Charlie Brooker’s Black
This collection of disturbing anthology stories which unfold in the not-too-distant future have sent numerous chills down audiences’ spines as we are forced to witness a sordid reflection of our ever-developmental world.
Initially broadcast on Channel 4, the first two seasons consisted of three hour-long episodes (as well as the most twisted of Christmas specials…), but in 2016, Black Mirror has ironically made a technological leap of its own.
From Friday 21st October, the long-awaited third season will be available to stream on Netflix. It’ll offer a huge twelve episodes; albeit in two separate parts, with the latter six episodes due to arrive at a later date.
To celebrate the arrival of Season 3, we thought it was time to revisit past encounters and uncover the most terrifying moments of Brooker’s maniacal mediation. You’ll likely want to put your iPhones away after this…
The Ransom Video
In debut episode “The National Anthem”, Rory Kinnear’s Prime Minister Michael Callow is quite firmly between a rock and a hard place. Due to the disgusting demands of a radical kidnapper he must make a decision which will either spare a life and destroy his, or cover his hands in innocent blood – still clean in the eyes of the world. It is the choice that no-one would ever wish to make.
Beloved British royalty Princess Susannah, Duchess of Beaumont (Lydia Wilson) is the victim at the centre of this project, and she becomes the face of an expansive viral ransom video; one which sets services like YouTube and Twitter alight. After just nine mere minutes of upload, the vast majority of the British public have downloaded or streamed the video, sending the Empire and the government into a state of frenzy.
The real-life implications of viral content such as this – particularly in acts of terror – are a horrifying and unsettling vision. The emotional weight of such a video hits many nerves, regardless of whether it appears in a dramatic narrative or not.
One Strong Drink
The Black Mirror festive special “White Christmas” is gloriously macabre, but also deeply freighting and poignant in its representation of miscommunication. Jennifer (Natalia Tena), an unbeknown schizophrenic, mistakenly sees Harry (Rasmus Hardiker) arguing with himself at a Christmas party. She invites him back to her places – for which he believes is an invitation for sex – but she has other ideas.
She offers him a strong drink, claiming it’ll help suppress the voices in his head. Little does he know that the liquor is laced with poison, and that she has just conducted an elaborate suicide pact for them both, which life-streams over the Z-Eye device at the centre of the narrative.
She forces the toxic elixir down his throat after she takes a firm gulp. It is a seriously chilling and unsettling sequence, made all-the-more wincing by the additional audience for such a heinous act. Harry’s incorrect logic, and Jennifer’s entirely misguided mind causes for two people to perish unnecessarily.
A Killer Twist
Perhaps the most violent, demented and downright upsetting offering is “White Bear”; an analysis of our insatiable, voyeuristic lust for real-life entertainment. Victoria (Lenora Crichlow) awakes with zero memory or recollection of her environment and is soon pursued by an array of onlookers who record her on their phones as opposed to lending an neighbourly hand.
As we progress and Brooker’s vision seems to become more of a zombie survivalist horror, we watch Victoria and a mere handful of other ‘unaffected’ individuals fight for their lives.
Needing to kill a signal stationed at White Bear, Victoria is attacked by two hunters wielding shotguns. She manages to wrestle a weapon away from her assailants before turning it on them and firing – only for it to spray confetti. Suddenly the walls open to reveal an audience applauding after observing the escapade. All the horror, fear and dread that she has just undergone was nothing more than a fabrication; a real-life play if you will. She was a core piece in a deceptively mapped and orchestrated arrangement designed to please insidious spectators.
It is seriously bleak and undoubtedly scary; made more so by the fact this type of behaviour is becoming more common practice. Illusionist Derren Brown actually composed a television event in a similar vein and style, enabling audiences to decide the fate of an individual they were watching live.
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The Synthetic Replica
As more and more of our personal information becomes preserved online, a sense of identity is enabled to live on, even when our physical form cannot. This theme is audaciously and hauntingly explored in “Be Right Back” as Hayley Atwell’s Martha becomes entirely consumed with grief when her social media-addicted husband Ash (Domhnall Gleeson) is suddenly killed.
Large portions of his personal data are uploaded to a new service which enables people to communicate with the deceased; extracting information and nuances such as their voice, and rendering them into a ‘newer’ version of themselves.
Martha becomes enveloped by her digital husband, and it isn’t long before the artificial Ash tells her about the service’s next stage; currently still in a state of experimental testing. Users can attain a body mode of synthetic flesh that the program can be uploaded onto. Martha buys a blank synthetic body from the service, and following artificial Ash’s instructions she allows the body to take on her husband’s physical characteristics. The end result is a clone that looks almost exactly like her man, of which she is able to not only communicate with, but be intimate with, too.
Depictions of cloning and artificial intelligence are hardly unfamiliar territories in narrative film and television, but there is something deeply atmospheric and nightmarish about this particular study. Ash is a ghost preserved in a squishy, rubbery frame; his soul and spirit confined to a plastic tomb.
Recalling Past Intimacy
Interestingly, the greatest episode of Black Mirror is the one not penned by its creator. “The Entire History of You” – written by Peep Show creator Jesse Armstrong – is undoubtedly the most compelling and distinctly human tale yet to be told in the series, and it taps into the emotion which turns many good people bad: jealously.
Characters in this alternate future are implanted with ‘grains’; small and discreet devices located behind the ear that records everything they do, see, or hear. This allows memories to be played back either in front of the person’s eyes or on a screen; a process known as a ‘re-do’.
Liam (Toby Kebbell) and his wife Ffion (Jodie Whittaker) are arguing over his inflated paranoia installed by the influence of Jonas (Tom Cullen); a past lover of Ffion’s. Once the row simmers down and Liam apologies for his behaviour they have sex, but during they are both watching re-dos of more passionate encounters from earlier in their relationship.
Even when characters are at their most emotionally and physically vulnerable – cloaked in only each other – the sinister influence of technology is in control. The visual recollection of fonder memories are clouding a moment in real-time; one which should be loving and beautiful, not distant and silenced.
It is a bone-chilling and deeply harrowing sequence which gives validity to arguments of our progressive social detachment.
The Grand Performance
There is little doubt that the most visually stimulating episode of Black Mirror thus far is “Fifteen Million Merits”; a dazzling, potent waltzer of colour and creativity, but underneath such splendour lies a deeply powerful and moving tale.
Satirising popular reality shows such as The X Factor, the story tells of individuals confined to futuristic prisons, in which they must pedal on stationary bikes for eons in order to amount enough digital currency to audition for talent show Hot Shots.
After “Bing” (Daniel Kaluuya) overhears Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay) singing, he knows she has that special something. Longing for something real in his world, he uses his merits to pay for a submission ticket so Abi can make it out of their hell. However after her performance, the judges believe she is better suited for a role at a pornographic TV station rather than a musical career. After she reluctantly accepts and “Bing” is forced to watch her sexually perform through the many monitors in his reality, he stashes a shard of glass and begins frantically raking up a further 15 million merits to purchase a second ticket.
On stage he dramatically interrupts his peculiar dance routine, draws the shard of glass and threatens to kill himself live on air. He tearfully expresses his anger at the system, and for how the judges took away and corrupted the only thing he found that was real. The judges, instead of taking his words into consideration, are impressed by his “performance” and offer him his own show.
This scene is as profound and sour as it is deeply scary. Brooker shines a murky light on our common culture of instant celebrity, in which visual representations of people are often favoured over real human interaction.
The first six episodes of Black Mirror Season 3 will be available to stream on Netflix from Friday 21st October.