Review: BLACK MIRROR S2E02: WHITE BEAR (Or, Technology Leaves Us Disconnected In This Tale Of Memory Loss, Isolation And Horror)
"White Bear" is the single darkest episode of Black Mirror so far. That's definitely saying something for a show that is far from cheerful at the best of times. However, if you found last week's "Be Right Back" just a little more sentimental than expected, the more surreal edge that Charlie Brooker is known for is back on display here.
Lenora Crichlow plays a young woman who wakes up in unfamiliar house with no memory, she tries to piece things together but finds herself lost and alone in a world where bystanders appear to be more interested in filming her on their phones than helping her. When she encounters Jen (Tuppence Middleton), it is revealed to her that much of the population have effectively been turned into mindless zombies by a signal and that those who aren't onlookers are hunting down the remaining unaffected people.
This concept alone would make for a fascinating exploration of technology's position in our world and how it affects us. In some ways, though, that's a bit too obvious. This is an episode of television designed to keep you guessing even after it has seemingly uncovered its secrets. I spent much of "White Bear" considering how it could merely be an allegorical representation of the internet (which it is, but it's also much more) but Brooker's script has a final twist that is nothing short of genius. As with Series 2's premiere, this brings out an important theme that is sure to stick in your mind. I don't want to spoil the surprise for those that haven't watched it, but the final third of this episode hits hard and leaves the viewer stunned and disoriented.
This is seriously bleak stuff, and it's impressive just how fully Crichlow commits to her performance. While it's not as emotionally rich as the first episode of the series, it's more interested in desolation, fear and confusion. Crichlow's portrayal is essential when it comes to conveying these themes, and she's absolutely outstanding. "White Bear" is conceived in such a way that believing in her character is what makes or breaks it - she does more than enough to make it a success.
I mentioned that fear features heavily and one of the episode's greatest accomplishments is how much it makes audience members feel as though they are in the position of this lost woman with no memories. We enter this strange world through her eyes and many unsettling effects (including sudden flashes and unusual camerawork) are used to maintain the uncomfortable atmosphere.
"White Bear" has a lot to say about how we currently process information and how we as a society treat the most shocking of news stories. Brooker clearly sees issues with the detachment that we are able to have from other people yet this script is able to go further than that while never telling us how we should be feeling. I find myself thinking over this episode and wondering whether it is somehow particularly fitting when considered among recent current events... really, though, what is explored here will remain relevant as long as we have information at our fingertips.