Black Mirror: 2.02 - White Bear
Another week in paradise with Black Mirror, and after a surprisingly non-appalling start last week, we're back to plunging the filthy depths of Charlie Brooker's psyche. Lenora Crichlow (former ghost from Being Human) stars in White Bear, a tale which dares to ask: why are those people following me with cameraphones?
Obviously, it gets worse from there. Spoilers a-go-go, and the twist ending is worth not knowing, so watch the episode on 4OD before proceeding.
15 Million Times Better?Firstly, again, a huge leap forward from the first series. The closest comparison from last year is probably 15 Million Merits, with the big media satire angle, but this absolutely beats the hell out of that one - and I'd say there are two main reasons for that.
Number one, much like last week, Brooker has successfully underplayed the story enough for it to be effective. We spend time with main character Victoria, and even though she is a blank slate (to be fair, for legitimate plot-based reasons), we still feel conflicted sympathy when the big reveal hits and she's actually a child-killer. The big satirical concept of justice-based theme parks is just about realistic enough to be biting (especially in light of Derren Brown's recent Apocalypse) too - whereas the vague idea of a society destroyed by X-Factor felt both over-familiar and too much, somehow both at once.
Secondly, both of last year's Brooker-written Black Mirror episodes started with a concept and then milked it to an inevitable end, but this one shows enough of the big idea for us to gasp, and then wisely stops at a reasonable length. Yes, the zombie-homaging sequence outstays its welcome a little before the big reveal, but it's still decent.
The Illusion Of SimplicityI'm not saying this is class-A top grade amazing TV drama, it's still straight-forward small cast/one twist stuff, but it's a good execution, and shows some range from Brooker. It would have been nice to get more sympathy with Victoria so we felt the ending even more, instead of her being a whimpering mess right to the reveal. Lenora Crichlow is decent enough in the role, considering how much her character annoyed me in Being Human.
What amuses me most, actually, is the way White Bear somewhat plays up to our expectations of Black Mirror. We all say it's a simplistic satire, so when we're presented early on with mobile phone voyeurism turning people into zombies, we say "Oh, Brooker, with your obvious clodhopping social commentary!" - and then find out that, no, he's subverted us. Well played.
And yes, after a comparatively upbeat episode last week, I came out of this one miserable. Impressed with the twist, but still unhappy. If total bleakness doesn't do much for you, you might struggle to enjoy this. Still, another of Brooker's better Black Mirror executions, in my opinion. So, next week - politics! Will it be as itsightful as last year's special pig-sex edition?
Black Mirror airs 10PM Mondays on Channel 4 - well, for one more week. See more on the official Black Mirror site on Channel 4, and you can watch all past episodes on 4OD. What if she really is still Annie the ghost and this is her next life?