Gemma Varnom takes a second glance at Black Mirror‘s ’15 Million Merits’ and ‘White Bear’ episodes and wonders if we are inching ever closer to the horrifying and oppressive society they depict.
Warning to readers who haven’t yet watched these episodes: This review contains spoilers.
Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s dystopian anthology series exploring the dark side of technology, has always been a bleak viewing experience. It depicts “the way we might be living in ten minutes’ time if we’re clumsy“, so if you’re after happy endings, love conquering all and maybe a perky musical number or two, it’s probably not the sci-fi satire for you.
The recent Christmas special, nestled in among Pixar movies and comfortingly familiar sitcom repeats, was like a bitter shot of strychnine in the nation’s mug of mulled wine; if you want a snapshot of Black Mirror‘s vision of the future in this episode, imagine making a copy of yourself, breaking her spirit with prolonged white torture, then forcing her to make your toast just as you like it — forever.
Three years on from when the first episode originally aired, are we inching ever closer to the world Brooker has shown us? And have we looked up from our Twitter feeds long enough to notice? With all the earlier episodes now available on 4oD, a second viewing seems less like a chance to re-watch some well-scripted drama and more like a timely reminder to re-assess the world we live in now.
From the first series, ‘15 Million Merits‘, co-written by Konnie Huq, follows Bing Madsen (Daniel Kaluuya), one of many low-status workers who pedal stationary bikes to generate power, earning digital merits to buy food, toiletries and accessories for their avatars or ‘doppels’.
It’s one of the more dull, sterile sort of dystopias, described by Brooker as “a life of meaningless toil enlivened only by continual entertainment and distraction courtesy of omnipresent gizmos and screens”. Human interaction is, at best, stilted and, at worst, downright unpleasant. Bing receives his only meagre gratification alone, watching “the hottest girls in the nastiest situations” on a porn stream, Wraith Babes…
Bing and Abby from ’15 Million Merits’ (left to right) stand behind a reflective table under a multiply squared ceiling light, with TV screens running along the walls to the left and right of them. They look glum and are wearing grey/beige uniforms. The image appears within the cover of the DVD for the complete first series of Black Mirror.