Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 35 minutes
Starring: Rory Kinnear, Lydia Wilson, Daniel Kaluuya, Jessica Brown Findlay & Toby Kebbell
Charlie Brooker is a modern-day Rod Serling. Fueled by wild imagination and passionate about a variety of social issues, BLACK MIRROR is essentially a much darker version of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Despite having only seven episodes to its name (available on Netflix, who renewed the series for a third season), this dark science-fiction anthology has cemented itself as an unforgettable series that not only entertains but is simultaneously brilliant and challenging. Though I’d only rank one story as a full-blown masterpiece, BLACK MIRROR’s first season is all-around great as each tale is memorable in its own way. Without further ado, I’ll get onto the episodes/stories themselves…
THE NATIONAL ANTHEM: This first visceral episode plays out a bombastic premise with grim seriousness. Prime Minister Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) is in an unthinkable situation. The princess (Lydia Wilson) has been kidnapped and her captor is demanding an unusual ransom. Instead of asking for cash, the kidnapper wants Michael Callow to perform a disgusting sex act on live TV with a pig and has uploaded the ransom video to YouTube. I won’t say anything else about the plot itself other than commentary about social media and attention-grabbing news are both front and center. Charlie Brooker wrote this episode, not knowing that it actually had a few real world ties to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron. When confronted with this information, he responded that he didn’t know he was making a “documentary.” In this sense, you might see how frighteningly accurate this episode actually is, despite the sickening premise that seems insane and silly on the surface. Satire at its most disturbing! A
FIFTEEN MILLION MERITS: The first season’s best episode is a glimpse into an all-too-believable future in which people live in underground cubicles, are content to waste their merits (money) buying virtual items, eating artificial food, and obsessing over Hot Shots (a reality competition, a la American Idol and X Factor). Bing (Daniel Kaluuya) is a slave who’s sick of not being able to hold onto anything real. One day, he discovers something beautiful in fellow slave Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay). Bing spends all of his money (15 million merits) getting Abi an audition on Hot Shots…and I won’t say anything else about the plot. This episode’s world is built and explained to the viewer in interesting ways that feel completely natural, but the romance between Bing and Abi truly shines. The ending has sparked something of a debate between fans as certain elements are purposely left ambiguous. Whichever way you read it, I felt this episode was a soul-crushing masterpiece and could have easily filled its own feature. A+
THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF YOU: In a future where nearly everyone is able to record and replay memories, Liam (Toby Kebbell) is obsessing over whether or not a work presentation went well. His day doesn’t get much better as a dinner with his wife’s friend (Tom Cullen) becomes painfully awkward. Liam begins to suspect that his spouse (Jodie Whittaker) might be hiding something and goes through a few memories to discover a horrifying truth. This is the most predictable episode of the first season and ironically, it’s the only script that wasn’t penned by series creator Charlie Brooker, which may have had something to do with it. Still, there’s enough creativity and Toby Kebbell puts in a solid performance to keep the viewer hooked. In comparison with the other two stories, it feels a tad too familiar and simply doesn’t measure up. That doesn’t mean this episode is lacking or particularly disappointing as it definitely entertains and has a cool twist ending (complete with obvious social commentary), but remains the weakest of the three episodes. A-
Much like the original TWILIGHT ZONE, BLACK MIRROR is entertaining, twisted and has something insightful to say with each episode. The first season’s stories range from disturbing (NATIONAL ANTHEM) to deeply emotional (FIFTEEN MILLION MERITS) to cruelly ironic (THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF YOU), but they all match each other in being equally challenging and offering no easy answers. Don’t expect to walk away from BLACK MIRROR feeling upbeat and cheerful, because it’s not that kind of series. Instead, Charlie Brooker’s BLACK MIRROR is some of the most intelligent and meaningful science-fiction (especially on the small screen) that we’ve been given in quite some time.