Review of Black Mirror – ‘15 Million Merits’
SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen Black Mirror – ‘15 Million Merits’
Imagine a future powered by people on exercise bikes, where rooms are made up of walls of screens and the only chance to escape is by going on a reality television show. Welcome to the world of black mirrors.
This episode sums up the title of the series ‘Black Mirror’ which is partly a reference to an Arcade Fire song and partly an allusion to a turned off screen: all you see is a black reflection staring back. Nearly every surface in the episode was a screen. From the moment inhabitants of this dystopia woke up to the moment they went to sleep they were always looking at a monitor. An individual could even incur a penalty by shutting their eyes and not looking at a display.
The story followed Bing, played by Daniel Kaluuya of recent ‘Fades’ fame, who is bored of his monotonous life which consists of pedalling to earn Merits, the currency of the world. All of this changes when he hears fellow peddle pusher Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay from ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Misfits’) singing in the toilets. He is convinced that she could escape a life of toil by auditioning on reality TV show ‘Hot Shot’ and helps her to enter the programme.
It was a great fable with a cynical conclusion whereby Bing became a sell-out, merely a sort of television shock jock for one of Judge Hope’s (Rupert Everett) channels. He escaped his life of physical drudgery by ranting about the system but to do this he had to become part of it. Bing was just another face on a screen and failed to change the world. Abi met a much more sinister fate after she was cajoled by the ‘Hot Shot’ judges and the baying crowds to become a porn star on ‘Wraith Babes’. It was a complete tragedy because her reality was a far cry from her original dream of becoming a famous singer. Abi’s innocence was exploited and she was swallowed up by the black mirror. Her character represented the only authentic thing in the dystopia and it was reasserted in Bing’s speech when he said that these shows put people through filters until there is nothing natural left.
Writers Charlie Brooker and Kanak ‘Konnie’ Huq have created a scathing critique of reality TV shows, with ‘The X Factor’ in mind. It is a scintillating piece that addresses how these shows work and how they manipulate and meld people so that they can be sold on the market. Up until last year co-writer Huq presented the spin-off show ‘The Xtra Factor’ where she interviewed contestants and the judges. However, after making a series of blunders that allegedly displeased head judge and Producer Simon Cowell, she was reportedly axed from the programme, from what I have read, it is not clear whether she left or was sacked. In a sense ‘15 Million Merits’ may therefore be her vindication given that she may also have been chewed up and spat out by reality TV.
Together Huq and Brooker are hammering home the fact that although these shows might appear bright and shiny, underneath it all they have a viciously cruel nature. Moreover, former judges such as Dannii Minogue have said that there is never a happy ending when working on ‘The X Factor’. A significant point made by Judge Charity (Julia Davis) was that the market for singers had reached saturation point and this is something that is true of ‘The X Factor’ itself. It is no coincidence that ratings have been falling because the truth is that the format is losing its appeal as the market for this show has reached its saturation point. There are only so many times that the public will buy into the dream because they have now seen it all before.
The tone was very different compared to last week and there was more of an emotional connection to the characters. Kaluuya and Brown Findlay were excellent as the central protagonists Bing and Abi. Therefore, the way in which they met their respective fates was sad because there was no sense of hope. Additionally, the aesthetic quality of the world of black mirrors was fantastic and looked plausible. Is this a warning that we need to spend less time gazing at our monitors and spend more time interacting with each other?
Next week is the final instalment of the trilogy which is called ‘The Entire History of You’ and has been penned by Jesse Armstrong whose writing credits include ‘Peep Show’ and ‘Fresh Meat’. The third part concentrates on a place where everyone has a memory chip implanted into their head that records everything they experience. It can be accessed to rewind and re-watch memories back but is this necessarily a good thing?
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Image credit: Channel 4Tagged in: charlie brooker, julia davis, konnie huq, Rupert Everett, science fiction
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