I’ve been seeing a lot of people on Facebook raving about Black Mirror on lately (which is, in itself very ironic), so we watched the first episode last night. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s a Twilight Zone type morality play (different characters and stories every episode that generally have something to do with technology). I’m going to attempt to be vague as I write about it and not give away too many details, but there will be spoilers.
At first, I found the episode to be very disturbing (but in that good way art can be disturbing) and impactful but also a bit heavy handed. Characters said or did things they wouldn’t really say in real-life in order for the story to make its comments on technology. There were also a few plot holes that I let slide. (You’re sneaking someone into a building and you not only don’t clear the street but you let someone hangout by the entrance. Then you let that someone take a picture of the person you’re sneaking into the building and you don’t detain said person or confiscate their phone. You just let them walk away. You’re a moron and deserve for your plan to backfire. OR you spend seemingly hours reconnoitering a building and never bother to do any sort of thermal imaging to determine if anyone is actually in the building.)
Still, I was left chewing on something that didn’t quite sit right. Sure enough, when I woke up this morning, in a half-asleep half-awake daze, it hit me.
In addition to the story itself commenting on technology, we find out at the end that the terrorists weren’t really terrorists but an artist making a comment on technology (which a character has to spell out for us because the viewer can’t be trusted to arrive at the conclusion on their own) that everyone was missing what was going on in real life because they were all inside glued to their TV screens.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my problem with the ending. Did you catch it?
The whole episode is an intricate indictment of how technology can trap someone into having to do something truly horrifying and terrible, but at the end, it completely ignores an entire segment of the technology it claims to be indicting: streaming video.
Not once is a member of the general public shown watching the news on their computer or on their phone. The streets of London wouldn’t have been empty at 3:30 because everyone was inside watching the news. There would have been hundreds or thousands of people too self obsessed or busy with their own lives to be inside watching a TV. They would have been out living their busy lives following the events on their mobile device. The princess would have been discovered before the 4:00 PM deadline. The terrible thing wouldn’t have happened at all.
So the first episode ends up being a rather one-sided view of technology, cherry picking the elements that serve the narrative and ignoring the others. Because, let’s face it, there would have been teams of hackers out there trying to trace the video upload (that somehow this artist managed to make untraceable after single-handedly kidnapping a princess…)
The more I scratch the surface, the more it falls apart. I did like it, at the time. I just hope the other episodes hold up better to a little scrutiny.