The second episode of Charile Brooker’s self-contained feature length trilogies aired this week on Channel 4. Unlike the first episode (called ‘The National Anthem’) which dealt with a not-too-distant ridiculous political environment and played as a comment on social media, public image and the foolishness of using chat room opinion barometers, this episode entitled ‘Fifteen Million Merits’ was pure science fiction.
It opened with a man in a small bedroom, lined with screens for walls and devoid of any other furniture, artefacts or space. The revealing dystopian world is one where workers earn credits on an exercise bike (the bike presumably powering the national grid) to pay for their food, toothpaste and electronic content.
Bereft of possessions, the workers have not much to spend their credits on – only their virtual representations to adorn, content to view and, in a brilliantly prescient touch, adverts to skip. Being blasted with adverts which surround you, follow you round the room, pause when you close your eyes (and instruct you to open them) and only stop or skip when you pay with your credits is exactly where I feared the future arc of adverts was heading and we’re on the way there already (anyone used spotify recently?!)
This bland, repetitive, lifeless, respectless existence induces numbness in most of the drones and hate in others. But there are twinkles of life very occasionally and our protagonist Bing (Daniel Kaluuya) rebuffs someone else’s brightness before experiencing a sudden moment of clarity and a feeling of true beauty himself hearing a fellow worker singing. He encourages her to go and share her beauty on the X-Factor equivalent (Hot Shot), but will she do this? Will they recognise her gift? Can they humanise the machine?
An incredibly dark and bleak piece overall, as with all the best science fiction it is all about the humans involved and drawing comparisons to our current time. There’s a really truly beautiful and haunting version of Irma Thomas’s ‘Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)’ sung by Abi (Jessica Brown-Findlay) and the scene of Bing being tortured by the screen in his room and loosing his rag will surely strike a memorable chord. And if you try to explain the premise of the feature, it sounds an awful lot like the present day!
Though perhaps not the most entirely original set of ideas and perhaps a little slow paced for some modern impatient people, this is stylish and though provoking and very much like the titular Black Mirror. A great format for self-contained satirical swipes and I’m eagerly awaiting the third instalment.
4 on 5
3rd Episode airs on Sunday 18th December
Written and Directed by Charlie Brooker. Co-written with his wife Konnie Huq
Starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jessica Brown-Findlay