Last night, Charlie Brooker's contemporary dark drama horror techhno thingy Black Mirror returned for a second series, and the expectations are... well, I'm not sure. The last run had interesting ideas, but executed them with the satirical equivalent of a sledgehammer to the face. Sporadically entertaining, but the only episode which hit the heights of good drama was final part The Entire History Of You, also the only one not written by Brooker himself.
So, how will Black Mirror work moving forward? We already had some thoughts based on the early synopses, but now we've seen first episode Be Right Back and it's time to back that up with actual facts.
iAsh - The Sweary SiriWatching Be Right Back, my first thought: has Brooker taken the reviews of last series to heatr? After many critics agreed that Jesse Armstrong's The Entire History Of You was best (and it's just been optioned for a movie by well-known playboy superhero Robert Downey Jr too), this first episode seems to use that as its template. Rather than going nuts with big ideas, Be Right Back takes one character, one sci-fi concept and runs with it.
Namely, of course, recently bereaved Martha (Hayley Atwell) using an app to recreate her just-dead boyfriend Ash (Domhnall Gleeson)'s personality from his social media posts, then growing unhealthily close to the new not-real Ash. The early set-up parts are the strongest, as Brooker pitches good scenes with Martha becoming increasingly attached to iAsh and distant from her real friends and family. Atwell's performance helps with this - the camera is almost never off her, and she rises to the challenge brilliantly.
Some of these bits are really creepy and it's nice to see some less-is-more from Charlie Brooker rather than, you know, pig-fucking. And, indeed, it's the lack of restraint which slightly lessens the second half of the episode, when they go to the "next stage": a fake-human robo-Ash.
Black Mirror In "NOT TOO GLOOMY" Shocker!!!Partly, it takes us out of the real-life unsettling story, because until then, the script successfully sold this as something which really could happen with only a small shift in technology, and then the robots turn up and start making reasonably obvious satirical points about how computers and humans aren't the same. And then the last section takes us through a reasonably obvious emotional journey. Yes, these are techno-parables of sorts, but they don't have to be simplistic or preachy.
It leaves us wanting some kind of tragic twist or dark turn, and Brooker toys with it during the "HIT ME!" confrontation, but ultimately doesn't go there. Instead, we play out the "You're not the same as him!" thought process and that's sort of it. There's an epilogue which tries to tie everything together, but the whole thing seems a bit too nothing-y - like we cut away just as the long-awaited emotional climax was about to start.
It's a shame to be a little negative about this, because as a technical piece of human writing, this is Brooker's best effort yet on Black Mirror. If anything, he underplays it too much in trying not to veer over the top. Still, it's a decent bit of work, and Atwell's performance is first class. The opening half in particular is a real success, and if they'd kept it in that low-key terrain for most of the running time, this could've been great. As it is... yeah, decent. Next week: zombies, it seems.
Black Mirror continues Mondays at 10PM on Channel 4. See the official Channel 4 Black Mirror site, or watch the episodes on 4OD here. What if iAsh was just Siri with an accent?