People have been telling me about Black Mirror episodes for a while now. Since I don’t watch TV I am very picky as to which series to take a chance on. This one was well worth it. Below are my immediate thoughts as I finished each episode from the first three seasons. It’s only spoilers from here so…
National Anthem- A great simple punch to the face of global politics. Public opinion has power. And the public are easy to manipulate. From one lone YouTube video to the spineless media, all the way to the two-faced public relations teams surrounding the politicians themselves… every one of them plays a part in directing our eyes towards what they want. We are the sheep that carry the king’s throne on our backs. If we all jump off the cliff, he dies too. A very honest look at the whole scene in a situation like this. The reporter who’ll do anything to be first, gets shot and embarrassed. The task force who know they’ll save the day end up saving only a mannequin. The assistant who has a brilliant back-up plan ends up pushing public opinion against her boss and gets someone’s finger cut off. A wife who can’t think of anyone but herself ends up pushing the man away who went through much more hell than she ever did. The prime minister himself was operating in the old world when he first saw the YouTube video. There’s no way he would do something so base for he was a man of dignity. Well what does that get you in 2017? A popular royal’s life is at stake. What wouldn’t we do to get her back? This answered that question. It also made us wonder if this tactic could be replicated dozens of times with even more bizarre requests. Is this the beginning of a new fad? And what about the people’s role in all of this. The best scene for me was the feed from the pub. Everyone was told not to watch and they laughed it off. No way they were missing this! They laughed as he undressed. They made ‘awww’ sounds as he told the camera he loved his wife. They all whooped and hollered when he began having sex with the pig. But soon it was obvious that this was a sad event. Some people left. Some didn’t want to watch but couldn’t stop. Others that were into it realized the public mood had died and they kept their excitement to themselves. I believe this was the point of it all. We demand things. We want things. We think we’re cool. But when we actually see what’s happening. When we realize there is a man inside that image on the screen. There is a wife at home who has promised to love this man no matter what. There is a country needing to be led by this man. There are other world leaders who have to trust this man. It doesn’t become so funny anymore.
15,000,000 Credits- What is money but only the things you can trade it for? Some avatar upgrades and extra toothpaste? No thanks. When you have the chance to spend money on something real, something you yearn for… do it. Go for it. So what if you have to sleep in the dark or go without a meal here and there. What is the purpose of surviving at the same rate as everyone else? Why get by? Really? There is no award for lasting a long time. Do you think food wants to be stored as long as possible or eaten in a big feast? I’d rather be the Christmas ham in the middle of the table surrounded by song and smiles than the old jar of prunes in the back of the pantry for seven years. What’s sad is that not all of us who understand this can escape the system. Our two heroes in this episode both found escapes but both were incomplete. The girl’s so sad because a beautiful dream became the death sentence of the little hope she had in the beginning. Her making paper penguins and singing in the toilet would be paradise compared to her current set up. And the man’s show full of fake emotion betrays all of his thoughts while earning those 15,000,000 credits. I’m sure he never thought of working for the man when he was rationing tooth paste and pounding the bike. But, again, both settled because they knew what going back to the bike meant. They might have even known it was the moral thing to do. But the suffering and maybe more the boredom were just too much. They would rather double cross their Jiminy Cricket than live without hope.
The Entire History of You- A great cautionary tale, as they all are, but this one seems much closer to the present day than comfort allows. I can easily foresee a time when people nitpick all the details of recorded conversations. It’s already happening to best of our ability. We screenshot chat messages. We play back video. We zoom in. We enhance the images. We try to catch people in lies. We record politicians and shove quotes in their faces decades later. As soon as we have the power to do these things on a higher level we will. The most interesting and likable character is the girl without the grain. Her opposite is the woman who works for the grain company who can’t even imagine what life would be like without one. She is proud that she is addicted. She even thinks she is better than the others because of her devotion to this new technology. I see this happening too. People joke about needing their phones more than food or company. It’s not funny. The jerk in the episode came off as not that bad. I know that’s how it was set up but I just had to say I liked a lot about the guy. I also felt strongly in some aspects that he would not be a good friend to have around. I enjoyed this back and forth feeling. Again, we already do a lot of the things on display here to the best of our ability. We have mental spank banks. Some people even keep nudes they took when they were together in a relationship. Revenge porn has been a thing for a while now. Imagine all the people who sleep with celebrities… what would they do with a grain capturing everything? The curse of too much knowledge was clearly on display here. It’s never good to cheat and some would argue what she did wasn’t cheating. But the husband did pretty much everything you shouldn’t do when you suspect your wife of having feelings for another. He overly antagonized her. He used extreme language. He picked apart details. He got the babysitter involved. He seemed so petty and jealous. It seemed his goal wasn’t to understand his wife, or even find out what the real story was. He was hell bent on being right. Even when she brought up the fact that he left her and didn’t make contact. He makes her out to be the bad guy. Maybe this is what we’ll become if we are allowed the tool of perfect knowledge. If we know everything, we’ll be at each other’s necks. No one will be allowed to make a mistake. It’ll eat us alive. Much like it did to the husband as he walked around the empty house after his wife had left. He ends up removing all these memories because he can’t bear it. Odd, because if he had just removed the grain at the beginning of the episode then he’d still be in a happy marriage with a woman who loved him. Thank God for all that useful knowledge, right?
Be Right Back- How our immediate and unwieldy emotions can lead us to make decisions that put us in very odd places. A key point was when the protagonist had the decision to make between talking with her sister and spending time with her fake dead husband. The right choice would be to speak to a human about a real loss. The share and grieve. This is how people move on. They respect and honor the memory of a loved one. The reason they are sad is because that person is gone. The actual person. The whole person. You cannot substitute someone who looks like them. You cannot listen to recordings of their voice… these conversations aren’t fresh. You cannot wear their clothes and walk around. The more we try to fight nature, the more hurt we are when we don’t get what we expect. When we must face the music and realize these people are actually gone. Imagine this happening to our food. Soon we’ll have no real food left. It’ll all be made especially for us. Each manufactured meal made to enhance one specific thing or another. But another lesson to learn is that generations, like time, heal many old wounds. The daughter sees the fake dad upstairs as a source of happiness. A fun mate to share stories with. Someone to interact with. Someone to care for. The wife sees him as an imposter. A dishonor to her late husband. But when the wife dies, the daughter is free to make the rules. So be careful of the big decisions you make with a hot head.
White Bear- I love that the protagonist that draws our sympathy for most of the episode turns out to be the moral punching bag. In a future where we believe capital punishment is wrong, is this what society will go for? An amusement park for justice? Raping the rapists. Hammurabi in the 21st Century. I love the idea of people working regular jobs as the criminals’ friends, foes and spectators. Imagine eating lunch with prisoners or playing basketball with them. Even cleverer is the fact that we are first led to believe that society slowly slipping into indifference about the well-being of others is the point of the episode. This is a worthy target, but then flipping the script on us is even more brilliant. The assholes become innocent visitors to a park. The poor frightened woman becomes a monster with no shame or sense of decency.
White Christmas- From the point of view of the loser guys looking for Hitch-style dating advice, they got what was coming to them. They want to mess with beautiful and dangerous women? They want to watch each other get laid? This happens. For the poor guy with the cheating wife, I do believe there are many people in his shoes. They don’t deserve what has been given to them. They are trapped in a corner and are forced to make act in wild ways in order to try and bring back some sense of normalcy to their lives. In his case, he just wanted to see his daughter. He wanted her to know he existed. This is far from a crime. Especially because the only reason he was pushed out of the picture in the first place was because his wife was hiding something from him. The crime he committed deserves a punishment but when you see his whole story it’s very hard to see him as a danger to society. Of course the young girl is another victim who didn’t deserve the cards she was dealt. I found that the idea of blocking someone in actual life really hit home. A lot of our laws seem to be bending to the weight of increased safety from people and things that may harm us. I’m afraid we may have a system in the future thanks to AR that will allow such blocking to take place. It made me very sad that people in a moment of passion may block someone a spouse and have the kids erased too. Seems highly troublesome.
Nosedive- Playing the game and copying the society around you is a natural phenomenon. But it is getting more and more dangerous. As human nature was built on imperfect information. We have built-in social mechanisms to help us survive. But now with technology and scores (hot or not, amazon stars, number of likes) we are using these same mechanisms and setting them on these false gods. We are cutting away the beautiful and innovative fringes in order to be closer to the middle. We will all match. We’ll play the same games and wear the same shit smile as everyone else. The only purpose is to become the best version of what everyone else thinks you should be. Not what you think you should be. We need to be careful because more than most of the scary bits of this episode are either already in place or already set in motion.
Playtest- AI overpowering man. Those we put on the cover of magazines can quickly lead us to our own destruction. Those tech heroes leading us to the next level. And for those wandering, or running from something, they are afraid their responsibilities will catch up with them. No matter how far you go, you can’t escape your own sense of duty. Our American friend’s sense of caring more for his mother ended up being his end. And, as always, with Tinder it’s easy come easy go. Careful ; )
Shut Up and Dance- A complete owning of pedophiles. Always wondered how blind people could be when being blackmailed. What code of honor says the blackmailer won’t cross you? This is amazing… how a nice, bullied, underdog who works hard and loves his mother could become a bank robber and murderer all because of a hidden secret. Really, this should be a wake up call to anyone who still thinks hackers won’t have tremendous power in the future. Look at what they have already done to multinational corporations, political figures and movie studios. Now we see what they can do to the small guys too.
San Junipero- Too often, we forget about the elderly when we talk about tech. This was a wonderful look at what aged folks might do with such future advances in VR, mind implants, etc. I’m sure many people would love to relive their youthful days. They would be free from the responsibility of making lasting decisions. They would be able to dance, scream and drive like they’d always wanted to. Some may say it creates too perfect of a world. Where is the joy of achievement, the thrill of taking a risk? But it is another very logical step that I see humanity making in the near future. This is what Black Mirror does so well. Some say it’s sci-fi but for many of us it hits way too close to home. It’s more of a history of the future in my opinion.
Men Against Fire- AR. Here in Shenzhen we’re on the edge of the future. Start-ups and $500 billion companies alike are pushing forward at breakneck speed. VR, AR, fintech, drones, etc. are all the rage. But many believe AR will become the most important of the bunch. This episode showed the age old abuse of power by governments which we are all accustomed to but framed in a setting where we, the actors, are so blinded that our morals and convictions become meaningless. They make no difference in the real world. Again, we flip sides. The old man harboring the disgusting roaches turns out to be simply a decent human. The soldiers feel they are right in trying to rid the civilians of the pesky filth that lives on the fringes. The government believes they are doing the right thing by improving the gene pool in the long run. They have learned their mistakes from history. People were too good to do what was best for society, so they say. And then there are the roaches themselves. What choice do they have but to accept the hand they were given? To run away and hide. To survive. To bond to each other. The unmasking allows Stripe to see the whole picture. He then knows what to do based on his moral upbringing. Again, the bad guys use the good guys’ hearts against them. Refusing to kill more roaches would mean reliving the murders already committed. The ending was expected but still horribly depressing. Because we see ourselves as either Stripe or the female farmer soldier. Both living a world we don’t want.
Hated in the Nation- My favorite episode. From ‘The Teeth of Consequence’- Thanks to the technological revolution we have the power to rage and accuse, spout bile without consequence. Only by being forced to recognize the power technology grants us, to acknowledge individual responsibility… This episode threw so many culprits into the light and beautifully sewed it all together. Humanity first ruins the planet and the bees die. The people demand the government do something. The government puts big money behind drone bees. The techies are happy, they have earned their stripes. The government looks like they care about the Earth and the people feel that they sit upon the moral high ground after flexing their collective muscle and bending the leaders to see the world their way. But, of course, the government is really spending the money on information. The bees spy on us. And, again of course, it’s all for our own safety. In the right hands this technology could keep us safe and help the environment. But this creates quite a unique danger. The government creates a powerful weapon secretly in plain sight. The people don’t think twice. This weapon is more powerful than any bad guy could muster on his or her own. Then, the bad guy outsmarts the good guys and takes control of the weapon. Perfect storm. Throw in some ethics lesson from the murderer and voila! Not only that, but we have the young techie vs mature analog cop on cop dynamic. We have the jurisdiction issue with national vs local law enforcement. We have the poor guy who tried to be clever by putting the murderer’s name in his hashtag only to realize he’d signed his own death sentence less than a day later. Then there’s the irony. Once the hashtag consequence game goes public people chime in about their justifications for who should die. If someone is going to die, it might as well be a racist. Well, look who dies in the end. Might as well be people who have no problem sentencing others to death. Spewing anonymous hate like a coward. 387,000+ people in one country throwing those words around. And, finally, the two characters with the most drive finally meet in the same Spanish speaking town. One using his talents to teach the world a lesson. I’m sure the USA and other tech addicted countries took notice of Britain’s massacre and cleaned up their act. That was the point, wasn’t it? And the other character, who we see already has a strong sense of personal responsibility, not letting go even after the worst was over. It’s a great ending. It’s a great lesson. The best part is figuring out who to blame. Because we all love it when it’s nice and clean… and this isn’t. Even the purest of heart, Blue, helped follow the bread crumbs and set the whole thing in place. The government paid for the spy bees to be built. The tech company that built them lost control of their creation. The people willingly participated in the #DeathTo game after it was revealed. The chancellor even tried to smear a rival as to vault him to the number one spot for that particular day. Surely, most people will blame the hacker. But it’s an interesting mix to see how it all plays out together. No one party could have pulled it off single handily. What a great mirror to hold to our society. What a dark, almost black, hue it has. A true black mirror.