17 January, 2012

Black Mirror (Episode 2, Channel 4)

Everything Charlie Brooker does for Channel 4 is pretty good and 'Black Mirror' seems to have only furthered this trend. I've only watched the second episode (the only one my Sky+ actually recorded...) so will talk about the individual episode, as opposed to the entire series which I will have to 4OD.

The acting in this was superb. Daniel Kaluuya - as the main character, Bing - gave a heartfelt performance and fitted himself perfectly into the Winston Smith role of theis type of story - the protagonist who does not feel at ease in a 'regime'. His movements to control the screens about him were perfectly executed and believable also, adding an authenticity to a technology-heavy premise. All the other characters in the 'compound' were strong, believable and well-acted. One criticism would be that the actors playing the Hot Shot judges all seemed to be unable to play the scene at the right level just between 'heartless puppetmaster' and 'victim of society' - the three swung wildly between the two in nonsensical fashion from shot to shot.

The visuals of the episode were stunning - from the screens that pervaded Bing's senses from morning to night to the 'doppels' who looked wide-eyed as Bing threatened to cut his own throat. Many of the episode's shots stressed the importance of touch, in a world where one needn't even touch a screen. The origami penguin - a tactile, physical, man-made creation - compounded this sense of hollowness and inhumane clinical environment. There was strong emphasis on noise in the episode - Bing was constantly bombarded with incessant noise. This was sound from which neither he nor the audience could escape from, and any small pocket of silent only highlighted the intensity of Bing's lifestyle and surroundings.

Whilst I saw the final parts of the episode as a slight anticlimax - the speech was pretty timid and meaningless, and there was ultimately a lack of real danger from the glass shard - the final five minutes were very symbolic. Bing has become a victim of that which he stood against, as in '1984'. Ultimately, as the final shot shows, he may have more space, and he might be viewing prettier images, but he's still in a screen-lined box.

Brooker has made another entertaining hour or so of television, and it is always interesting to see his opinions on the reality television phenomenon. However, despite the visuals and a fascinating Bing, the only real message was how 'bad' reality TV is, and Brooker failed to really properly show how the world works in the episode, its logistics and limits. Whether these were deficiencies in the script or in the final editing, I am not sure. However, this high-concept programme was highly ambitious episode, well made and well-acted, with a strong initial concept. Despite its flaws, it's positives were too good for Brooker not to be rewarded. 

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