On my first attempt at watching Black Mirror I absolutely despised the first episode, ” The National Anthem“. Instead of being forced to face a dark reflection of modern society, I felt forced to watch a gross caricature of the worst our society could be. There There was no interesting ‘what if ‘ question, no world building, and worst of all no relatable problem to come to grips with. Instead, I was left with a ridiculous situation, a spineless president, a society that had lost all dignity through passive (in some cases eager) consent, and lastly a innocent pig in a sad room. The image presented to me of the worst we could be was so far removed from my perspective of society that none of the episode felt relatable. In all the darkness and edginess there was no room for even a single voice of reason; Not from the people, the government, or even a loud enough cry from the man at the center of it all. Even the reasoning behind the antagonists actions was meaningless anarchy just for anarchy’s sake. At the end of the episode I felt the need for a long shower and some way to get the terrible taste out of my mouth. I attempted to wash that taste out by moving on to the second episode, “Fifteen Million Merits“. Better, but I could still taste battery acid.
In ‘Fifteen’ we’re met with a much different world, where a relatively meaningless existence is fueled by points gained through literal pedaling in place. Still a bleak concept, but hey at least its relatable in some sense. The story also seemed to be set at least slightly further in the future which helped set the idea that this representation isn’t of us, but of what we could be. A distinction which helps soften the blow when we see our protagonist trade in his honest beliefs for validation, freedom, and a paycheck. The literal last shard of honest truth in the episode is replayed over and over again to a hungry audience who eat it up for entertainment. Throughout this episode Black Mirror asks interesting questions about our hunger for entertainment, the flexibility of our beliefs, and our willingness to sell out for validation. All of this while also providing interesting questions about the world being shown and how one day we might become like that ( if we are not already). So definitely, an improvement, but still so pretentious and ‘edgy’ that it did little to sooth my distaste for the show.
It would take 2 years for me to get back into the show and give it another shot. But after episode 3, “The Entire History of You“, I was in for the ride. I had everything I needed to be onboard: an interesting ‘what if’ question, the beginnings of world building, and a story of real consequences to a relatable problem. Each of the first three episodes tries to show us some altered aspect of society breaking down a single man, grinding him down and removing some part of their humanity. The main difference in episode 3 seemed to be the episode’s views on society as a whole. Again, the first 2 episodes depicted a bleak view of society in which people had little drive or impetus beyond selfish or downright savage motivations. But the most noticeable similarity, was the void left by the lack of even one single voice of reason. Even in Fifteen, where the protagonist begins to voice his own beliefs agaisn’t the clearly frenzied crowds it’s not long before those same pure beliefs are traded in like a used car. Honestly, watching such a one sided vision of who we are, or could be, is utterly exhausting. History of You, went a different route and instead just asked a simple ‘what if’ question with a gradual build to a sad, yet understandable ending. The reactions and plot points all revolved around relatable actions, springing forth from an interesting question about technology, with interesting answers.