Category Archives: Black Mirror

Black Mirror – Season 1, Episode 1 – “The National Anthem” – A Political Nightmare in the Digital Age

  “The National Anthem” is at this point, my favorite episode of “Black Mirror.” This is an episode that shows the strength of public pressure in the media age as well as how the actions a person can take can lead to people turning against them and in turn forcing them to do the thing they least want to do. The episode is a political nightmare that shows both how quickly people move on from media events, but how when their is an ongoing crisis, how it can grab the attention of a nation and the world.

     The episode was directed by Otto Bathurst and written by Charlie Brooker.

       The story involves the unfolding of a political crisis when a young and popular Duchess is kidnapped, with the only demands for her release being, that the Prime Minister have sex with a pig on live television. From here the crisis unfolds as the Prime Minister deals with the public and private fallout of the threat as they try to find the missing Duchess.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Characters – The characters are really well written in this and don’t feel like archetypes, which is often a problem in short one episode stories like this. Every character is facing decision and choice. We have the Home Secretary trying to get an actor so the event can still take place and so they can get around it, you have the Prime Minister doing everything he can with the police and you have the wife doing all she can to keep her husband from doing the act. In the end it all comes to a head and no one really wins in the end except for the artist who created the event in the first place. Rory Kinnear as the Prime Minister and Lindsay Duncan’s Home Secretary stole the show.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark and isolating, which captures the different levels of terror the government officials are going through. Everything is connected and as the media and gossip grows around the event we see further isolation of the characters from one another, forcing the event to happen.

The Power of Social Media and the Power of Public Pressure – The threat is done over youtube and the Prime Minister putting a gag order on the press just makes people question it as a cover-up and distrust the Prime Minister more. When the story is finally broke it goes out of control as we see his attempts to find the Duchess lead to the people turning against him as his use of an actor made him look like a coward and a press agent getting shot made him look like a dictator. At one point the Home Secretary even warns that his wife and family will be at risk if he doesn’t go forward with the act since he alienated the public so much. When he’s made his decision he doesn’t answer his phone when his wife is trying to reach him and we see how his duty as the Prime Minister was more important than alienating and destroying his relationship with his wife.

Social Media and Moving On – A year later the Prime Minister is popular and the press is just business as usual again. This was amazing that the public had already moved on from the horrendous act that the Prime Minister was forced to do…on the other side we see that things may appear peaceful in the public eye but his marriage is destroyed. He kept power and positive public perception but lost his soul.

  This episode achieved all it set out to do, had a great cast and fully explored the premise of how a nightmarish strange crisis would unfold in the digital age where public pressure can make a person capable of horrible things, since all it took was the threat of a person who was loved by the public to be under threat for the crisis to happen. I felt for all government officials in this, as well as the wife as in the end the choices they made were shaped by how others viewed and talked about them. In a way their agency was lost to the public will, which is in a way, what we ask of our public servants, as they represent us and our interests. I think this is a big reason why, a year after the event the Prime Minister was loved again. He’d done his duty to look out for the public good, and save a life, even though the act was nightmarish, immoral and wrong…and the cost was his family.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Black Mirror – Season 1, Episode 3 – “The Entire History of You” – Of Memories and Obsession

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    I’m kicking off “Horror Month” with “The Entire History of You,” from Black Mirror. This story is amazing! Black Mirror is a series that likes to take ideas related to technology and shine them on humanity revealing our dark underbelly and how technology can strengthen those already bad tendencies. This episode does an amazing job with this!

   The episode was directed by Brian Welsh and written by Jesse Armstrong.

   The story takes place in the near future, where people can now save memories onto a flash device that is in their head and can put memories up on the screen. The story revolves around Liam (Toby Kebbell) and his relationship that is falling apart as his ability to recall memories plays into his already obsessive tendencies.

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is really cool. The ability to save and recall memories is something that could easily come about in the near future and with that there are so many ways it would make humanity worse. This episode really explores that on the small level of a relationship.

The Writing – The writing is awesome! It is all showing rather than telling and the audience is treated like an adult. Jesse Armstrong really wrote a fantastic screenplay. It is one of the less terrifying Black Mirror episodes but it has a great use of tension.

Liam – Toby Kebbell does a fantastic job as an obsessive whose life is falling apart is beautifully done. He is someone who has major issues as he fixates on things and those things consume them to the point where we see a man who doesn’t trust and it destroys his relationship in the process. The final scene is him recalling his memories of his wife before cutting out the chip and destroying all memory of the relationship.

Ffion –  Ffion is Liam’s wife and does a great job as a woman trying to keep her relationship together while dealing with an unstable partner. It is her connection with a past friend she had a fling with that leads Liam to obsessing but we see why she is trying to get out. Her agency and memories are never respected. Liam makes everything about him which leads to her rightfully leaving him.

The Good in Forgetting –  One of the themes is that memory isn’t solid and that is a good thing. The people who are the most well put together in this are the ones who don’t dwell on memories, they live and it allows them to move on. The memories are still a part of them but unlike Liam they don’t obsess over every detail.

The Danger in Obsession – Memory recall is most dangerous in how it can lead into obsession. It is through Liam’s eyes that we see it all take place. He loses his life because he holds on so hard to details tied to his own insecurities that he loses everything anyway. The technology isn’t the problem it is how it can make those who are obsessed worse. Liam already had issues, but having the chance to analyze the past just made him worse. He stopped living in the moment and lost the moment.

Okay: Minor Characters – Liam’s and Ffion’s friends are okay, they don’t really get the full exploration they deserved though.

  This was another great episode of Black Mirror. I can’t wait to review more and will probably review at least one more episode from the show for “Horror Month.” Until then I highly recommend this episode and this show as a whole.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Black Mirror – Season 2, Episode 2 – “White Bear” – Commodifying Mob Justice

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“White Bear” was my introduction to “Black Mirror” last night, and now I’m very excited for watching the rest of the episodes that make up the series. “Black Mirror” is a show that deals with the horrors of humanity in relation to technology and how it can be used to ruin peoples’s lives in hypothetical future horrors that are close enough to our time to feel real, but far enough away to be extremely creepy and surreal. “White Bear” is no exception to that and was the perfect way for me to be introduced to this series that feels like a badly needed update to “The Twilight Zone,” for the problems in the era we live today.

I’m going to reviewing “Black Mirror” but I’ll be doing it randomly as I started in the middle and from what I gather, there isn’t an overall arc. If anything it is a great chance to review how horrendous the human psyche can be and to see the critique of humanity each episode provides. There are also only 6 episodes total right now, so I don’t want to rush through the series.

The episode was directed by Carl Tibbetts and written by Charlie Brooker.

Warning this does contain Spoilers.

The premise of the episode begins with a woman who wakes up and doesn’t know who or where she is. All she has to go off of is a picture of a girl who she believes to be her daughter and a haunting symbol that looks like a upside down Y. She soon finds herself hunted by a man wearing the symbol as a mask as people look on with their phones. From here the story unfolds as she runs into someone who appears to be resisting the masked man and tells her they need to shut down the cell tower in White Bear to free everyone.

The Pros: Suffering as Entertainment – This is a theme throughout the episode as the people watching the woman who is scared, alone and clearly suffering is the product for their amusement. We learn how she is used at the end. Which will be another point later, We see this in shows like Maury, and by the fact that torture porn and other horrendous things like it exist. The woman in this episode is the victim of the mob wanting brutal entertainment.

Reality Television – The woman is being watched everyone and she doesn’t know who or where she is…making her is easy to use and purely reactive. Much like the script that exists in reality television, there is a script at work here as her puppet masters mention later that she has done the same thing every time before they reset her memory and mark another date on the calender.

Mob Justice versus Real Justice – We learn near the end that she was criminal who ended up killing a child (the one whose picture she carries). She claimed to have been used by her boyfriend, but we have no idea because her memory has been wiped. All we know is the person she is now is an innocent who hasn’t done anything wrong. She has no memory and because of what she did is now the effigy for the mob that they burn everyday. She suffers an eternity of hell because the mob believes she deserves it, when the original event isn’t even in her memory anymore and she’s become a totally different person because she has lost all awareness of the person she was before. She is the child being burned alive, like the child was burned alive, which is what the job wants…revenge for their own powerlessness.

We see this in how people justify torture too, it doesn’t matter if it works or not, what matters is that someone who might have helped those who hurt us or might be planning to hurt us is hurting. It’s illogical and solves nothing. Torturing doesn’t bring people back and it isn’t dependable for getting accurate information (another justification that is used) either making wrong on all that many more levels.

False Reality – The location where all this takes place is White Bear Memorial Park, which is where the little girl was killed, and all they had to find her with was her white bear. It is from here the owners of the park construct the reality of putting the woman through pain and ending it where she is forced to face the reality of who they think she is and what they believe she’s done. Everyone is an actor or onlooker so she is on a stage similar to “The Truman Show.”

Discovery of Truth – The discovery of truth is another thing going on, and what the truth actually is. Again, remember she has no memory of doing any of the acts and all we know from her when she did as that her boyfriend might have used her like a cult leader to do it. We have no way of knowing but are given to believe her story given we are inside her head throughout the entire episode and we see when the curtain falls and memories that she has and is thinking about before it is lost each night to technology so she can relieve the Hell again.

The Cons: Lack of Character – We don’t get to know anyone in this, they are all symbols and don’t feel like fully realized people. We are meant to inhabit the woman and feel what she is put through to show how unjust it is, to see just how cruel the mob can be. But the mob isn’t a character and the actors aren’t. They are all illusions so we know nothing about their motivations since all of them were only putting on an act, and they are always being watched which makes their motivations harder to realize, again like reality television. This gave me a level of detachment, which is a shame since I wanted to care more about the woman but since it was from her point of view and nothing she saw was real except for at the end…I only got her feelings but not her character. Because we are meant to be her and experience what she’s experiencing we are watching it through a black mirror, which no doubt was purposeful but hurt the story.

This episode makes me excited to watch the rest of the series, but I’m not going to rush it. The ideas covered should be thought about as each episode is a critique of us and  chance for us to better understand ourselves on an individual and societal level. It is truly the genius of the show for that. The cinematography is also really good and the acting is too for what it’s worth. Making them an hour long helps to truly get inside the world and to really explore an idea fully through.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10. Not perfect because I didn’t know any of the characters so had trouble getting invested because of it.