Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror: A Retrospective

(Written for Beamly)

With Charlie Brooker‘s new feature-length special of his dystopian series, Black Mirror, airing on Channel 4 this week, let’s take a look at his first two series and what we can expect from the new episode.

Inspired by the likes of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Brooker wants to tell his own ghost story this Christmas. His single feature-length tale won’t be particularly festive, as Brooker objects to certain parties exploiting sentimentality at this time of year (his words not mine!) but he has commented that, “I quite like Christmas specials – but I missed the tradition of having ghost stories at Christmas.”

Starring Mad Men‘s John Hamm and British comedian Rafe Spall, Channel 4’s head of comedy, Phil Clarke, has described the new episode as “a dystopian future festive tale, that intertwines three stories to deliver a dramatic and thrilling twist. It’s satirical, comic, disturbing, and thought-provoking.”

It certainly sounds exciting, and if you’ve been a fan of his first two series then this is a must-watch this Christmas. So let’s take a look back at some of Brooker’s previous episodes.

Series 1 Episode 1: The National Anthem

You’ll all remember this opening episode as we saw the fictional Prime Minister have sex with a pig on national television. Yes, that one.

The story was a political thriller which saw the PM face a shocking dilemma when he had to do the unbelievable to save a kidnapped member of the royal family. The episode showed the extremes of social media as the ransom video went viral on Youtube, meaning that the PM had no way of getting around his situation.
We knew from this episode alone that Brooker had something to say to us.

Series 1 Episode 2: Fifteen Million Merits

We all tuned straight back in for episode 2, which was set around an entertainment show in a future reality where everyone must cycle on exercise bikes in order to power their surroundings and generate currency for themselves. This episode starred Skins’ Daniel Kaluuya and Downtown Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay, as Kaluuya’s character spends all of his merits to buy her a ticket to enter the X-Factor style game show Hot Shots. But is it that easy to escape the system? Of course not.

Series 1 Episode 3: The Entire History of You

Set in another alternative reality, this episode saw people implanted with a ‘grain’ behind their ear which records everything they do, see or hear, allowing memories to be played back either in front of the person’s eyes or on a screen.

It was another dig at technology, with Black Mirror itself being defined around the concept of us, humanity, not seeing things directly anymore, but through a number of screens. We don’t simply interact anymore; we talk through laptops and mobiles whilst watching the TV, always a screen in hand. The Entire History of You took this to the extreme, and saw a young lawyer get suspicious over his girlfriend’s past relationships. Able to see her past through her recorded memories, the truth of her infidelities didn’t stay hidden for long.

It was quite an eye-opening episode, highlighting that everything we do is online these days, with everybody publishing their personal information on the internet. This episode exaggerated how this information could be used, and acted as a warning to viewers that once it goes online, that’s where it stays; published information, just as our own memories, cannot be erased, so next time you’re about to tweet what you’re up to, just think about how that information can be used.

Series 2 Episode 1: Be Right Back

Starring a brilliant cast including Hayley Atwell and Domhnall Gleeson this time around, the first episode of Brooker’s second series followed a young couple living in the countryside. Ash (Domhnall) is a social media addict but, the day after moving into their new house, Ash is killed. At the funeral, his girlfriend, Martha (Atwell) is told about a new online service that lets people stay in touch with the deceased. By using all of his past online communications and social media profiles, a new “Ash” can be created virtually.

It’s a shocking thought, but drawing on The Entire History of You, we share so much with the world-wide web that a similar experience could be possible in the future, with the internet knowing more about our personal lives and hobbies than many of our own friends do.

Things don’t quite work out, however, as the dark side of recreating a person become clear quite quickly.

Series 2 Episode 2: White Bear

White Bear was one of the most disturbing episodes of Black Mirror, as it saw a young woman, Victoria (Being Human’s Lenora Crichlow), wake up with no memory. She wakes into a world where a White Bear transmitter has apparently turned most of the population into voyeurs who do nothing but watch and sometimes film on their mobile phones, as a deadly elite known as the hunters kill those unaffected by the signal, which includes Victoria.

After watching Victoria’s struggles, it is revealed that not all was as it seemed. In the end, it turns out that Victoria and her fiancée, Iain, had abducted a girl miles from her home and, after taking her to a nearby forest, Iain proceeded to torture and kill her while Victoria recorded his actions on her mobile phone. The ‘White Bear’, originally the victim’s teddy, was a symbol of the nationwide search and murder investigation. Having pleaded guilty to the courts, Victoria was given a sentence that the judge described as ‘proportionate and considered’ – to undergo this mob-recorded, poetic justice every single day.

Torture through social media. Could things get any worse?

Series 3 Episode 3: The Waldo Moment

We will remember this episode for the giant blue cartoon bear named Waldo. Voiced by a local comedian, Waldo was known for his interviews with politicians and other authority figures, and is soon convinced to compete against real politicians in an upcoming by-election himself. But when the comedian opts out of the scheme after seeing the damage he is doing, he is left homeless while somebody else takes over Waldo’s image.

It wasn’t an episode as hard-hitting as the others, but I guess what you can take from this episode is that an online or digital image is not always what it seems to be. You can alter your image online, or somebody can alter it for you. Either way, online personas can easily be falsified and used for the wrong reasons, intentionally or not.

Now, please don’t shut down your internet just yet. Charlie Brooker makes many valid points, but whilst he’s showing you the dangers of social media and technology, many of his realities are largely exaggerate. And that’s purely for our entertainment, as Black Mirror really is a series you should be catching up on if you’ve missed it.

So before you delete your Twitter app or, rather, are influenced to set up your own blog, don’t forget to watch Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror: White Christmas, which airs on Tuesday 16th December at 9pm on Channel 4.

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