Reflecting on Ourselves, Darkly

Black Mirror (Channel 4; Netflix)

English satirist and broadcaster Charlie Brooker’s new series, Black Mirror, has received many positive notices in the U.K., China (where it boasts very high viewer ratings), and now the U.S. All the current episodes are dark, some more humorous than others, some much bleaker than others. All involve the interaction of people with each other through technology. Thus the title “Black Mirror,” the screen before we charge it with images and/or words.

If you are looking for something different to watch, that takes current technology a step into the future, that reminds us of The Twilight Zone, particularly the early 30-min. episodes (the similarity being in the storytelling and addressing of concerns that haunt us, even if we are not fully aware of them), then you’ll want to binge it on Netflix right now. Well, maybe wait a moment until you’ve finished this.

My son, who lives far away but who phones and Facetimes regularly (yes, like you we might be syncing up with the Black Mirror future), often discuss what we are watching and reading. Black Mirror is a show we both watched at the same time, each without knowing the other had found it. We talked about what we liked and disliked. Following are how we rank episodes best to good (nothing bad here; we can like a series or film overall but find fault with elements, as nothing is perfect).

Favorite. Episode 5: “White Bear” A woman awakens not knowing who or where she is. She soon discovers the world turned upside down with people trying to kill her and bystanders capturing the attempts on their phones. In the end, the story turns on the question: where’s the line between justice, revenge, and pure morbid public spectacle?

Close second favorite, Episode 2: “Fifteen Million Merits” You don’t think anything can be worse than cubeland or, horrors, the throwback open office? How about riding exercycles to nowhere and existing in a digital cube? Very devilish commentary on game shows and, more to the point, the isolation of a digital world.

Third, Episode 1, “National Anthem” Apparently terrorists have abducted a British princess. They threaten to kill her … unless the Prime Minister has sexual intercourse with a pig that is broadcast live. The idea sets the Twitter world on fire. So what will the PM do faced with this insanity and how will our electronic world distort the real world? And even when we discredit ourselves, can we still find redemption? Some rank the episode the best or nearer the top. Very good, very thought-provoking, but highly distasteful, much like the fringes of Twitter and YouTube. Nothing graphic but your mind supplies the details, each cringeworthy.

Fourth, Episode 4 “Be Right Back” Best summed up as, “Careful what you wish for.” A young woman’s husband dies suddenly in an auto accident. Pining for him, a friend tells her how she might get back an electronic semblance of him to ease her through her grieving. But, things get out of hand.

Fifth, Episode 3, “The Entire History of You” Suspicion of marital infidelity receives support from an implanted technology allowing people to record and playback for themselves and others episodes of their lives. Good for how it illustrates that our propensity for sharing can go too far. Not so good because you can predict the outcome from the beginning. Still, a credible warning about carrying electronic sharing to the extreme.

Sixth, Episode 6: “The Waldo Moment” Failed comedian Jamie Salter is the human behind the animated, bitterly satiric blue bear Waldo. During a by-election, Waldo inserts himself into the campaign, with the encouragement of the CIA (they do get around, don’t they?). In a travesty and joke of an election, which seems to show how meaningless and easily manipulated elections can be by irrationality spread widely, Waldo places second out of three candidates. In the end we see that Waldo has gone on to pretty much run the country, perhaps the world.

A different kind of series with something to say about the digital world, and one that doesn’t waste your time. Six episodes available in the U.S. with more to come. w/c

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