What writer Charlie Brooker did in his first season of his satirical anthology series was bold, shocking and at times profound. It was unlike anything else we’re seeing on television right now.
The second season of Black Mirror is about to screen on SBS 2, and in its twisted Twilight Zone-style, it too offers up more thought-provoking television. Once again Brooker brings us three individual stories that challenge our perceptions of modern society, often with a biting comment on the role of media.
As the title suggests, Brooker holds up a mirror to society, asking us to look introspectively at who we are and what we stand for. The answers are not always pleasant.
The first episode “Be Right Back” is set slightly in the future and centres around a young UK couple, Martha (Hayley Atwell) and Ash (Domhnall Gleeson). They are an unassuming pair embarking on a new home together, until Ash is tragically killed in a car accident. At his funeral Martha is told by a friend that technology exists for her to communicate with Ash -not via seance, but by email. Smart software exists that reads all of Ash’s emails and social media trails and becomes capable of mimicking his writing style. Martha is told she can write to virtual Ash, as part of her grieving process, and it will reply in his style.
Martha is initially horrified at the thought, but when she falls pregnant, curiosity gets the better of her and she sends an email. When she gets a reply in his vernacular, Martha finds the email oddly reassuring. Before long she is writing copious emails, as the only “lifeline” to her dead partner. Curiosity becomes addiction.
But in Black Mirror a taste for fantasy is never so simple. Where this tale turns is dark but fascinating. The episode is largely a two-hander, driven by a fine performance from Hayley Atwell as a woman clinging to hope.
The second episode “White Bear” is a game-changer. While Brooker lifts us up with the possibilities of the after-life in “Be Right Back” he plummets us into a world of fear in “White Bear.”
It begins with a young woman, Victoria (Lenora Crichlow), waking in a house but unable to remember who she is. The clues around her -a photo of a young girl, a strange symbol on the TV screen, dates crossed off a calendar- don’t help much.
Outside the world seems empty, until she sees people holding up their mobile phones and recording her. But despite her pleas for assistance they all ignore her, whilst filming her the whole time. Is this a YouTube generation gone mad? Soon a man shows up with a shotgun, aimed squarely at her, and she turns and runs.
For much of the episode this terrified young woman is on the run, becoming the hunted in a society where the public ignore her. She is screaming, crying, in utter distress -is this some sort of twisted game? A paintball of the future? Only one young woman offers her any kind of help, but save for a few flashback memories, there are few answers as she spirals deeper into a world of terror.
“White Bear” is harrowing viewing and despite its clever commentary on modern society, I struggled to enjoy the experience.
A third episode, “The Waldo Moment” is unpreviewed, but I hope it ends with some optimism.
That said, it’s hard not to be impressed by the storytelling skill of Charlie Brooker and the journey into the unknown of Black Mirror is part of its allure.
You won’t be able to forget them very easily.
Black Mirror airs 9:30pm Tuesday on SBS 2.