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Sunday, March 1, 2015

TV Review: Black Mirror (2011-) and a Warning Against Technology

Created By: Charlie Brooker
Airing On: Channel 4/Netflix

Episode 1: The National Anthem
Rating: B
In the premiere, we're introduced to Prime Minister Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) who has a bit of a dilemma on his hands when Princess Susannah (Lydia Wilson) is kidnapped because in order to have her returned safely he must have sex with a live pig on national television. To make it worse, the kidnapper has a list of demands that makes his proposition nearly impossible to fake. 

This episode gives you just enough to keep you interested with the plot. Will he do it? Will he not? However, about once the episode is over you realize that the show is not about the "will he/won't he" dilemma, even though a majority of the episode is physically dedicated to just that. It's more about the limitations we have over our own privacy when it comes to technology. We place such a huge importance on technology and are oblivious  to the world around us because we're so addicted we are to it. The President has to be filmed from every angle when he has sex with the pig, so Photoshop and other video editing programs are out of question, so he's still in a pawn in this unknown man's game. All anyone else can do is sit there and watch and so they do, even though they know an unknown internet terrorist has been hacking his way into the Prime Minister's life.The terrorist's demand has been broadcasted to everyone and even though it's completely disgusting and they're outraged that this could happen, they still watch. Though highly exaggerated, Black Mirror is making a point and it's making it loud and clear: we're addicted to technology and we're in so deep that we can't look away, even if what they're seeing is horrendously disgusting. We're so addicted to our devices that what really matters goes right over our heads, like noticing that Princess Susannah had been suddenly returned before the broadcast of the Prime Minister's fornication with the pig even aired. The more involved we become with what's happening on a TV/phone screen, the less susceptible are we to perceiving what's actually going on in the world around us and we can only blame ourselves for it, but we're far too deeply involved to even see it. 

Episode 2: Fifteen Million Merits
Rating: A-
Similar to the previous episode, this one packs a punch in it's strikingly bleak undertones about the world we live in. We're introduced to a world where people work for these "merits"  to survive. If you want to eat, brush your teeth or skip annoying ads that plaster themselves around you at the most awkward of times, you have pay to do so with these merits, just like you would to do to skip ads on services like Youtube, Hulu and etc. In order to get these merits, you have to spend your day riding these fitness bikes. In order to pass the time, a game of sorts plays on a screen in front of you as you ride the bike, but this game's premise involved shaming those who are overweight within the community that don't get to ride bikes, similar to what people do in our own world. Fat shaming is a huge problem today, and even more so they're forced to pick up trash in bright yellow uniforms like targets. However, there are other options available besides the game to pass the time. You could watch porn or a singing competition show that our main character Bing (Daniel Kaluuya) gets his crush, Abi (Jessica Brown Findley) on by paying for her ticket with his last 15 million merits. It's after his crush has moved on to become famous and he's spent all of his earnings that the harsh reality of this world really settles in. And the reality is that nothing really matters. The merits don't matter. The television game shows don't matter.  You don't matter unless you're making money and abiding by society's standards of living, which includes being thin and muscular. Everything is structured from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed in your cold, confined, empty room. Our main character, like everyone else, has no real drive or purpose until he meets Abi. The world has stripped everyone of everything that could make them recognizable in a sea of faces. Everyone does exactly what they're told to do and the only things that give anyone any sort of meaning to life are what they see on the TV screen because they, too, long to be like the rich and famous people. But fame means nothing, too. We, too, worship stars and follow their every move. We long to be in their position as if wealth would make everything okay, but it even if we do manage to achieve this greatest, it most likely wouldn't make us happy. Bing had 15 million merits, but none of it made any difference as he still continued to bike even though he didn't have to. So  what does real happiness amount to? What actually matters in a world where everything seemingly doesn't? I don't know and Black Mirror doesn't even give us a direct answer because in the end, Bing ends up leading a rich and famous life outside of bike-land, but it's also a life that's just as depressing as the one he previously had. 

Episode 3: The Entire History of You
Rating: A+
What if every memory you've ever had could be replayed physically before your eyes and you still missed the huge the one thing that could ruin your life even though it was right in front of you all this? Liam (Toby Kebbell) lives in a world where there's been an chip implanted in everyone's head that allows you to do just that. While it sounds like something innovative and cool, it's also something that could destroy us. As human beings, we normally obsess over the past and the "what-ifs" of the world. What if I could've done better? What if I could've said something that could help? What if I could've fixed that one mistake? How could someone not obsess over a situation, especially when they could replay it over and over in their heads until they figured out what went wrong. While the previous episodes preyed on the evils of our society involving technology and our obsession with it, this episode is preys on humanity and our inability as a species to let things go. There is this cool innovative technology, but we're focused more on the humanity of our characters rather than the world they live in. The drama revolves around Liam's relationship with his wife, using technology as a mere catalyst for what's to come  once Liam has figured out what his wife has done. What's interesting is that previously, the technology was the undoing of the characters' lives, but here, Liam has created his own downfall. Time and time again in this series, the question of whether or not technology is destroying us is brought up, but it's not the technology destroying humanity, it's us and this episode confirms that.

Season 2: Episode 1: Be Right Back
Rating: A
In the Season 2 premiere of Black Mirror, we meet a couple named Martha (Hayley Atwell)
 and Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) who are just your average couple: young and in love. That is
until Ash gets into a car accident and dies, which sends Martha into a deep depression, especially after she finds out that she's pregnant. Months after Ash's death, Martha's friend suggests a program to her that would allow Ash's online presence to be manifested into an A.I that acts just like him. After giving in and trying the program for a while,
 Martha begins to feel as if it's as if Ash never left. But can a program replicate a human being perfectly? And more importantly, is it better to keep someone's memory alive after they're gone or just move on, especially when we have the ability to keep them alive through a physical entity that looks, talks and feels just like the person who has died? Similarly to the last season's closer, this episode preys more on humanity more so than the technology. It focuses on us a species and what makes a person human. It also focuses on how we grieve and our inability to let things go. .

Yes, the A.I looks and talks like a human and talks like a human, but there is more to a human being besides how they look and act, it's more about how a person feels. However, an A.I is not a person, therefore, it cannot feel, a fact Martha finds out the hard way. Ash fights, he cries, he's distant at times and at others, he's funny and lively, and these are some of the things an A.I can't replicate because they're strictly things that make us human. The program builds a version of a human, not an actual one and it's only after Martha looks past the human-like exterior of the A.I, that she's able to finally let Ash go. This episode ends on a happier note than the previous ones, which is why I enjoyed it so much. It deals with a heavy subject in a way that's not only engaging, but also thought-provoking. Can an A.I replicate human emotion? What makes a person human? These kinds of questions are brought up in films like I.Robot and Ex Machina, but they never give us a straight answer. This episode, however, does.

 Episode 2:White Bear
Rating: B-
Back to the themes of the earlier episode, we open to another satire about not ourselves as human beings holding us back, but technology instead. We open to a young woman named Victoria (Lenora Crichlow) who wakes up dazed and confused set up in a chair in front of a television set plastering a strange symbol. Wandering outside, she finds everyone else in the town staring straight at her, recording her every move with their cell phones. After a man in a car with a rifle begins hunting her, she runs for her life, only to end up finding out a terrible secret about not only herself, but the very town she's been inhabiting during her journey to safety. The truth about Victoria, while shocking, isn't the kicker to this episode, it's more so about the people around her and the punishment she's receiving by being recorded running from her life while no one helps. Cyber bullying is adamant in today's day and age as a form of social punishment and this is the town's form of punishment via filming Victoria running around in fear. People post mean comments and rude videos and the thing is most people either join in or sit back and do nothing. The groups of people filming Victoria can see she's in danger, but they fixate on recording every bit of drama on their phones and sit back and watch everything unfold as people do on the internet usually do when cyber bullying occurs. This all happens because that sense of taking action and doing what is right doesn't really occur if you're miles away from that person and more importantly, if they're a stranger, as it's all happening from behind a screen. The ironic part of this episode is that even though this is happening in front of them live, all they can do is watch and record it. A screen is like a shield and if you can't physically see the punishment taking place, it's as if it's not even happening at all.

Episode 3: The Waldo Moment
Rating: C
In  the season finale of Season 2, we meet Jamie (Daniel Rigby), a failed comedian who controls a blue, talking bear named Waldo that he uses to mock and berate people around him in the name of comedy since he can't do it himself. After getting the opportunity of a lifetime in which Jamie and Waldo receive their own talk show of sorts, things go from bad to worse as Waldo becomes more and more popular; not only a comedic icon, but even a political one as well, leaving poor Jamie behind to wallow in the shadow of his former puppet's success.

The episode isn't about politics and even more so, we aren't supposed to believe this absurdity or even relate these kinds of event to our own world as we would with the other episodes. The only thing we can take from this episode is that we do tend to get lost in the avatars or personas we create. Jamie wants to be a comedian, but he fails on stage as one and when he dons the Waldo puppet, the person talking is no longer Jamie, it's Waldo. It may look and sound like Jamie is moving this puppet, but the words coming from Waldo's mouth are bitter and mean and that's far from the person Jamie is, yet he chooses to take up the role of Waldo in order to "succeed" in comedy even though it's not him receiving the credit, it's Waldo. However, he's so wrapped up in creating comedy, he doesn't realize he'a also becoming more and more wrapped up in an avatar that's not actually him. When we create a character in a video game, we create us. We create our own likeness in a character and we don whatever traits we're given and play, but that character isn't us and even though we may be controlling their actions and words. At end of the day, you're the one in control even though you may not realize it. Characters have the ability to  become more and more their own as time goes on, which is what Waldo does when he seemingly becomes president at the end of the episode. But, like Jamie, by the time we realize we're too into the game, we're in too deep, so we either have to succumb to transforming into our fictional avatar or let it take control over the real world.

Overall Thoughts:
While some episodes are better than others, Black Mirror has a little bit of something for everyone whether it be political satires, dramatic, heart-string pulling stories or psychological thrillers that leave you on the edge of your seat.It's message is that we're very close to our phones and our social medias and that's okay to some extent. It's when we choose to let the small things we see online to dictate what goes on in the real world that it becomes a problem. While Black Mirror seems fictional and the stories are highly exaggerated, the people within them are human and they react to these exaggerated stories as a normal person would in most cases and that is the scariest thing because it proves that we're moving closer in becoming the world portrayed in this series even though it's fictional.If you've seen the ending to most if not all of these episodes, you'll know that this is something we'll want to avoid at all costs.

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