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Just how sci-fi is Black Mirror?

WARNING: This review contains spoilers.

The second season of Charlie Brooker’s series ‘Black Mirror’ finished this week. The debut season that was screened last year which featured Zoophilia, human augmentation and talent shows was not, to my mind, very good. I thought it was shallow, unentertaining and pretentious. The series was marketed as ‘dark’ and ‘scathing social satire’ but really did nothing for me, I didn’t think it contributed anything new to public debate that hasn’t been explored before, and explored better without Apple products waved around with irritating prominence. I openly admit to tuning in to the second season with prejudice – I have liked what Brooker has produced before, like ‘Dead Set’, however, so I thought there was hope yet. The first episode was about a woman who loses her boyfriend in an accident but resorts to an artificial intelligence company’s service of ‘raising the dead’ by letting you have phone conversations constructed from their social media posts, emails and more. She then goes a step further by having this intelligence transplanted into a vat-grown clone of her boyfriend. At this point the episode gets boring. Examining the ‘what makes someone human’ question really merits more than a forty minute television episode and Brooker has nothing new to say. What I found very irritating is that the plot very closely resembled the 2010 film ‘Clone’ (starring Eva Green and Matt Smith), in which a woman gives birth to a clone of her dead boyfriend through IVF. This episode was sci-fi, certainly, but it was a mediocre effort that left me comparing its ending to that of ‘Shaun of the Dead’.

The second episode was a great improvement. A woman called Victoria finds herself in a scenario reminiscent of ‘the day of the triffids’; she awakens remembering nothing about herself or her life and upon walking out of the house finds that everyone is videoing her using their smartphones (the brands of these phones are refreshingly unidentifiable), non-responsive to her attempts at contact. She is then attacked by an armed, masked man – fleeing, she encounters two other ‘survivors’ who explain that something has caused nearly the entire population to enter this zombefied state apart from a lucky few – among whom are psychopathic ‘hunters’ who use the breakdown of society for their own twisted pleasure. However, in a genuinely great twist, it is revealed that this whole affair is a sham. Victoria is a convicted child killer – she and her boyfriend tortured a little girl to death in a woods, videoing it. Her punishment is to be mind-wiped at the end of each day at the ‘White Bear Justice Park’, at which visitors can spectate her being pursued, terrified, by the ‘hunters’, who are just actors. Victoria begs to be killed upon learning about what she had done. It’s a good example of sci-fi being used to explore contemporary political issues, in this case the purpose of justice. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say words to the effect of ‘nothing is bad enough for a [terrorist/paedophile/rapist]’ in conversation before but is what happens to Victoria at White Bear really justice or just sadistic torture for public gratification?

The final episode was mixed, for me. Waldo, an animated bear on a late-night comedy show voiced by dead-end comedian Jamie Slater unintentionally enters politics by haranguing a local MP on television, then in ‘real life’. His producers convince ‘Waldo’ to run as a candidate in a by-election against the Tory he railed against, to popular acclaim with his cynical ‘a plague on both your houses’ attitude towards British politics. In this episode the debate surrounding politics in the UK is explored quite well – is Waldo’s candidacy the voice for the disillusioned public, or a childish career stunt? Jamie isn’t quite sure himself. Whether this episode is really sci-fi or not, I’m not sure. There is a pretty intriguing section where Jamie is approached by an American from the ‘agency’, who comments that this combination of politics and entertainment could have great potential for changing democratic politics across the globe.

To wrap this review up, I think Black Mirror has improved over its previous outing. However Brooker and his producers need to be more bold and daring in their subject matter for this series to be more than ‘sci-fi for the mainstream’. It’s no ‘Blade Runner’ but you could find worse sci-fi media than this season’s episodes.

About Calum Rogers


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