Dee Discusses: Black Mirror “Fifteen Million Merits”

Posted: September 22, 2015 by Dee in Black Mirror, Dee, General Media, Recaps, Television
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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There are spoilers in this review. Duh.

After the sucker punch of the first episode, I needed to steel myself up for the next Black Mirror. I love that it’s like The Twilight Zone, where every episode is a completely different story. They obviously are thematically connected however, especially in talking about modern technology and the way humanity has changed because of it. This one was a slow burn, and it also had some genuine sweetness in it, which was why as soon as it happened I went “oh this is going to become terrible.” Personally I dislike reality TV, and so I smirked when this was clearly a scathing commentary on the competition shows like American Idol or The X Factor. All credit has to go to Daniel Kaluuya for his incredible performance as the main character Bing. Everyone else is good, but he is definitely the stand out. As we got to the end I could tell where this was headed, just like the first episode, but that didn’t take away the sting of it.

This is a futuristic world where people bike all day in order to power the rest of their community. These bikers are constantly harassed by commercials, porn, and intrusive flashy headlines that they have to watch or get a fee to push them aside. It’s pretty brainwash-y in the way it’s presented, and Bing has no time for it. His brother died and left him a great deal of credits, and he uses those to avoid the marketing and have a quieter life. It’s a sad and lonely one though, in this tiny little room. As he says later, he just wants something that is real, because he seems very detached and apathetic about the world as it is. Not that I blame him, considering everything is shallow and vicious and people work hard just to get a chance at fame and a better life. And most of the time they never get it. It seems like a really hopeless situation. People who can’t bike and power the world for the wealthy are treated as second class citizens and mocked. The parallels to our current culture are very clear here, even if this is a fictional world. Everything changes for Bing when he notices a new woman biking with him, Abi (Jessica Brown Findlay). While in the bathroom he hears her sing and becomes enamored with her. Their interactions are very cute and flirty, and made me wonder how relationships even happen in this world. It doesn’t look like people can bring one another to their little box rooms. Or can they? Do people procreate? I don’t need an answer for this and obviously they’re not giving me one, but I think it’s a good thing that I’m intrigued by the concept and want to learn more.

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Bing decides to give all of his credits to Abi so she can try her luck on the reality TV show Hot Shots. People who do well there become celebrities and get an exciting life they always dreamed of. He wants something real, and he wants to do something good, so she agrees to take the money. They are excited when they go there, and Abi sings well. People genuinely like her and she gets a lot of applause. However, the lead judge, very Simon Cowell-like (Rupert Everett) points out that while she’s lovely and a good singer, she’s not a great singer. Instead of offering her the chance to be a super star, he offers instead for her to become one of their porn stars. It will still get her out of her job and to a better life, but it’ll require her to take drugs to be compliant and let people have sex with her. Due to desperation and pressure, Abi agrees. Bing is horrified, especially when his lack of points means that he can’t pull away from her very first sex tape. She’s clearly drugged and barely awake while someone has sex with her, and he’s forced to watch. He breaks the walls trying to make it stop and keeps a sharp piece of glass.

Bing then decides to work hard to get enough credits to go back. He stops spending money on food and scavengers what people leave. He accepts every commercial and focuses on one prize: getting back to Hot Shots. When he does, he shows off some dance moves at first, but then shocks everyone when he takes the piece of glass and puts it to his throat. He goes into a very passionate speech about how f’ed up everything in their society is, sending everyone into silence. His threat of suicide and his intensity leads the judges to flip it around, and to offer him a new job. He’ll get paid to have a radio show when he can rant about the terrible things in their society, giving people an outlet for their frustrations, and he’ll get out of his life. It’s funny because in that moment I want to yell no, don’t do it, kill yourself instead, which is clearly a messed up thing to wish, but until that point it was easy to hope that he wouldn’t give in the way everyone else does. But of course he does, and I can’t even be sorry about it, because he’s in a hopeless situation. Now he’s feeding the very establishment he hates by doing broadcasts with the glass to his throat. But he’s free and has a nice apartment. This is a condemnation on how our society enjoys shock news reporting, but the reality is most people do give into it eventually. We all slow down to watch a train wreck. All the distractions that the world forced these people to see, it was distractions they needed to get by and stay sane.

Are these distractions what we currently need in order to stay sane and get by every day? How much of his hopelessness resonates with people in the world right now? My guess is a lot of it. And that’s why Black Mirror continues to be incredibly disturbing but fascinating to watch. Here’s the video of his rant and if you can’t see where this is pointed and realistic satire, watch it a few more times. This is excellent work from everyone involved and completely heartbreaking. I feel like I need to take every episode one at a time because it is an emotional experience.

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