Reviews: Black Mirror

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.

Why?

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.

Ow.

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.
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