find it an insult to the Twilight Zone for it to be compared to this. Twilight Zone was dark at times, it did have uplifting episodes, and even at it's darkest it was nowhere near "1.3 billion people watch a sobbing man hump a pig to save someone's life". There was subtlety to it, and variation, hope, fear, justice, cruelty, nobility, irony. This isn't a dark examination of modern culture. This is just being as pointlessly dark as possible under the pretense of social criticism. And you can't expect me to take seriously the moral of humanity's awful fascination with the rape and humiliation of a man for over an hour when I didn't bother to finish the episode.
I enjoyed the first episode of Black Mirror, true. It was a Chris Morris farce without Chris Morris, played straight as a ruler despite having a frankly preposterous premise (if anyone tried to get David Cameron to have sex with a pig to release a princess, Cameron wouldn't be popping Viagra, he'd be getting the Army or whoever to double tap the motherfucker). As such I was expecting roughly the same from Fifteen Million Merits. Oh dear was I wrong. The two are markedly different in tone. Fifteen Million Merits is a gut punch of a television programme that is physically painful to watch. I mean that in the most positive sense that a person can use the term "physically painful". It's not bad - it's excellent, proof if nothing else that Charlie Brooker is a far more talented man than either the public or the man himself truly appreciates - but so truly disturbing, like the best satire is, and so incisive about our present day culture (and our resulting future) that the viewing left me numb, distressed and an insomniac. Yeah, cheers Brooker. Watching it while on Twitter, one of the common criticisms I noticed was that people thought the world was unbelievable. They missed the point almost as spectacularly as the person I saw who thought the omnipresent televisions that forced you to watch them were "cool but would get annoying". The world of 15MM is, as with so much in the programme, a metaphor for the world of today. If you think the concept of a world where millions do pointless busy work in order to earn money to buy imaginary hats for an avatar of yourself is a stupid, unbelievable idea then I invite you to consider the number of people who work in soul-sucking retail jobs and then come home and play Team Fortress 2. As I say, it is incisive about our culture, and specifically the constant dangling carrot apparent in most British media of "celebrity" which is nothing of the sort, as embodied by The X Factor (which it quite viciously disembowels). It pulls no punches and hurts all the more for it. It's brutal, heartbreaking, poignant and (it must be said) downright depressing. Suffice to say, I highly recommend it.