Sometimes — and this is even true about pop culture — brilliance slips through the cracks and doesn’t make it to mainstream. Amazing, thought-provoking stuff goes relatively unnoticed and drivel makes it through. ‘Black Mirror’ is one such series which I am sure not many people would have watched. It’s understandable, because it is an anthology series, where each episode has a different story, plot and characters. It is only two seasons old, containing three episodes in each season, and a Christmas special (which is the best of the lot), making a total of seven episodes. Seven episodes is nothing, one might think. But then again, the content of those seven episodes is what matters. Today I will give a short and crisp rundown of every episode, with mild spoilers. I have no qualms about giving away spoilers because there is nothing spoil-worthy in any episode. The episodes don’t rely on shock twists or endings. They rely on coherence of narrative and engrossing camerawork and acting.
All episodes of Black Mirror follow a central theme — how technology is a peril and our own reliance on it is a curse.
S1 E1 — The National Anthem
The first episode of the anthology starts off with the Prime Minister of Great Britain waking up to find out that a beloved member of the Royal Family has been kidnapped by a terrorist. The usual mayhem ensues — and it is all seen before (the frantic phone calls, the press handling) until we come to know about the actual demand of the terrorist. And that, dear readers, is a shocker. The whole episode then revolves around that demand.
The episode serves as a commentary on the easily-bored smartphone generation, and how click-bait entertainment is deeply ingrained in our lives. So much, that people won’t even hesitate to watch a Head of State embarrass himself. Why? Because it all comes under the deeply troubling blanket term named as “entertainment”.
S1 E2 — Fifteen Million Merits
While the first episode showed us a mirror of our own present, the second episode gives us a shocking account of a dystopian future where society has literally descended into intellectually vegetative state. The demand of quick entertainment is shockingly high and entire facilities are developed to keep “contestants” inside. The “contestants” live in an approximately 10 by 10 cubicle, and exercise to gain ‘merits’. Once they have enough ‘merits’ they can trade them for a ticket to show their talents in front of an audience. Basically, it’s dialing the reality show concept up quite a notch.
While equally shocking and beautifully rendered, this episode is still somewhat weak in terms of overall pacing, and addressing social mores.
S1 E3 — The Entire History Of You
One of the best episodes of the series, ‘The Entire History of You’ does everything right. In a near future, everyone can choose to have a memory implant which allows them to never forget a face, a situation and they can replay entire past scenarios and conversations whenever they want. With such a rich concept, one would think the creators would go for a wider scope in terms of storytelling. But no, because that would be a cliche and would not do justice to the concept. Instead, the creators go personal this time. The narrative revolves around a man who is convinced that his wife is cheating on him. What happens after that is what the episode is all about. Once again, “Black Mirror” shows us a bleak image of ourselves, how we can over-use a piece of technology for our own benefits and how our world could crumble because of it.
S2 E1 — Be Right Back
A brilliant, brilliant hour of television and my personal favorite, “Be Right Back” shows us how technology can help with grief and the side-effects of it. Martha’s partner Ash is killed in a car accident and her world crumbles around her. Unable to cope with the sudden loss she decides to use a service which allows them to communicate with the deceased ones. It is an elaborate program which assembles all our online videos and images, mimics our voice and tone, and can be used to communicate. Martha is shocked on hearing the program replicate Ash’s own voice and she becomes increasingly attached to it. Going a step ahead, the program suggests Martha to order a clone, so that it could upload itself in its consciousness. Things come to a full-circle, and Martha slowly realizes that a clone could never replace the original Ash. “Be Right Back” works simply because of its amazing performances. Hayley Atwell gives a moving, poignant performance as Martha, and Domhnall Gleeson is brilliant as both the original Ash and the clone.
S2 E2 — White Bear
Another shocker of an episode, “White Bear” first shows us a different theme but then mid-way becomes something another altogether, giving us another horrifying parable, this time subtly touching on the idea of Capital Punishment. I won’t go into much details here as this needs to be watched in its full glory.
S2 E3 — The Waldo Moment
A weaker episode than the rest, “The Waldo Moment” doesn’t deal with any futuristic technology. Instead it gives us a full-blown account of dirty politics and the ramifications of becoming a sensation.
Christmas Special — White Christmas
The best episode of the lot (although I am a bit torn between “White Christmas” and “Be Right Back”) White Christmas is a movie in itself. More than an hour long, the episode is engrossing, with some beautiful cinematography and intelligent editing. This time, Black Mirror surprises us by showing us two interconnected stories but with a common theme to them — Justice.
With the advent of technology, what kind of justice can you impart to a murderer? Another play on capital punishment, it again shows us what technology can do to a person as a mode of punishment. Ripe with brilliant performances by Jon Hamm, Rafe Spall and Oona Chaplin, “White Christmas” is dark, twisted and an experience in itself.
Fans of “Black Mirror” were in for a surprise when it was announced that Netflix will be bringing the entire series again, including the still under development Season 3. All episodes are currently available on YouTube. So what are you waiting for? Go and have a watch!