If you thought season one of Black Mirror was dark, you haven’t seen anything yet! In a set of plots that goes from tragedy to downright criminal, Black Mirror sets itself up as a bullhorn to expose the darkest implications of our modern technological age.
As noted in my previous review, Black Mirror doesn’t necessarily oppose, nor wishes others to oppose, the amazing technological journey that our species are taking part in. Instead it draws out fictional situations that mirror the proverbial risks touted by those who believe technology has a darker side to it. To understand these risks is to have greater insight into how we could possibly mitigate said risks and create a more peaceful relationship with technology itself.
Starting with episode one, “Be Right Back,” we are drawn into a relationship between Martha (starring Hayley Atwell) and Ash (starring Domhnall Gleeson). Like most people today, Ash constantly finds himself distracted by his phone, even to the extent of ignoring his own partner. One morning, after finally settling in their new home, Ash leaves to return the rent-a-car. By night he never returns, leaving Martha distraught when two policemen show up to her door to inform her that he died in a car accident. To make the situation all the more harrowing, not long after, Martha discovers that she’s pregnant.
All hope is not lost, however, when a friend at the funeral informs her of a new online service that integrates the deceased’s entire online life – pictures, videos, statuses from social media, email exchanges, etc. – developing a sophisticated A.I. copy for her to talk to via her phone. Eventually, with enough money, the A.I. Ash convinces her to upload him into a synthetic body developed by the same company that runs the service. While at first she finds herself elated to finally having Ash back in her life, she quickly comes to realize that, no matter how much online information this A.I. copy uploads from online or the amount of information she relays to him of Ash’s previous offline life, A.I. Ash will always lack the personhood that she fell in love with.
Several years later, Martha and her daughter appear to be happy. Though, given that it’s her birthday, she asks her mother for a birthday present: to go upstairs, into the attic, and share some birthday cake with Ash’s clone. Reluctantly she agrees, knowing that, no matter what she does, she could never truly give up on her deceased partner – neither original, nor synthetic.
Episode two, “White Bear,” goes deeper into the darkness, starting with an unknown woman who we eventually find out to be Victoria Skillane (starring Lenora Crichlow) who appears to have lost her memory. Waking up in a strange room with a striking headache, she looks around to try to figure out where exactly she is. Instead, all she finds are bandages around her wrist and an open bottle of pills spilled across the floor. To make the scene all the more ominous, each TV in the home appears to be airing the same unusual symbol.
Making her way outside, she realizes that she isn’t alone. The only problem is that everyone, either outside or inside by their windows, are recording her with their phones. Terrified, she consistently tries asking everyone what’s going on. Soon thereafter, a mysterious man wearing a balaclava pulls out a shotgun from his car and starts firing at her. Running for her life, she bumps into two strangers who appear to be gassing up their vehicle – Jem (starring Tuppence Middleton) and Damien (starring Ian Bonar). Getting them involved, and consequently Damien shot dead, both Jem and Victoria flee the scene, set out on a mission to destroy the transmitter that has been airing the symbol on everyone’s TV and phones, believing them to be in a state of hypnosis.
Throughout their journey, however, Victoria goes through flashes of memories, believing them to be of her husband and daughter. Constantly finding themselves in danger, not to mention tricked by a man named Baxter (starring Michael Smiley) who claims to be one of the uninfected, both Jem and Victoria finally reach the station transmitting the symbol.
Only when they reach there, instead of a transmitter, Victoria finds herself in front of an audience clapping as Jem and a few others lock her down in a seat. There Baxter returns, only this time revealing himself to be the host of the show – a show that is connected to what is known as “White Bear Justice Park.” Baxter then explains everything to Victoria: rather than a mother of an unknown child, her and her fiancé Iain Rannoch were charged with the murder of six-year-old Jemima Sykes.
Because it was revealed that, as Iain killed her, Victoria merely watched as she recorded the incident with her phone, “White Bear Justice Park” would then teach her a lesson by wiping out her memory using electrodes and have her go through a very well orchestrated similar case-scenario of her fleeing for her life as everyone else just stood on the sidelines, recording it all with their phones. To make the situation all the more gruesome, Victoria is then sent back to the same house she’d awoken in, places the electrodes back on her head, and then starts re-orchestrating the same scenario for her to go through for the rest of her life.
And then with the final episode, “The Waldo Moment,” we’re introduced to a young comedian named Jamie Salter (starring Daniel Rigby) who performs the voice and movements of a cartoon blue bear named Waldo. Waldo’s job is to interview politicians and other authority figures, with the attempt of poking fun at them at their own expense. With his next target being the Conservative candidate for parliament Liam Monroe (starring Tobias Menzies), his comedic – albeit humiliating – antics gets him into a political standoff with Mr. Monroe.
Growing in popularity with the British public, given both their increasing disdain for the status quo and Waldo’s populist anti-politics attitude, Jamie finds himself being forced to continue pursuing Monroe under the guise of a mock-candidacy titled “Vote Waldo!” During his campaign of confrontation, Jamie eventually meets Gwendolyn Harris (starring Chloe Pirrie) – Monroe’s by-election Labour candidate – and begins having feelings for her. Though when she’s forced to end her relationship with Jamie, this sets him out on a warpath to ridicule and expose each candidate for the frauds they are.
Realizing how much he’d hurt Gwendolyn as a result of his antics, Jamie tries using his Waldo persona to convince the public to not vote for him, but to instead vote for the actual politicians running, like Monroe. However, it’s too late as the show’s producer Jack Napier (starring Jason Flemyng) fires Jamie and takes over the Waldo character, continuing his campaign of satire and destruction. Waldo loses the election, however, with Monroe coming out on top. As a result, Waldo prompts the audience to start throwing shoes at Monroe, to which they happily obliged.
Months, if not years later, we find Jamie once more, only this time he’s homeless and sleeping on the streets. When told to leave by police doing their sweeps, he walks up to a gesture-controlled monitor, hoping to find something on TV that isn’t about Waldo. With no luck, realizing that his attempts to get the public’s disapproval of Waldo’s anarchist ideology had failed, Jamie then angrily throws a glass bottle at the screen. In response, two policemen confront Jamie and begins assaulting him.
The second season of Black Mirror sets itself with much darker scenarios than those previously pursued in season one. With episode one, this really struck at the heart of the Transhumanist movement today, of which several members have openly stated their desire to reach indefinite life extension by uploading their mind into an artificial brain. Black Mirror attempts to philosophically lament against the dangers of mind uploading by claiming that doing so wouldn’t result in your true self, but rather an imperfect copy. However, unlike in the episode where this particular copy used only online sources and offline assumptions to help create itself, many Transhumanists are set out to create an artificial brain that copies every synaptic wiring within their biological brains, acting as the perfect copy for a new artificial self. Whether or not this comes to be feasible is still up for grabs, but it certainly doesn’t have to result in how Black Mirror portrays it. Moral of the story: don’t be lazy when uploading your mind!
“Everytime you think of your father, you resurrect him. Why shouldn’t he continue a posthuman life in this world while he’s resting in the other?” – Clyde Dsouza, Memories With Maya
Episode two goes into a scenario in which I believe everyone could agree on: people are so damn caught up with the act of filming dangerous situations, that they completely forget about helping those in trouble. We’ve seen it on countless occasions, where people would send amateur footage to news stations for cash, despite the fact that they did so at the expense of someone’s life. This is certainly a real-world problem, to which Black Mirror perfectly satirizes. However, its idea of subjecting convicted criminals into situations similar to the one that put them in jail in the first place is quite horrid. Speaking for myself, as a Transhumanist, I’d much rather continue funding in rehabilitation programs for convicted criminals, rather than adhere to an “eye-for-an-eye” justice system.
And then, with episode three, the scenario of where a fictional cartoon character could humor his way into the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised and oppressed isn’t that hard to believe. In fact, it happens all the time in the real world. Comedians have very large followings, a lot of which uses their profession to address serious issues with political jokes. That isn’t the risk that Black Mirror tries conveying, but rather the corporate control over somebody’s idea. Despite Jamie creating Waldo, the producer has contracted entitlement to the character, giving him the ability to use Waldo however he so wishes. This is certainly a huge problem here in the real world, of which several Transhumanists have made it their cause to fight against patent-trolling corporations.
Black Mirror is an amazing TV series. Thankfully both season one and two are available on Netflix for you to watch and enjoy. I’m always left pondering the issues they convey, trying to compare and contrast them to our own real-world scenarios of our relationship with that of modern technology. And yet, despite it’s cynical outlook on technology, I can’t help but enjoy the show.
If you have a Netflix account, be sure to watch Black Mirror whenever you get the chance. If you don’t have a Netflix account, well…then get one! To miss out on this amazing show would surely be a shame.