When Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror began in 2011, it seemed to be focused on being an effective satire above anything else. Its opener, "The National Anthem," is a sensationalist episode that definitely got viewers talking and kept them watching. As the first series progressed, though, it revealed more strengths than just sharp humour, and the remaining episodes displayed a level poignancy and perceptiveness that is rare to see on television. "The Entire History of You" manages this incredibly successfully, taking perhaps the most bleak approach of the three. Assuredly, the second series begins with an episode that provides these qualities and much more.
In "Be Right Back," Hayley Atwell stars as Martha and Domhnall Gleeson plays her boyfriend Ash. The couple have recently moved to a cottage in the countryside, but tragedy strikes when Ash is suddenly killed while returning the moving van and Martha is left alone with a baby on the way. The story here is about how she attempts to cope with the loss and how technology makes it difficult for her.
In a misguided attempt to help her, a friend signs Martha up for a service that allows her to continue talking with Ash. The eerily plausible software creates a personality based on his publicly available online social media presence, including his tweets and Facebook posts. Brooker's captivating and unsettling script takes this idea to the extreme and, in doing so, it provides a thought-provoking examination of our reliance on social networks.
Tonally, this is most similar to the strongest episode of the first series, "The Entire History of You." As in that episode, "Be Right Back" is set in a world that doesn't seem at all far-fetched, with technology that is likely already being developed somewhere. Amongst other things, this serves as a warning about the dangers of how much we share on the internet, with one of the most unnerving things being just how much of Ash is able to be represented by the software.
Something that'll surprise those familiar with Brooker's acerbic writing is just how touching this story is. In the first series, his scripts showed his flair for excellent satire and a shockingly bleak vision of the future ("15 Million Merits"). With this episode, though, he gives us a real love story that is as tragic as it is moving. The actors should be credited with executing it so brilliantly, and Atwell particularly sells every painful emotional moment that her character experiences.
I think this is probably the most effective and confident episode of Black Mirror so far, proving Brooker's ability as a screenwriter and providing an important reflection of our modern world's addiction to the web. Like other episodes of the show, it leaves viewers with a feeling of discomfort and gives us much to think about. Additionally, it has a tremendously effective emotional core to its story and the exploration of grief is heartfelt in a way that was unexpected.
This really is Brooker at his best; I hope that the remaining episodes are as fascinating and compelling.
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