I've finally decided to get into Black Mirror, and these are my thoughts on what I've watched so far. Spoilers Abound
The National Anthem: Harrowing, yes; its triumph lies in taking a crude, jokey premise and not only wringing horror from it, but making the reality of it persuasive. The minor idea behind the premise, that the immediacy of public consumption and reaction in the age of social media could conceivably result in the prime minister being intimidated into fucking a pig on live television is persuasive and riveting. The major idea behind the episode is, by contrast, a let-down for its banality and unimaginativeness. That the desire of the public to experience another's humiliation on a screen is so compelling that they'll fail to notice the original situation (the kidnapping) that had outraged them into demanding the humiliation had been resolved well before hand--well, I don't doubt the truth behind this critique of media culture, but it's almost as old as television itself. It's a predictable and old fashioned critique, the narrative equivalent of calling your tv the 'boob-tube'. That this is what's meant to justify the provocations of the ugly scenario is disappointing and gives the impression that the provocations are the point, with the message there to deflect from that.
Fifteen Million Merits: A boring, overlong episode whose critiques and conclusions are precisely what you'd expect given the targets. I found it hard to believe in its world, too: the government has enough power to track everyone digitally and enforce a lot of restrictions, but nevertheless has to resort to fostering shame and hatred, rather than restricted diets, to keep people fit and cycling. If your world depends on the populace being fit enough to produce electricity manually, it makes more sense to monitor daily calorie intakes than turn fat people into the villains in the hopes that it'll motive the populace (with the overeating cycle being common enough for a character to recommend CBT for overcoming it). But then I'm only talking about this minor, inconsequential bit because I'm too bored to talk about the rest. Thus far in my viewings I did not have much faith in Black Mirror. Its media critiques have been largely uninteresting bromides.
The Entire History of You: Here, finally, the show comes to life, and the major reason for that is the decision not to allow its futuristic premise to be a thudding critique, but rather a narrative device to open up and explore common emotional situations, here the intersection of jealousy and memory. Using implant technology to dramatize the obsessive, paranoid focus of the jealous person on tiny details that may mean nothing or everything is brilliant in how it evokes so vividly the pure experience of jealousy. Generally, film and tv suggests the internal state of jealousy through external displays; here, technology renders the internal external, so we get complete access to a purely emotional state without needing, say, experimental visual techniques. We can watch someone in the process of remembering, interpreting, focusing, reconfiguring, over and over. And the episode plays subtly with its irony, too. It's only in a throw-away line within a dramatic scene of far more charged exchanges that you realize that, while the husband was right to've suspected his wife, his jealousy earlier in their marriage had created the conditions that allowed for the cheating to take place--jealousy as self-fulfilling prophecy, especially in a society that can scrutinize everything. There are many insidious little things to this one that are hinted at, but I'm glad they remained hints in favour of a story focused on character and emotion. Finally, I'm excited for more Black Mirror
Be Right Back: The predictability of this episode allows it to be tragic rather than underwhelming. We know what's going to happen when the technology is introduced to the narrative (and if we've been paying close attention, know what its final manifestation will be), and we can only watch in helpless concern as our lead is pulled into an emotional trap we all see coming. The narrative hinges, eventually, on the uncanny valley; but as with the previous episode, this is an avenue into character and emotion rather than something more conceptual. There are plenty of themes about technology and modernity to be drawn out of this one, many of them no doubt quite complex; but what lingers is the sheer torment of grief and how people caught within it can so willingly mistake crutches for a cure.
White Bear: Successfully conjures the atmosphere of a nightmare, replete with unmoved bystanders and frightening, motiveless threats materializing out of nowhere. Its satire, tho', has almost nothing to do with modernity or technology. True, the public desire to participate in retribution is melded to its desire to be a spectator to it, and this results in everyone holding a camera and in that old sci-fi stand-by, the futuristic theme park that ends up revealing contemporary ills. But the presence of recording devices and tvs is the result of incidental narrative beats. That the killer videotaped the little girl's torments and now, in Twilight Zone-style irony, has her own torment endlessly filmed could easily have been anything else. There's nothing essential to the use of technology here, because what's critiqued is something that predates the industrial revolution. It's the old phenomenon of public executions, replete with the prisoner being driven through town in an open wagon for everyone to jeer at. And as far as judicial public humiliations represented on dramatic tv go, Game of Thrones bests this one easily, and with a more vividly horrible character at its pitiful centre. But that's not to take away from the effectiveness of this episode, which, before the reveal, was propulsive and horrifying, and after it makes you feel pity for its criminal (even if it does stack the deck in her favour).
The Waldo Moment: The weakest episode of season 2, mainly for how it just kind of ends right as it's getting interesting. An unhappy mediocrity gets caught up in something far beyond him, but opts out just as all the horrifying stuff seems about to happen. I was hoping to see our protagonist strong-armed by American organizations looking to use his destabilizing alter-ego to manipulate the democratic process, or at least for him to become caught up in his own sudden power and the thrill of a demagoguery he didn't know was in him. The episode suggested all sorts of truly concerning and relevant political nightmares, and yet failed to deliver on them. Unlike the best of the previous episodes, which used their conceits to study character and emotion, this one ought to've been more conceptual.
So, yeah, I enjoyed these first two seasons very much, despite the occasional lull. I'll write up my thoughts on the Christmas special and the Netflix seasons when I get around to seeing them.